Application Tips

Just like a job application, a grant application represents you. And like all representations, the image can be flattering—or not. You want to make it easy for the reviewer to see and appreciate your work and your project, so the first rules in presenting yourself are:

  • Be Professional
    You want to convey to the panel that you are a serious artist and have a feasible project that you need to accomplish, so act like a professional. Type your application and résumé, provide all the requested materials in the order and manner specified (and don't send unrequested extras unless you're sure it's both permitted and helpful to you), and proofread everything before you send it in. A sloppy presentation isn't an absolute indicator of your capacity to complete a project successfully, but it won't help your case.
  • Don't get in your own way
    Expressive gestures that aren't to the point (for example, submitting your résumé on purple paper just because you believe it demonstrates your strong sense of color) are at best distracting. They will likely make an impression, but not the one you want. You wouldn't submit anything like that with a job application, so don't treat this process with any less respect.

Consider the Tips as a way to help get you started with your application or to give you some ideas if you run into problems along the way. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact—Brandi Neuwirth, Art Coordinator, United Arts of Raleigh & Wake County, bneuwirth@unitedarts.org or 839-1498, ext. 205.

ARTIST RESUME AND STATEMENT TIP

The Artist Resume and Artist Statement work together to communicate who an artist is through his or her work, philosophy, and experience. The résumé especially will have some different nuances to it, depending on what artistic realm you're working in.

Artist resume. In your resume, you'll want to include the following:

  • Birthplace and date (this is optional, though)
  • Education
  • Awarded fellowships and grants
  • Exhibition, performance, and publication history
  • Collections listing
  • Teaching and lecturing experience
  • Press bibliography

Typically, you'll need to communicate all of this in one to four pages. Most artists have two versions prepared—a long version and a one-page version. Whatever the length, your résumé should be easy to read and printed on quality paper. Make your headings stand out with boldfacing, italics, underlining or bullets.

Remember to list your exhibition, performance or publication history starting with what's most recent. And here's a word to the wise: Plan to update your résumé regularly! It's so much easier to apply for grants or other opportunities when it's already prepared.

Résumés are generally reviewed as supporting material to the work samples and narrative. They can provide information to panelists about timing and background that may be relevant during the final decision-making process.

If you have limited experience as an artist, lead with what you have on your résumé and condense the rest to the very broadest strokes. Use this situation to make the case that the grant is especially important as a way to take a meaningful step forward in your artistic career.

What you will need to include will vary, depending on your field

  • Visual artists
    Your exhibition history will include the exhibition title, venue, and date. You may want to divide them into separate categories, such as solo, group, and juried. List major venues, such as museums and galleries, first--when you list collections, be sure to include private, corporate, and permanent public collections.
  • Musicians
    Many musicians list their experience by recordings, compositions, and performances. You will always want to list the title of the piece, your role in the work, the location and date of the performance and other collaborators and performers. You may want to list commissioned pieces in a separate category.
  • Performance artists
    Choreographers, dancers, singers, actors, mimes, and so forth use their performances and productions as categories. Be sure to include the location and date of the performance, along with any collaborating organizations or artists.
  • Literary artists
    You will want to include the title of publications, articles, and poems; where it was published; and the name of the publishing house. Some literary artists separate publications into fiction and nonfiction, fiction and poetry, or books and magazines. These artists may also include all readings of their works, including the title of the work and the name of the venue.
  • Media artists
    You'll need to include information about completed as well as in-production works, and be sure to say if you are the actor, director, writer, animator, or producer of the particular piece. Also, list the title of each piece, other collaborators, and screening locations. And of course, you'll want to highlight the awards or special recognition your work has received!

Artist Statement. This statement begins with a brief description that conveys your artistic vision and philosophy. You'll want to answer questions like these:

  • What is my purpose as an artist?
  • What is my message or statement?
  • How did I develop my unique attitude toward my work?

Next comes a series of paragraphs that describe the development of your work and other artists or artistic movements that have influenced you. Then you'll follow this with a few quotes (positive, naturally!) from reviews or critiques regarding the significance of your work.

You'll also want to describe recently completed major works, including their title, venue, and date. Be sure to write a few sentences about the medium and techniques you use as well. If you're a musician, describe the style, instruments, and orchestration you used in your most recent pieces. If you're a writer, describe your particular literary style.

Next up is how additional collaborative artists or employees are involved in the production of your artwork, musical and performance pieces, or published works. Finally, write a paragraph on your works in process and your future artistic plans and projects.

Remember, the artist statement is generally one page in length, so take your time in writing this very important element!

Search the Internet with your favorite search engine by typing in the words artist statement and seeing what you get.

NARRATIVE WRITING TIP

  • describe your project
  • explain how the accomplishment of this project will further your development and/or career goals as an artist.

