How I won an individual artist grant, or "Use Your Words"

How I Won an Individual Artist Grant

If you haven't heard of them before, do yourself a favor and look up the Greater Columbus Arts Council. They do individual artist grants for a variety of things. The city of Columbus funds their programming (thanks, Mayor Coleman!). And, as grant goddess Alison told me this week, individual artist grants are pretty rare. Like many things, I decided to go into this head first.

Also luckily, I happen to be a copywriter (evidence here). Which essentially means that I spend hours and hours researching the temperature of the water when I could've just dipped my toe into it. With GCAC, I asked them directly for help. Sean and Ruby sat down with me and explained their process and what grant writing involved. I learned a couple obvious things.

To win an artist grant, you need to:

  • Use spelling and grammar
  • Add numbers correctly
  • Be able to articulate what you do as an artist

All three of these could be boiled down "communicate your ideas convincingly and concisely".

Spelling and Grammar

You already know how to do this. No matter how tough you think it is, you can spell words and use commas correctly. I didn't learn everything about grammar in school, either. I don't think anyone does. I learned everything I know trying to communicate with others through writing. Or, even harder, trying to write words for others to read out loud and still communicate my ideas to an audience.

Aka, playwriting.

When you're writing, think to yourself if someone could read that out loud without ever having seen it before and if a third person would understand what you wrote. We have symbols for pauses and stops -- things that break up a sentence. They're called punctuation marks. Use them, abuse them, don't be afraid to reuse them.

Writing is about transcribing not just the words in your head, but the tone. If you need to break English to accomplish that, make sure it's worth it.

Adding Numbers

You are an artist asking business people for money. Numbers are their language, so make sure you speak it well.

Think of all the costs you might need for this project and make sure they reasonably add up. Take screenshots of prices for classes and tickets on the internet, attach them to support your grant application. Bear in mind that some numbers change (e.g., plane ticket pricing). Build that into your proposal if possible.

Articulate what you do as an artist

Here's the hard thing to accept: you don't have to articulate why you're unique. In fact. Granters may be interested in knowing what other artists you are influenced by. If you can give them a name they know, they're more likely to enthusiastically support creating another one of... That person.

My example was Tina Fey for my Second City grant application. Everyone knows Tina Fey. Why wouldn't you want more funny people in the world? Let's give this kid some money for classes in a different city that Tina Fey also took.

Boom. Money.

Think of this like a pitch for a movie. Ideally, you're doing something new and interesting. However, you need to say what else it's like so that the investors know how to sell it. People will like seeing my work if they also enjoy Edward Albee, Tina Fey, and Dan Savage.

No one wants to give you money if they haven't heard of you. They will pay more money for something that resembles Robert Wilson in his formative years, but with a little more Liberace thrown in.

I got money for my education and so can you!

GCAC is an amazing resource for any Columbus area artist. They have a monthly deadline for three different individual artist grants: Professional Development, Performing Artist Travel Expenses, and a Supply grant. You can read more about qualifications here.