It was a dreary winter Wednesday in Philadelphia when UArts fine arts students trickled into the white-walled room overlooking Broad Street. I positioned myself in the back of the class. The students settled into their seats, some with coffees in hand and Blick bags in tow. Neil Kleinman, executive director of the Corzo Center, introduced himself and dove right in.
Today’s was not a typical class, rather it was a workshop designed to give details about a new grant being offered specifically to the Fine Arts students at UArts. Beyond general details, students would learn how to apply for a grant, and not just a UArts grant, but any grant. Neil’s meticulous PowerPoint included information applicable to anyone looking to secure funding for just about any type of project.
A lecture on the grant application process may seem intimidating, but Neil’s enthusiasm, mixed with his obvious expertise and his pop culture references, kept me and the other students engaged.
If you are a person who is interested in receiving grant money for a project, there is information here that will give you a competitive edge. Don’t worry that you missed the event, we compiled all of the takeaways you need. You’ll get the lessons learned in 40+ years of first-hand experience without even leaving your couch.
Lesson #1: Why Apply for a Grant in the First Place?
Neil’s first piece of advice was simple: forget about the money! The grant process is valuable in and of itself. Applying for grants can help you develop visibility (and credibility) within a community. It can show colleagues and possible mentors all the amazing work you are doing. It can help you develop your professional narrative, how to talk and write about your work. The grant process can give you an opportunity to define your own goals and purpose instead of relying on professors, bosses, or clients to give them to you. It will teach you to ask for, receive, and process feedback. The people behind grants are often great sounding boards for pushing your ideas forward, finding blind spots, and offering suggestions to make your idea even better. Getting this kind of feedback is invaluable and can help you build a network of mentors.
Lesson #2: Hone Your Research Strategies
Just the word “research” gives me hives, but Neil made a great case for the importance of the “r” word in this step when applying for a grant. He recommended thinking small and local. When you apply for opportunities within your own community, you gain the benefits from Lesson #1, like building visibility and making connections that might help you later down the line. He encouraged a lot of internet searching, not only for grants themselves, but for information about the potential funders. He argued the importance of learning as much as possible about the judges and the funder themselves. He explained the importance of studying the grant requirements and the work of previous grantees to determine your own qualification for the grant. The more you know about the grant and the people behind it, the better you will be at making a case for why you should get it.
Lesson #3: Getting Down to Business (Crafting a Good Proposal)
This was by far the meatiest part of the presentation. Neil shared tons of ideas on how to write a good grant. Here are a handful of quick highlights from what was shared.
A. Consider sustainability and impact
If you received this grant, how would it change the scope of your career as a whole? When considering the big picture, make sure to think about what the next steps would be. Think beyond receiving the grant…what would the grant enable you to do next? Think about the grant as one step in a larger plan.
How would receiving the grant allow you to impact others? Considering (and answering) this question shows attention to a larger community as well as adding value to the grantor by showing your ability and plans to interact with more people.
B. Highlight your independent work
Grantors want to know that you are motivated and independent, and that your work ethic is not dependent on the rules and regulations that school or work provides.
C. Consider your value the grantor
Get persuasive: why are you the ideal fit for this grantor? Every grantor has some value that they operate by. Some show support to minorities, others demonstrate passion for education or art. Some want to prove that art is important to the creative economy. Learn what the grantor cares about and make the case for how you and your project will fulfill that value.
D. Network, network, network
Find a team that can help you with your proposal. This team should provide criticism, professional advancement, and encouragement to you in this process. Having people with different mindsets and strengths will give you a good sounding board to run ideas by and get critical feedback before submitting.
A point that is connected to this is getting money from others. Neil suggested finding 10% of the grant money from your own network. This demonstrates that there are people, other than you, who support this idea. Factor that 10% into your budget. You’ll blow the socks off those potential grantors.
E. Find your focus
Define your focus early on and stick to it. Make sure that your artist statement connects to your proposal as well as your professional goals and the values of the grant. Make your proposal simple for the panel because yours will be one of many. If you are applying for more than one grant, write three or four different versions of your statement and/or resume to make sure that it links to the goal of each specific grant. This also goes for the work samples that you present. Make sure that what you show aligns with the proposal.
Oh, and a quick note about artist statements: keep it short, keep it up to date, and avoid jargon.
I hope you will exit out of this tab having learned something valuable about the grant process. I know the classroom of Fine Arts students certainly did. We’ll be sharing updates on the students that received grants and the upcoming work of those grantees.