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Applying for Grants: what Artists Need to Know

When grant season comes around each year for artists, it's a good time to be on your toes and stay informed of opportunities that could benefit you as an artist and help you with your career. Grants can come from a variety of sources. For myself, becoming an award winning artist and grant recipient helped my work greatly with both visibility and credibility in all aspects of what I do as an artist. It is especially important if you are a natural artist who doesn't have a BFA or an MFA on your resume, because it will allow you to elevate your work to the level of those who do.

Why You Should Consider Applying for Grants

Winning grant awards for your art practice is considered prestigious and definitely worth the effort. It can also help you to fund specific projects, fund project supplies, purchase equipment, or develop a particular skill with further training - things that might otherwise be a hardship or impossible for you to finance on your own. Start by perusing all the grant possibilities. Sign up for art sites and arts councils that disseminate information to artists and arts organizations routinely, because they typically share alerts about upcoming grant cycles. You can also find sites like Fractured Atlas that specializes in helping artists to get grants of significance. If you have been a working artist for a while, have a body of work, a resume, and artist statement, a track record, and ideas for substantial projects, I recommend you consider the bigger companies seeking to connect artists and their art projects with the greater sources of funding that come out annually to support the development of the arts. Fractured Atlas has a blog with excellent information about many types of grants and what is required to get them. At that level getting a grant award is highly competitive. For the purposes of this blog I will focus on more regional and local level grant opportunities for artists building their art careers, which are not quite as difficult to get, if you're willing to put in the work for them. My images are for visual artists, but the grants are typically for all artists: musicians, performers, writers, poets, potters, etc., so listen up even if painting is not your thing. After you spend time researching the opportunities and getting your feet wet, start thinking about what you would apply for. Will you be producing a new body of work? Will you be funding new equipment or supplies for a project? Will you require help with expenses to do a show?

Where to Begin when Applying for Artist Grants

An artist new to grants could definitely spend several months researching this topic to get a grasp of all the different types of artist and arts grants. Start by looking at your local and state arts councils. Where I live, the state arts council is the North Carolina Arts Council in Raleigh, NC, #NCArts. Arts councils at the state level are responsible to distribute grant funds from the state budget for the arts through a variety of grant offerings. Some of the grants are applied for at the state level, and some are done through an appointed regional or local county arts council. There are arts organizational grants, artist support grants, and project grants. Some can only be applied for directly by 501(c) (3) not for profit organizations. Some can be applied for directly by an artist or artist team that has an agreement with a 501(c)(3) to be their fiscal agent. Fiscal agency is a topic all on it's own. Read the terms of the grant very carefully and be sure that you and your project qualify. Some artists start their own not-for-profit art organziations so that they can directly apply for more and larger grants and qulaify for tax exemptions as well. That's a big commitment, and I don't recommend it unless you enjoy a lot of administrative work on top of making art. Once you know what a specific grant will pay for and how the funds can be used, you can develop your grant proposal key points and budget. Allow yourself plenty of time to develop this paperwork which is the most critical aspect of your grant application.

Matching Funds Requirements

The term "Matching Funds" in a grant application budget sheet refers to resources you are bringing to the table to match with the grant funds you are asking for. Some grants do not require matching funds, but some do, so watch for that term. It should be clearly stipulated in the grant description wether or not you will be required to come up with matching funds. It's always good to have matching funds if you can, even if not required for the specific grant application. I recommend you count on spending at least 2-3 months examining the grant description and terms, developing your idea and preparing your project description, and working on your application BEFORE the deadline to apply. Do NOT procrastinate. If you throw something together randomly at the last minute, it will show, and you are not likely to be approved. For one of my grants, I worked on the concept in my head for two years, then I worked in my spare time for two months getting all of the proposal put together.

Put some skin in the game and work out a detailed project plan and expenses list. Anything that you already have in your posession, supplies or equipment, can be counted as "in kind" matching funds to be used towards the project. People have a phone phobia these days, but this is the time to use that phones dial function. Call (don't text) the agency you are applying to so that you can discuss your project, your application budget, the amount you will request, and get any advice they have to offer on tightening up your proposal. This shows that you are invested in your project. They are happy to help artists to apply. If you start doing applications routinely, you will get the hang of it and know what to do and say, but even then it's still a good idea to make that call if the terms are not completely clear. I have sometimes decided it wasn't worth my time to apply for a project grant after talking with the administrator, because it was clear there were other factors not stated in the grant which would play out against my chances. If you are just beginning with grants, take your time and ask for help. In particular, artist support grants are designed to help artists to advance their careers, no matter what level their career has reached.

