Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Successful grant applications

For the past few weeks we’ve been publishing profiles of recent OVAC grant recipients.  See the series here

Highlighting the artists is one purpose of the posts.  Also, I hope to show how artists with successful proposals frame their projects and/or artistic practice.

I have been able to see themes in the reasons project proposals are successful since serving as the staff liaison to the OVAC Grants Committee and writing organizational grant applications for more than 11 years.   This is not an exhaustive list, but is to show some of the most consistent qualities of winning grant proposals.  
Artists & neighbors worked together creating mosaics as a
part of Margaret Aycock's Community Partnership Grant
Successful grant applications:

  1. 1.      Show planning on the part of the artist.

Unlike artists who need to explore and experiment, funders are not interested in chucking money at ideas that may or may not be completed.  Funders want to support things that are going to happen and are likely going to be put together well.  Basically, OVAC, like other funders, has limited funds to give away in each area, so must prioritize who gets support. In each category, the Grants Committee literally ranks the artists “ability to complete the project” as demonstrated through the proposal components. 

Grant applications show planning through thoughtful budgets and timelines, complete responses to questions posed, and realistic plans for venues or other showing of the work. 

Ryan Pack practiced drawing daily in her residency at the Scribner's Gallery,
funded in part through an OVAC Creative Projects Grant.  
  1. 2.      Demonstrate the project makes sense for the artists’ practice.
Since OVAC’s goal is to support artists at key stages of their artistic practice, criteria include the appropriateness and the career-altering nature of the project for the artist.  Proposals demonstrate this suitability through the connection of the narrative description and the artists’ own resume.

So, for instance, in the recent series of grant recipients, Tammy Brummell made a good case that the Girlie Show is an appropriate venue for her, connecting her to needed audiences and a new peer network.  The committee could see from her resume that this is a new direction for her work.  Conversely, if an artist brand new to showing artwork submitted a request to fund a large-scale solo exhibition and public sculpture, the committee likely would question the fit of the project for that artist.  It’s not that the committee questions whether the artist can fulfill their dreams, just that they have to wonder if he/she has the background to deal with the scale and materials.  It might be better for the artist to apply for a project that is an intermediate step toward this ambitious goal.
Carl Shortt leads Artist Survival Kit workshop about photographing your artwork.
  1. 3.    Include the best possible samples of artwork.
I am not sure what more to say about this, other than artists need to make sure images represent the artwork well through their clarity and simplicity.  Also, the samples should be relevant to the proposal (i. e. majority weavings if applying for funds to buy a new loom). Applicants cannot expect the reviewers to make conceptual leaps without help, regardless of artistic style.  If samples are quite different from the proposal, artists should explain the change or variation (i. e. “this is a new direction for me based on…”). See tips on photographing your artwork here and here

All that being said, in the subjective world of grants, the best you can do is make sure your project is well thought out and you explain it as best you can.  See our past series about proposals to read actual past proposals and components.

See more grant writing help and places to seek grants, check here.  OVAC’s next artist project grants deadline is January 15, then April 15, July 15, and October 15. 

1 comment:

Derek Link said...

I wish that every grant maker would post such thoughtful feedback about what makes a good proposal! Good for you! We provide lots of free resources to help people write better grants at