In the Studio: Grant Writing Tips

As artists and arts organizations, some projects and work we create can be done with our own funding, and others require financial support from outside sources. Sometimes the additional funding simply allows us to take a greater creative or professional risk, while being financially supported through the process. Grants are a long-standing form of funding, and finding the right grant to support your idea is a good starting point for a successful application.

Searching for Support

Lauren Herzak-Bauman, owner and operator of Lauren HB Studio in Cleveland, Ohio, has a practice that involves one-of-a-kind works, wholesale pottery, and public art projects. She says researching the call for entries, whether it be for public art or grant opportunities, is essential. Thoroughly reading the entire call allows you to determine if you’re a match for the funding before you even start. Leah Hughes, executive director of Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, agrees with Lauren, stating, “Make sure the funder or supporter you’re soliciting is a good fit for your mission, vision, values, and goals. Don’t chase money just to chase money.” Leah continues by expressing that the latter is a misuse of both your time and the funder’s time. Instead, look for a funding source that will care about what you are seeking to accomplish and will share an interest in supporting your goals.

After you’ve found a matching funding source, re-read the guidelines for the application. Josh Green, executive director of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), offers that if any of the guidelines seem unclear, “seek clarification by corresponding with the program officers.” Granting and funding organizations often provide a contact person who can answer such questions. Remember these organizations want to find a good match for their funding and because of this, they want to help you to be successful in your application process.

Red Letter Grant is an organization in my local region (Wisconsin) that focuses on providing grants that “support and empower female entrepreneurs.” Sarah French, executive director at Red Letter Grant, recommends applicants develop a business plan in preparation for the grant application process. For help with this in your own communities, research small business development centers as well as business centers run by public universities, which are often open to the public. Developing a business plan for your art also opens up more funding opportunities.

Creating a Budget, Timeline, and Goals

Lola Clairmont, craft research and innovation manager at the Center for Craft in Asheville, North Carolina, advises that after you develop your project idea, start your application with the budget. She points out that when a grant requires a budget, what the funder asks for in the budget reveals the funder’s priorities. “For example, if there is a section in the draft budget that is inquiring for a line-item breakdown of public programming, associated materials, etc., the funder wants to see that you plan for public programming with your project . . . strong grant applications are geared toward the goals and priorities of the funder.” She further recommends that after completing your budget, you should next write the timeline for the project, and finally, end with writing the narrative. Through this approach, by the time you are ready to write the narrative, you will “already have in mind the priorities of the funder and a realistic sense of their goals (and yours!).”

Creating a realistic timeline is crucial. Often, initial project ideas are larger than can realistically be accomplished in the initial granting time frame. Being able to alter or cut your idea to fit a timeline is valuable and sometimes required in order to qualify for a particular grant or funding opportunity.

Thinking about how much time is needed for each part of your project requires that you actively pay attention to your general work flow and practice. This fact was brought to my attention during graduate school when one of my mentors communicated to our first-year group that we should be spending more time in the studio. I was confused as I had been working 12-hour days in the studio, as were many of my peers. After taking time to process this observation, I created a spreadsheet and began tracking the amount of time that my hands (or brain) were actively involved in making. After a week, I saw where I was actually spending my time and quickly realized that I could indeed increase the time spent actively making, conceptually and physically. This understanding of work flow can readily be applied to creating project and grant timelines.

The Application

Clarity in your writing is essential. This was articulated by each person interviewed for this article. Grant applications increasingly require that applicants follow strict character-count limitations, says Green. Because of this, he also recommends preparing grant application “drafts and ideas in a word processing program using little or no special characters or formatting [and] use tools to track character and word counts.” Lyz Wendland, a Minnesota-based installation artist and professor of drawing and painting at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been awarded a Jerome Foundation Project Grant, which is a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, and numerous faculty development grants and awards. Her research focuses on improving participation, critical thinking, and motivation relating to art critiques in studio courses. When it comes to grant writing, she emphasizes the importance of simplifying your language. She advises, “say what you mean, avoid jargon, be clear and to the point.” Knowing that grant reviewers must read many applications, Herzak-Bauman recommends communicating why you are a good fit, “give specific examples of prior experiences . . . explain how you positively contributed.” She also says its important to convey how you successfully completed prior projects.