Get Organized Before You File Your Grant Application

It's really easy to forget one of the requirements and find yourself at the eleventh hour missing something. That stress is not something you want to experience if you have put a lot of time into your application otherwise. Don't wait until the deadline if you have everything ready, because the application sites can be glitchy and you might need to resolve an issue on their end, not yours. From the start, make a list of everything you will need. I personally print out all the grant descriptions and the blank applications on hard copy and highlight the pieces I need to fulfill for the grant. I create my digital documents in Word on my laptop and I organize any required photos in a dedicated folder in one file that I name with whatever the grant is and the year of application. Everything is in one place. I add in a current copy (PDF format) of my artist statement, artist resume, letters of recommendation, and anything else they want in the grant application. Check for limits on words or characters in each section of the online applications, and get that right on your word document first. Key sections of the application will be project description, why you think it's important, and how you will go about doing it. Make your project pitch as compeling as you can yet professional, because it's the heart of the process. Sometimes a marketing plan is also required. A budget is always required. You will have to research how much your supplies will cost and provide evidence. What I do is go to one of my favorite art supply sites such as Jerry's Artarama or Dick Blick and I fill my cart with whatever I will need to buy , then I can save that shopping list and it's total cost as a PDF document for evidence of the expenses I expect to incur for my project. It also makes it easier to order supplies later if you save the list. I might also need to use another online store (amazon or a hardwayre store) for other supplies such as hardware necessary for the project. These documents become your evidence of projected cost often required for the application. Easy peasy. They will ask for photos. Make sure the photos you are going to upload are of high quality and the correct size for the application. There is usually a 2 MB size restriction on these application platforms. When you know the answers to all the questions, you can easily fill out the online application by copying and pasting your answers from the word documents into the application. You will need to upload your personal artist documents into the platform. Sign that you certify everything you have said is true. Click submit! Now you wait for what you hope will be good news. Don't be discouraged if you don't get the grant. Keep trying.

Grants are Competitive

If your grant does come through, do your paperwork as soon as possible. You will be required to sign a contract and provide certain documents. The bigger the grant the more complex the paperwork. Completed paperwork submitted according to the grantors instructions is required to receive the funds. Artist support grants disperse directly to the artist. Congratulations! Your check is in the mail! Any grants with a fiscal agent or a sponsor will typically disperse funds to those entities, and how you will get paid is a system you have to work out with them. This needs to be established immediately. You need to keep excellent records and copies of all receipts. I keep digital and hard copies of everything. Every grant project has it's own hard copy folder and digital folder. A fiscal agent will often ask you to send them an invoice for the work you are doing towards the grant project as you complete each step. Be sure the payment agreement you work out is fair to you. You can budget for and get paid for an administrative fee for large grant projects with a fiscal agent, because of the added paperwork involved. Just be sure it's in the original application budget. You can't add it later. Keep the grantor abreast of how your project is coming along through communications with your contact person.

Announcing Your Grant Award

Talk to your accountant privately about tax implications and how to report receiving grant funds. If you are not a registered artist business, you may need to do that, and your accountant is best suited to answer your questions. Most artists are sole proprietors like myself, registered legally within their state. I have received multiple grant awards in the state of North Carolina. I report grant income separately from sales and commissions income to my accountant. The artist support grants are the most personally rewarding and interesting awards as an artist because of the creative freedom and financial support involved. Special project grants can also be amazing, and they often reward the whole nearby community in huge measure as a beneficiary of the project, depending on what it is. It could be a public art project, a community art program, or performance related where there is ongoing benefit to the community. People want to know about your award. Even if you are shy, just for one day, put that aside and shout it form the rooftops. Everyone will be happy for you and excited to watch your project unfold. I personally wait until the contracts are signed and the funds have moved - and nothing goes glitchy - and then I make my announcement through mutliple sources: website, social media, podcasts, email, and through my networking connections. If you have reached the level of applying for artist grants, you are now operating as an art business, and you need to promote yourself just as any other business would do. This is especially true for women artists who have been under recognized for so long. Be proud of your accomplishment! Now get to work and stay organized so you are pacing yourself to complete the project on time. Yup. You guessed it. There's a deadline, typically one calendar year. I love my Google calendar, but I'm so visual that I use a hard copy calendar to put milestone markers and deadlines for big contracted projects. I have to see it in hard copy on a regular basis to stay focused, in addition to my google calendar notifications. So mark it on your calendar or white board in big bold letters and also mark out a strategy for each month to be sure you will finish ON TIME without losing your mind in the last month. Enjoy the ride.

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