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Helpful Hints in Applying for Grants and Residencies

Helpful Hints in Applying for Grants and Residencies

Amy Wilson

I’ve recently started a new round of applications for grants and residencies, and in doing so I find myself depending heavily on the advice I’ve gotten from the new book Art/Work: Everything You Need To Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (Free Press/Simon & Shuster, Inc, 2009). Written by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber (a gallery director and arts lawyer respectively), this book is filled with the kind of nuts-and-bolts business advice every artist needs to read. Chapters dedicated to starting a relationship with a gallery, invoicing, opening your studio to the public, and shipping your artwork to shows (including a how-to on shipping a wet painting!) make this book a must-have in any professional artist’s library.

Some schools offer business practices classes that offer some help on applying for grants and residencies. I’d recommend taking those classes. In addition some more hands on advice is usually necessary.

The questions I had today had specifically to do with creating submission packets for open calls. Luckily, there is a whole chapter on this very topic in Art/Work, but even luckier for me, I was able to speak to the authors directly. I knew that they had spoken to over 100 art professionals as research for their book, so I figured that they probably encountered some real horror stories as well as the standard advice. Wanting to learn from the mistakes of others, I asked them the biggest question I had in mind: What were the most common mistakes artists made when it came to applying for opportunities?

They immediately agreed upon three:

1. Not sufficiently researching a venue or program. “It is usually a waste of time to submit work to a place you haven’t researched thoroughly,” suggested Bhandari and Melber. This means doing your legwork. At a minimum, read the mission statement of the sponsoring organization and take your time reading the description of the particular grant or call very closely (both should be available online). But better: see if you can find a list of previous recipients and look up their work. By doing so, you can really learn a lot about an organization and the kind of work they’re looking for. “The people evaluating submissions are very familiar with the goals of the program, and they can tell when an applicant isn’t. It just demonstrates to them that this artist doesn’t really know whether the program is a good fit, which suggests (fairly or not) that the artist doesn’t take the opportunity seriously.”

2. Submitting poor-quality images of their work. Bear in mind that the people seeing your application are likely to have never seen your work before. It’s important you give them the best possible introduction to what you’ve spent so long in creating. “When it comes to submissions, the quality of your work is of course extremely important-but the quality of the images of your work are even more influential. Bad images can sink an application, no matter how good the work itself may be.”

3. Not following directions. As someone who is applying to a variety of different programs and grants, I can tell you: Every organization has its little quirk. Maybe one will ask for images that are 300dpi and then maybe another will ask for images that are 72dpi; one will ask for copies of all the press you’ve received and another will specifically tell you not to send copies of press. But it’s important that you respect the differences in each application and that you don’t just churn out a “generic” response to a call. “Following directions is the easiest aspect of the process, and yet somehow the one most commonly botched. Selection committees go through hundreds-sometimes thousands-of applications. You want them to focus on the content of your work, not get distracted because you didn’t answer a question or your images were the wrong size.” Make sure you allow yourself ample time to work on your application so that you’re not rushed. Or further advice from Bhandari and Melber: “Read the directions twice. Then read them again after you’ve finished your submission to make sure you got it right. It’s an extra five minutes that could actually make the difference between getting accepted or rejected.”

These are definitely points that I will keep in mind as I work on my submission packets. Good luck to everyone applying!


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