In order to be persuasive your project needs to be:

  • Feasible
    Don't propose a project that seems beyond your capacity either in terms of cost, access, or other factors. For instance, as compelling an idea as it is to do an intimate documentary of North Korean leader Kim Jong-II, there may be logistical obstacles. Unless you have credible answers to reasonable questions about the scale or ambition of your project, it's best not to shoot for the moon.
  • A logical step for you
    If your work samples and history are focused on modern dance choreography but you ask for money to build a kiln, there's a "disconnect." You never want a panelist to furrow his brow. It should make sense why the workshop tuition, computer, brochure, or new studio you want would be relevant and helpful to you at this point in your career. If the project doesn't pass the intuitive test, you have a lot of explaining to do.

However, do not rely on panelists' powers of intuition. It may seem obvious to you why a web site would be beneficial, but connect the dots for your readers. The more specific you can be the better. Saying "everybody else has a web site" may be your impression and it might even strike a chord with some of your panelists, but it's even better to explain how a web site will improve your situation or address a problem you have as an artist. Something like: 
I'm somewhat isolated and don't have gallery representation, so I'm limited in how people can find out about my work. A web site would allow me to 1) expose my work to people who would probably not see it in person; 2) capture email addresses of those interested in my work; 3) potentially sell my work online.

General rules of thumb:

  • Use simple, declarative sentences, active voice—and get to the point. Even if you are a writer, the application is not an appropriate place to trot out the bells and whistles. The panelists aren't reading your proposal to be challenged. And observe the space or page limits. Panelists are typically asked to read a number of applications, so say what you need to say as efficiently as possible.
  • Who, what, when, where, why, and how. You are asking strangers for money. If a stranger asked you for money, what would you want to know? If you find, after you've answered the application queries, that you haven't addressed one or more of the "w" questions, you might want to revisit your responses.
  • It's not an artist statement. As fascinating as it would be to know why you make your art, what it expresses about you and the world around you, and the intimate joys and challenges of your process, there are other, more appropriate venues for such expression. Keep your answers focused on the practical needs and outcomes of your project.
  • Get a non-arts friend or acquaintance to read your application. If she doesn't understand or is not persuaded by your request, find out why and try again.

BUDGET PREPARATION TIP

Although artists aren't generally thought of as being "numbers people," a complete budget is essential in showing the selection panel that you are capable of completing the proposed project successfully. So here's what you'll want to put in your budget.

Include materials and supplies, equipment rental or purchase, space rental, and promotion and marketing fees. Also be sure to list any other expenses related to your proposed project. These may include artist fees—for example, dancers, other musicians, scene designers, and so on. And they can also encompass non-artist professional fees—for photographers, consultants, sound technicians, and so forth. Take time to research the fair value of each of these expenses by getting quotes from several different sources.

Your budget should also include additional sources of income for your proposed project, including other grants, in-kind services, product sales, and donations. Just as with the nonprofit budget, you can list both projected as well as secure income sources. And of course, list the amount you are requesting.

  • Provide detail
    As a general rule, more detail is better. Which of the following gives you more confidence that the artist has thought through the project expenses?

    Travel $600

    OR

    Mileage (200 mi. @ .485) 97
    Lodging (4 nights @ $85) 340
    Meals (5 days @ $35) 175
    Total 612

    Admittedly, we like you to round amounts up or down so that the budgets are easier to take in quickly, but if you can show that you're not just picking numbers out of thin air, you will make a stronger case for yourself.
  • Provide Other (supporting) Documentation
    Most of us have a general idea of what a hotel room should (and shouldn't) cost, but fewer know what a new lathe or band saw runs. CD production costs and graphic design fees can vary widely. So, it's not a bad idea to get an estimate from the provider to support the numbers you're putting in your application. For most equipment, airfares, and materials costs you can go on the Internet and get a price; for professional services you may need to request an estimate. Always provide documentation for class, workshop, or conference registration costs and it doesn't hurt to attach a description either. These proofs can go a long way toward quelling a panelist's momentary doubts as they're reading your proposal.

    Show your own financial contribution to the project and other sources of income. Expense of your own money is not required; nevertheless, if you can show you are investing your own funds (over and above your time) to accomplish a project, your commitment to it will be obvious. If you are pursuing or have secured donations from others, especially for more ambitious projects, say so. Just leave enough room on the expected income side of your budget to make it clear that you do need the grant.

OTHER SUPPORT DOCUMENTS TIP

You'll want to be sure to include a listing of all reviews and articles, with your name and the publication name and date clearly visible on each page. This will assure the decision-making panel that your work has received serious review and give the funder a sense of your potential and the impact you have already made.

Both for your own sanity (because you have to provide hard copies) and for the panelists' (because they have to read the material), choose judiciously. Sending in a pile of reviews in which you're mentioned only in passing as part of a group exhibition or ensemble performance does little good and in fact can be annoying. If you insist because the reference is especially positive or the publication particularly noteworthy, highlight it for the panelists so they won't have to hunt for it.

