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Dear Artists, Stop Turning In Bad Grant Applications (Part 1)

Man running late

This two-part guest post is by Bianca Lynne Spriggs, a multidisciplinary artist who has been a recipient and reviewer of multiple grants. A version of this post first appeared on her website.

Show of hands. How many of you who've applied for a grant or fellowship have turned in your application on the deadline day, right before the post office closed or the website shut down, after dashing off un-spellchecked artist statement and recruiting friends to write your reference letters the night before? Sometimes, you get lucky, and usually you don't. 

How many hours do we put into our work? Days? Weeks? Months? YEARS?? Soooooo much time. And yet, when the opportunity comes time to apply for a nice chunk of change to help us stay in our studios, buy supplies, travel to conferences, and well, make a living as artists in a system that generally treats us as though we are little better than a kid with a lemonade stand in winter -- oh, the slacking that ensues.

Frankly, it's embarrassing. If we can't play the same game the rest of the world plays in terms of professionalism, how can we be expected to be taken seriously? And by taken seriously, I mean getting compensated the way we should be for all those years of training, 60-hour weeks in the studio, and sacrificed activities and relationships that we can never get back. And by compensated, I mean paid

So, my dear compatriots, for whom I wish nothing but the best with regard to your continued success, here are a few tips from your friendly neighborhood artist/activist who has taken several turns as a grant/fellowship reviewer, as well as the recipient of several awards herself. 

Have this artist kit ready at all times

Every working artist needs the following items ready to use at any time, and which can be tweaked according to the application guidelines: 

  • Artist Bio.  Keep two types of bios saved on your desktop/USB drive: A short 50-word bio and something a little longer, but no more than 200 words. That way, you can drag, drop, or easily tweak it to fit the needs of the application. 
     
  • Artist Resume.  Keep it to a page or so, certainly not more than two. This should include your current and past professional positions that pertain to your current artistic occupation, gigs, publications, events, awards, recognitions, by the year and date. You should be keeping a calendar full of these anyway.
     
  • Artist Statement.  About 250 words that explain your aesthetic, your process, what drives you, inspires you, and who your influences are (personal as well as professional), and how all of this shows up in your work. Be specific. Use an example or two. See selected resources on how to write an artist statement.
     
  • Work Sample.  This is going to differ depending on the medium, but you should be able to pull up 10-12 poems, 15-30 pages of prose, 10-15 images, 3-5 videos, etc., that have either been published or exhibited by a credible publication, gallery, performance hall or whatever. Do not, under any set of circumstances, turn in material that is un-workshopped. By workshopped, I don't mean a quick spell-check; I mean revised based on the feedback of an objective audience. If it's already been published, you know it's suitable for public consumption. Don't be turning in the dance routine you made up in your bedroom or the piece you wrote a month ago because you're just really feeling that topic right now.  
     
  • Elevator Pitch of Current Project.  No more than 1-2 sentences about what you are currently working on. Have a pitch for each project. 
     
  • Letters of Reference.  Have a list of 5-7 credible people (not family members) whom you know, have worked with, or know your work really well, and who have already agreed that they would be willing to craft a letter of reference on your behalf. Then, when the time comes, give them plenty of time so they're not pressured to write something the night before, which could strain your relationships and result in a rushed or sloppy letter. Give these people a copy of your resume, your artist statement, and your elevator pitch of the project if the grant is specific to that.
     
  • Thank You Letters. If you get the award, let your references know. Make sure you THANK THEM lots of times to let them know how appreciative you are of their time and energy spent on your behalf when they could be doing at least 500 other things. Keep copies of the letter, and if you need them again, all the authors have to do is change the date. Help them help you. 

Part 2 of this guest post will have tips on preparing a clean application packet.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs

BIANCA LYNNE SPRIGGS is a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky. She is the recipient of a 2013 Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry, multiple Artist Enrichment and Arts Meets Activism grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and a Pushcart Prize Nominee. Read more.

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