5 Things I’ve Learned About Getting a Grant
Image courtesy of boston.com
I should qualify this little list of tips by saying that I’m not an expert on getting grants – if anything, I’m probably an expert on getting knocked back but then continuing on applying anyway! Which, come to think of it, is a pretty damn good tip, so let’s start with that one, shall we?
1. If at first you don’t succeed, KEEP APPLYING!
I applied for somewhere around twenty grants before I ever got one. And boy, am I glad that I didn’t give up at number nineteen!
It is hard to keep on going when you continue to get knock-backs, namely because rejection hurts and can even make you question whether you’re deluded in thinking that you even have a shot at it. But…by pushing on and keeping on applying for things, you are:
a) going to get better and better at writing the application;
b) going to become more and more focused and clear on what it is exactly that you want to do;
c) demonstrating commitment, both to the funding bodies and to yourself.
2. Be REALISTIC.
I’m not saying that you should aim for anything short of amazing opportunities, I’m just saying that you should aim for the amazing stuff in a realistic way.
When I look back on my first successful application – the Lord Mayor’s Fellowship for New and Emerging Artists – I realise now that it really was the first time I’d written an application not as a ‘pie in the sky’ kinda deal, but really had thought honestly: “Okay, if somebody DID give me twenty grand, what would I actually do with it? I mean, really?”
Whereas other things I’d applied for in the past were quite “six months doing x in Europe!”-ish, (which, if you did push to go down that route, it would instantly raise questions with the funding body regarding how you’re going to support yourself outside of the grant, just FYI!), the project I pitched them was totally realistic, because for once, I completely visualised what it would really look like.
Three and a half weeks. A full-time nanny in the budget, to take care of the kids. Doing a series of summer intensives with Second City and others.
Which leads me to…
3. Be SPECIFIC
This comes back to the whole not-wanting-your-application-to-be-a-pie-in-the-sky thing again. Sensing a theme here?
Again, I’m going to use my Lord Mayor’s application as an example – instead of say “I’d like to do some comedy training with companies in the USA”, I really nailed it down as specifically as possible. i.e.
a) I wanted to focus on solo improv and musical improv. (I think being as specific as you can in which area OF the area you wish to work on really gives you an edge); and
b) I then found out EXACTLY what workshops were available and when in the USA, directly contacted the other freelance coach I wanted to work with to confirm her availability and willingness to train me, so I could submit a specific itinerary with my application. Exact dates. Exact locations. Exact budgets.
4. Be CREATIVE
One of the best pieces of advice I got in writing applications was to think outside the box in how to prove your talent/potential as an artist.
Especially when you’re emerging or relatively new to the scene, it can seem really damn hard to even know where to start. I mean, of course you can write anything you want on that application about how brilliant, amazing and insert-superlative-here you are, but really:
a) so can every other person applying for the same thing; and
b) no offence, but you’re not really the most un-biased source, are you? 🙂
The piece of advice I got specifically, was to get quotes – exact quotes – from people working with you in the scene, audience members, industry peers, reviews, etc – and insert them into your application within the section asking you to demonstrate your potential. These must be fully attributable, traceable and above all: honest.
This is really another tip in its own right and I do hope it goes without saying, but here goes anyway: NEVER EVER LIE. EVER. Seriously. It is not difficult nor unlikely for any dishonesty or embellishment to unravel before your eyes, taking your prospects of any future grants with it. Don’t do it.
5. Make sure what you’re doing is DIFFERENT.
If you want to go spend the summer studying mime in France, then that’s all well and good, but there are already people who have been awarded the money to do that.
This isn’t to say that it’s impossible, just that if you’re going to make it happen, you really need to present a strong case to the funding body as to why YOUR project is different from anybody who has trodden that path before you. Are you exploring a particular niche in depth that nobody’s yet thought to go into? Are you planning to share your skills with a unique community when you get back, that otherwise would never have such access?
Whatever it is, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that you need to prove that what you are doing is unique.
Which, to some extent, is what all us artists need to be able to do anyway!