If the application requires images, both Herzak-Bauman and Wendland specify the need for quality images. If you have the skill set to produce quality images, wonderful! But if you lack the skills, hire someone who does, or consider finding a trusted peer who can provide you with feedback of how to improve your images, suggests Wendland. Herzak-Bauman recommends the following: “For three-dimensional sculpture, it means in-focus photographs with neutral backgrounds. For installation work, it means overviews with one detail that tell the story of the piece. If your work is kinetic, make videos and submit those.”

Editing and Feedback

Giving yourself enough time to research, think, write, reflect, edit, and submit is essential. Lola explains that most weak applications have not had enough time invested in them. She says, “Give yourself the time and grace to develop the best ideas for you and your projects.” Make sure to give yourself time to edit your application, which includes having at least 2–3 proofreaders. Before sending to outside editors, Wendland offers this great tip: type your proposal in a font you just can’t stand and print it out. Reading in a font she doesn’t like helps Wendland notice errors more easily as reading in a font she gravitates toward means it will always look pleasing to her, even if it’s incorrect.

The essential nature of editing and having outside editors was iterated by each of the experts. Jill Foote-Hutton, artist and owner of Whistlepig Studios in Kansas City, Missouri, and editor of Studio Potter magazine, recommends finding “a technician, a cheerleader, and a cynic.” The technician will catch grammatical and punctuation errors and help with central organization. The cheerleader will see where you’re not touting your successes or underplaying your efforts. The cynic should be someone who doesn’t know your work in depth, or doesn’t know the project, as they will be “your number one question asker [and] will see where you have left gaps in your explanations; they are your oppositional advisor.” This group of editors will “help you tell the best story about yourself.”

Being open to editorial feedback throughout the editing process is critical, Green shares. He says, “when working on a proposal so closely, one can become desensitized to passages that aren’t as fluent or economical as they might otherwise be. Often, one needs to say what needs to be said in ways that are direct and compelling.”

Related to feedback, many organizations offer feedback prior to submission. Additionally, granting organizations will often provide feedback to you after selections have been made. Whether you’re selected or rejected, Wendland recommends always asking for feedback, if it’s offered. This feedback will only help you grow and strengthen your future proposals and work. French says one of the specific features of the Red Letter Grant is that the judging panel provides very customized feedback to every applicant and offers 1:1 connections to the applicants so they can talk through their ideas and be directed to other helpful resources.

Finally, always reapply. Wendland points out, “many grants have rotating panelists, so new people and jurors are deciding each time.” And, Hughes offers, “You may have an amazing program and an impeccable application and still be denied. Don’t get frustrated . . . keep trying, someone out there will eventually support you in your work.”

Grant and Funding Opportunities

State Arts Board Grants/State Arts Councils: Most states have an official arts board or arts council. Complete a web search for your state and the term “state arts board grants” (example: “Wisconsin” + ”state arts board grants”) and you will likely find potential resources.

Artwork Archive (requires an email for access to the guide): www.artworkarchive.com/blog/complete-guide-to-2020-artist-grants-opportunities

Women’s Studio Workshop (multiple grant opportunities): https://wsworkshop.org

Center for Craft (Asheville, North Carolina): www.centerforcraft.org

Creative Capital:  https://creative-capital.org

Virginia A. Groot Foundation Grant: (ceramic or sculpture artists): www.virginiaagrootfoundation.org

Red Letter Grant (Eau Claire, Wisconsin): www.redlettergrant.org

National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA): www.nceca.net

Northern Clay Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota):  www.northernclaycenter.org

USA Grant Applications: https://usagrantapplications.org

Fulbright Fellowship for the Creative and Performing Arts: https://us.fulbrightonline.org/applicants/application-components/arts

LEAP Award Lydon Emerging Artist Program: https://contemporarycraft.org/store/leap-award

The National Endowment for the Arts: www.arts.gov

Contributors (in order of reference): Lauren Herzak-Bauman, www.laurenhb.com; Leah Hughes, www.northernclaycenter.org; Josh Green, www.nceca.net; Sarah French, www.redlettergrant.org; Lola Clairmont, www.centerforcraft.org; Lyz Wendland, www.lyzwendland.com; Jill Foote-Hutton, www.whistlepigtales.com.

Rhonda Willers is the author of the book Terra Sigillata: Contemporary Techniques, which is available from the Ceramic Arts Network Shop at https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/shop/terra-sigillata.

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