Artist Grant Resource is for artists who are curious about the process of applying for and winning grants from the major funding sources currently available.
Why did I start Artist Grant Resource?
Frankly, I got sick of wading through all the noise out there.
Looking back at all the the applications I’ve submitted over the years, I realized a few things:
- Foundation websites are rarely transparent about what their applications truly entail. This is a problem because it can be easy to underestimate the amount of time (your most valuable resource) required to submit an application.
- There is no resource online that honestly talks about what it is like to actually apply for these grants
- You should SERIOUSLY CONSIDER what these institution are requiring of you before you go to the trouble to submit an application to them
The most important point is #3.
When I was younger I didn’t put too much thought into the decision making that went into whether or not I should apply for a grant. If the institution had a good reputation and previously funded artists I thought were good, I would submit an application without seriously vetting the process. Using this method, I’ve applied for basically everything (in most cases I applied for these grants at least twice, sometimes even more!).
And I’ve won a few artist grants.
But through this years long process I learned serious lessons that I want to share with younger artists.
The System is Broken
The thing is, when you factor in the workload required to actually apply for an artist grant, the largest ones are simply not worth your time, especially when you consider the unlikely chance you might actually win one. Every institution that gives grants claims to be set up to support artists, but the way the old-guard institutions like The Guggenheim and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation approach the process tells a completely different story: in too many cases, the major grant-makers take advantage of artists by making them jump through hoops just to apply while giving them zero assurance they will receive anything in exchange for their effort.
Take Creative Capital for example. They have one of the most overwrought, convoluted application processes out there.
First, they make you write a letter of inquiry outlining your project and why you think you deserve the opportunity simply to apply for an award from them. If your letter passes muster (they don’t even tell you who’s going to read it – maybe an intern? Or maybe the director? Doubtful…), you will then be given the opportunity just to submit an application. This is where it gets serious. The application process itself is daunting. It requires putting together detailed budgets, long form project proposals, recommendation letters, in depth portfolios, and more. They even suggest you attend seminars to help you understand how to put together the best application. Seriously. They expect you to attend an in person seminar to take notes on how to best approach the application! The whole procedure, start to finish, can take nearly a year.
The problem is that you have to do all of that work without any assurance that your project will be funded. And in the end, it’s actually very unlikely your project will be funded given the sheer volume of applications they receive. Let’s say they receive 5,000 applications and fund 28 projects. That gives you a 00.56% chance of winning, and that doesn’t even take into account behind the scenes politics (we all know board members are going to push to fund artists they have invested in!).
This is just one example, but a number of the major grant makers employ a similar process.
So, how exactly are you suppose to support yourself when these people make you spend a year of administrative work on a single grant application but give no assurance that you will be compensated for the time they are taking from you? You’re applying for grants because you need financial assistance, right? So how do they expect working artists to actually jump through so many hoops? It’s simply unacceptable for these large institutions to claim they are freely supporting artists while in reality they are mostly self congratulatory groups of affluent “patrons” with little regard for your time.
Clearly there is a systemic problem with how the grant application process is administered at the highest levels. But it’s not all bad.
Time to Reevaluate
In the past decade or so, a few institutions have, in varying degrees, provided individual artists with a more equitable solution to the current problem. The Harpo Foundation (founded by an artist), The Hopper Prize, Young Space, Working Artist, and The Awesome Foundation have really opened the door to artists at all career levels seeking their first grants. These institutions are true to their mission of supporting diverse artistic practices, just look at their past winners. And if that isn’t enough, they have much simpler applications that aren’t going to take a year of your time.
Looking back at all the time I put into applying for artist grants, if I could start over, I would apply to these first, because I finally understood what it really takes to win a grant.
The Secret to Winning an Artist Grant
Do you want to know how to win an artist grant? I can tell you with total certainty. The secret to winning grants is simple: volume + persistence.
To win, you have to apply for A LOT of grants. And keep applying, over and over, year after year.
That’s truly the only way to get grants (unless you’re already a famous artist. If you’re a famous artist, they give you grants because you’re famous. But I’m talking about real artists here. Artists that work for a living to support their passion).
Don’t believe me? Just think about the numbers. According to the Guggenheim Foundation, they receive 3,0000 applications each year, yet they only fund 175. That gives you a 5.8% chance of winning one of their Fellowships. That’s not a very good shot if you ask me – it’s equivalent to getting into Harvard (5% admission rate).
Now think about how long it takes to put together a Guggenheim Fellowship application. It’s not a simple process, it’s going to take the better part of a year, and you’re going to have to put in that time and work knowing the chance of winning is only 5%. On top of that, you’re going to have to decide to work on your grant application instead of your job (the thing that actually supports your art) or, even worse, you will have to put making new work aside to find time to jump through all the hoops required in their application process.
And this is all without even considering that the Guggenheim Fellowship is almost always given to full time college professors (as if they need the support, they already get a fat paycheck thanks to inflated tuition costs AND they only work about 3 hours per day AND they get summers off).
