​Introduction to Grants

Up to now, we have spoken about crowd funding. But it’s time to get back to basics. Long before the internet blew open the doors on funding for the arts, grants were considered the primary resource for arts funding; and despite the rise of crowdsourcing, they still are.

Grants come in many shapes and sizes. Some are quite open-ended funding to complete a project within the umbrella of a particular arts medium. Others are rife with conditions from the logical to the absolutely whimsical. But no matter the conditions, grants should be one of your best allies in the ever present search for funding that is part of every working artist’s life.

Unlike a Kickstarter campaign which will skim a percentage off the top once you reach your fundraising goal, with grants what you see is what you get. If you apply for a $1500 grant and are accepted, you will receive a $1500 grant. However. Grant money is taxable. I repeat, grant money is taxable. When you receive a grant, no matter the amount, you are required to declare it on your tax return. There was a time of exemptions for grant money below a certain amount, but those days are long gone. No matter the award, no matter the frequency with which you receive grants, you must declare and pay tax to the government on all money received. With this knowledge, you can prepare ahead of time so that you aren’t stuck standing with a surprise bill at tax time.

There are just about as many sources for grants as there are art forms. From large, government linked grants to small, independently funded ones, there is certainly no shortage of applications to be filled out. Probably the most well-known arts funding organization is the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) which has been funding arts in the US since 1965. Grants are awarded to individuals and groups with the purpose of funding projects that bring art to the American people. Outside of the NEA, there are more independent grants available than would fit in this blog.

When applying for a grant, it is important that you understand the parameters of your chosen application. Grants are available for an incredibly broad spectrum of arts and niches, from photography to comic book creation, sculpture to live performance, and just about everything in between. Demographics often play a role in the awarding of grants. Some are set aside to fund women artists only or emerging African American artists, while others may reach out to the LGBTQ community or myriad other demographics. Be sure you understand the guidelines of any grant you’re applying for, and consider which demographics you fit into during your search.

Before you begin searching for a grant, you should have a clear picture of what project you wish to have funded. Not only should you have a clear picture, you should be able to describe this project well and provide samples of your plans or progress. Grants are often designed to fund specific projects, much like a Kickstarter campaign, and those reading the applications will want to have a clear understanding of exactly what you intend to accomplish with their money.

Applying for a grant takes some discipline. Once you have chosen a grant, it is best to read through the entire application a few times before you even embark. Often there are deadlines embedded within an application that you need to keep track of. Grant applications will sometimes outline specific guidelines for composition length or subject matter and it is important to adhere to these quite strictly. One of the fastest ways to get yourself out of the running for a grant is to fail to follow the instructions on the application.

It is easy to feel intimidated by the idea of grant applications. Putting in a lot of extra work for something that is far from a sure thing can feel discouraging even before you’ve heard a word from the grant committee. And there is no way to get around the fact that the decision making process in the world of artist grants is highly subjective. The very nature of art makes it something that is not quantifiable in the way that other fields often are. Working artists must develop a thick skin when it comes to these matters and not let rejection discourage them from continuing. A good rule of thumb is that for every ten grants you apply for, you may receive one. This may sound a bit dismal, but if you apply for no grants you will surely receive none. Every grant application is a chance for you to improve your skills in this important part of your life as a working artist. There is no such thing as a wasted grant application. Be sure to watch this space for more posts about artist grants, and check out the Praxis course on grant applications which comes in a bundle with seven other courses for further, step by step guidance in this process.

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