The Guggenheim Fellowship: Awards for Artists at the Highest Career Level

The Guggenheim Fellowship likely needs no introduction. This award is one of the most prestigious forms of financial support available to artists. The fellowships are awarded through two annual competitions: one award cycle is reserved for permanent residents of the US and Canada, while the other is open to artists living in Latin America and The Caribbean.

According to the Foundation’s own statement:

Guggenheim Fellowships are intended for individuals who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.

“Exceptional” in this case may be an understatement. The Foundation reportedly receives 3,000 applications annually, while only awarding approximately 175 fellowships. That amounts to a funding percentage of roughly 5%, meaning the competition for these awards is incredible fierce. While the chances of actually receiving one of these awards is on the lower end, a successful application is awarded a generous amount, reportedly $45,000 on average.

Guggenheim Fellowship

Guggenheim Fellowship Winners

In addition to the incredible amount of these awards, winning a Guggenheim Fellowship places artists in fantastic company, with some of the most well known artists in history.

Some past and recent Guggenheim Fellowship recipients include:

Unlike some other such as those offer which do not allow artists to apply without first being nominated, The Guggenheim Foundation welcomes applications from all artists, with the only exception being they must reside within the US, Canada, Latin America, or The Caribbean.

Of course, because of the generous nature of the award, the application process is very complicated. Expect to spend many hours filling out online forms, prepping your work, and communicating with your references (yes, this grant requires letters of recommendation, in addition to an impressive body of work and long resume).

How Do I Win a Guggenheim Fellowship?

While it is always possible to win an award, the application process for The Guggenheim Fellowship is so time consuming, involved, and competitive, it is not recommended for emerging artists. The Fellowships are typically given to established, mid to late career artists with long resumes and hundreds of exhibitions to their name, or, to use the Foundation’s own words: “advanced professionals.”

When evaluating funding options like the Guggenheim, it is important to read between the lines of the selection criteria. Your time is a valuable resource, therefore, you should always look hard at past winners prior to diving into your application.

If you do this, you will see that the majority of Guggenheim Fellowship recipients have been full time college professors. These artists who have embedded themselves in academia are applying for Fellowships from an incredibly priveleged position. If you are not fortunate enough to have a full time teaching job with a large salary, benefits, and 3 month summer vacations, you are probably better off looking for other avenues to fund your practice.

Updated August 12, 2022

I wrote the original article in 2019. Following up on my observations, the Guggenheim Foundation recently released their class of 2022 fellows in visual arts and photography. A review of these grant recipients confirms my points from several years ago. Nearly every fellow holds, at minimum, an MFA (in 2022 there were 7 Guggenheim recipients who have MFAs from Yale!) and the vast majority are full time college professors. In the Guggenheim’s own press release, they say “almost 60 (out of 180 fellows) have no full-time college or university affiliation.” So, in othe words, over 2/3 or 67+% of all Guggenheim recipients are full-time college or university professors.

If you are still building your resume, consider applying to one of the more attainable grants prior to committing the time and resources to apply for a major award first. Guggenheim Foundation reviewers place heavy emphasis on your exhibition record and prior grants/awards you may have received. Artists in it for the long haul should be strategic about where they put their resources, and only apply to larger awards like the Guggenheim Fellowship after they have entered an advanced stage of their careers.

Pros

  • Possibly the most prestigious grants available
  • Generous amounts, upward of $30,000 or more
  • Winning one of these puts you in league with some of the most highly regarded artists in history

Cons

  • Complicated and time consuming applications
  • Heavy emphasis on academic resume
  • Often given to academics who already hold full time teaching positions – an inherent disadvantage to artists who do not have the privelege of a full time teaching job

Connect with Guggenheim Foundation

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