Now let’s say you make it through the process and win the Guggenheim Fellowship after spending a year on your application and without having a full time teaching job. What happens next? Well, they’re going to give you a check for roughly $30,000. That sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t be thrilled with that? I certainly would.
But then I would remind myself of 2 things.
First, I spent a year on my application just to get this award. Second, it’s taxable, so I’m really going to be putting about $21,000 in my bank account.
Then I would ask myself, how long can I live off $21,000? Ideally I would stretch that out to cover a year of focusing solely on making work. That would at least help to balance out the year long application process and help make up for all the compromises I had to make just to apply for the grant. That would end up giving me $1,750 per month, for a year. Ok, maybe I can make that work, I’m used to eating ramen for dinner. But after that year is up, what do I do? I guess it’s back to my day job.
With these optics, it’s impossible to justify taking so much time to apply for any one grant considering the low chance of actually receiving one. Winning a Guggenheim, for example, isn’t going to make your practice sustainable. At best, if you win one, you’ll get to take a year off from your job (assuming you’re thrifty enough), but once that year is up, you’ll be back to the regular grind.
This is why you have to take a different approach.
Volume & Persistence: The Path to Getting an Artist Grant
With the odds of winning an artist grant being so low, your best shot is to apply to as many as possible, as often as possible. And since the system requires you to submit a lot of applications, then by definition, you have to focus on the ones that make it easy for you to send in your work and be done with it. You simply cannot justify spending too much of your mental bandwidth on any one application.
Still don’t believe me? In a recent article on Artwork Archive, Lorna Ritz, a 2018 Gottlieb Foundation Artist Grant recipient said she had applied to over 30 grants before finally landing her first one. Similarly, Sawyer Rose, a recipient of multiple awards, had this to say:
“Reeling in a grant—like so many other things you apply for—is numbers game. There are always more qualified applicants than there are spots.”
For another take, artbusiness.com suggests
Apply for as many opportunities as you’re eligible for every year. Don’t get discouraged. Be aware that the people or panels who review applications change, and what gets turned down one year may well be accepted the next. Plus the more you applications you submit, the better you get at applying.
So, get out there, apply for an artist grant, apply for as many as you can, but focus on the ones that respect your time, make it easy, and judge your work on its own merits (and not your resume, like the old-guard).
The best options currently are The Harpo Foundation, The Hopper Prize, Young Space, and Working Artist Org.
These institutions support diverse artist at all stages of their careers, their awards are based on merit (not on your resume), they offer a number of fringe benefits like massive social exposure, and most important, they make it easy to submit your work, so you can complete your application in a short time and get back to what really matters: making art.
Key Artist Grant Application Takeaways
If I were at the start of my career and had the chance to do it all over again, these would be my key artist grant application take-aways:
1. Be Strategic
You should only apply for artist grants that have a history of supporting artists at a similar stage in their career as you. This will up your chances of winning an award by placing your submission in a context that may realistically get the juror’s attention. While it may be tempting to apply for a Guggenheim Fellowship or a Creative Capital Grant straight out of school, the reality is, you will most likely be wasting your time. If you are seeking your first or second grant, start with institutions that have historically supported artists at early points in their career. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that the old-guard cares more about your resume then actually reviewing your art. Once you win a few grants, the larger ones will come easy.
Start by applying to The Harpo Foundation, The Hopper Prize, Young Space, and Working Artist Org.
2. Know the Value of Your Time
Evaluate the time commitment and administrative burden required of the application process before you commit to putting together a grant application. Nothing in life is “free.” It is important to remember that even though the Guggenheim Fellowship or Creative Capital Grants may seem like “free” support because they are not technically charging you to submit, institutions like that will literally capitalize 8 – 12 months of your time without the promise of any compensation. A “free” application that takes almost a year of paperwork doesn’t sound very free to me.
3. Volume & Persistence is the Key to Winning Artist Grants
Keep applying until you win, land on a shortlist, get some social exposure, and build your network. Once you’ve built a cv that will help to validate your practice in the eyes of the old school institutions. Then move up to the second tier of grants, like the Pollock-Krasner Grant and Artadia, which will be more likely to take your work seriously once they see some other grants on your resume.
4. Never Give Up
This is the most important point of all. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t win the first grant you apply for. Always remember why we get into making art in the first place. Sure, we all need exposure and want people to see our work, but our ultimate pursuit is to contribute the conversation in a meaningful way. This always begins by making art.
About the Author
I’m an artist and I have committed almost 20 years to my studio practice. In that time, I’ve applied for basically everything under the sun. I have a moderately successful track record of applying for and winning grants. Through the process I’ve learned a lot about the system that I think will be helpful to artists just starting out.
I want this site to grow into a resource for artists of all ages and career levels. Please help build the site by:
- Comment on these posts – Do you have experience with a grant application? Do you have an opinion on a post? Is there a grant you want to know more about? Let me know by leaving a comment.
- Share this site with other artists – Do you know someone who is considering applying for one of these grants? Do you know someone who should apply for one of these grants? Please help share this information by sending the site to your friends and colleagues and sharing to your social channels. If we all work together we can help artists figure out how to win some much deserved support.