It's not a bad idea to provide a promotional or marketing plan—for example, the production of cds, brochures, web sites, etc.--for projects whose intent is to advance an artist's career. Here's why: if the panel senses that the cds and brochures will probably sit in boxes in your garage or that you don't know what you have to do to actually get visitors to your shiny new web site, they are going to hesitate to give you the grant. And they should. Show them the plan and it's a lot more likely that they'll show you the money.

REFERENCES TIP

Submit a list of up to three persons that may or may not be contacted as a reference. As a general rule, unless you have known, qualified references who can speak specifically and enthusiastically about your abilities as an artist, their value to you and your application is only that they not damage your credibility. So, if you submit them, choose your references with the Hippocratic Oath in mind: First, do no harm.

Then, consider the following:

  • First-hand knowledge of your work as an artist
  • Professional credentials (this is not a personal recommendation)
  • How recent is the reference's encounter with your work

You want to tell your references about the project you're planning and send them a résumé. They should be able to talk in an informed way about their estimation of your ability to do the project you're planning. If they can't do that, then you would want them to speak positively about their experience with you on other kinds of projects and/or their assessment of your commitment and skill as an artist. Always ask your intended reference for an honest opinion about whether they can write a strong letter of recommendation for you and don't be offended if they don't think they can. It's better to know ahead of time than to find out afterwards you asked the wrong person.

WORK SAMPLES TIP

Your work samples can range from jpegs to pdfs, mp3 or wave files—depending on your artistic discipline. You'll want to clearly label each sample with the title, date, medium, size, and venue (whatever is appropriate for your field). Refer to the work sample requirements for your discipline in Step 4.

Remember, excellent work samples are essential to a first-rate proposal package. Spend the time and energy that you need to be sure that these samples are professionally produced and well-presented. The presentation of your work will make a big difference in your chances for support! If you are a visual artist, download the Visual Artist Handout for information about photographing your artwork.

Supplement your work samples with a description sheet. This information can be included in the List of Work Samples sheet. Here you'll list titles, dimensions, materials, date completed, length of performance, location and date of performance, your role, and any other technical or descriptive information that's pertinent.

Choose the ideal samples to make a powerful impression.

Even though this is a project grant, your project will not be funded if your work samples are weak. The first stage in every process is an artistic evaluation, so you need to pay attention to what you choose to submit.

  • With work samples it's a matter of avoiding mistakes first. If you're a writer make sure there are no typos in your manuscript and that it's formatted in a readable manner (e.g., adequate margins and line spacing); if you're a visual artist avoid out-of-focus, poorly cropped, or cluttered images. Panelists and judges are generally charitable but busy people. They will try to give you the benefit of the doubt but ultimately decide that you didn't care enough to submit a work sample they could review without distractions or extrasensory powers.
  • Visual artists should always submit work samples in a format that all the panelists can experience at the same time. This means jpegs; digital images uploaded with the Online Application or a link to a website with the designated ten images. CDs and DVDs are no longer accepted. It is much easier to assess all work online for the judges and panelists.
  • Strong and recent representations of the quality of your work. If you're submitting more than one sample, it's generally best to stay in genre. Coherence helps anchor your work in the panelist's mind and avoid unflattering comparisons if they sense unevenness.
  • In keeping with the project you have proposed. Your pastels may be lovely but they don't say much about your ability to do large-scale fresco painting. If it's all you've got then go with it, but understand that the panel may have reservations that you will need to address.

    If the sample is part of a longer work or one of several, make sure it is cued correctly or that the order is the way you want the panelists to experience it. As a general rule, it's best to submit only what you want the panel to read, see, or hear.

    Work-sample descriptions and labeling. See ORDER OF APPLICATION on how to name and save your work samples and additional documents. It is very useful to have your name, titles, media, dimensions, dates of completion, running times, etc.

    At its most straightforward, it's the same information as above, but you may wish to expand on it further, as appropriate to your art form:
  • For visual artists
    Title, date of completion, medium, dimensions, and (for installations and time-based works) description of experiential aspects not apparent in images
  • For composers and songwriters
    Title, date of completion, running time of selected segment, and instrumentation
  • For choreographers
    Title, date of completion, running time of selected segment, where and when the performance represented took place, and the performers or ensemble
  • For filmmakers
    Title, date of completion, running time, original format, your role and the role of other key people in the production, relevant technical considerations, and a brief synopsis of complete work
  • For writers
    Title, genre, and (if you're submitting an excerpt of a longer work) a brief synopsis of the work as a whole
  • For performers
    Instrument or role played, name of production, when and where performance took place, and name of ensemble or company if part of a larger production

Several TIPS are pulled from Wake Tech's A to Z Grant Writing Course: Instructor Linda Vallejo and from the NC Arts Council website.