Dear Artists, Stop Turning In Bad Grant Applications (Part 2)

Woman prepared with application in 3-ring binders

This two-part guest post is by Bianca Lynne Spriggs, a multidisciplinary artist who has been a recipient and reviewer of multiple grants. See Part 1. A version of this post first appeared on her website.

Send a clean application packet

When panelists are reading through the material, this is the only impression we have of you. Often, the judging is blind and sourced from out-of-town. If not, and a panelist has a conflict of interest, they have to state that up front and inform the organization and withdraw themselves from the conversation about your work.

So, typically your work will be reviewed and assessed by strangers. This is the only shot you have at standing out, so make sure you're not standing out for the wrong reasons. Make sure the following happens before you press that submit button or drop your app off in the mail: 

  • Clean Copies.  Make sure if the work is a hard copy, you send the exact number of neat, paper-clipped (unless otherwise stated), collated copies of everything the application requires. Unless otherwise stated, use plain type, single-spaced, no smaller than 11 point font size. Don't mess with the margins. If you're including a budget for a project, make sure it's large and easy to read on some sort of table with explanations of numbers. All physical samples, including DVDs and CDs, should be clearly labeled and tested before you send. If it's in Dropbox or something, links should include at least your last name and a sample number and title. 
     
  • K.I.S.S. Method.  K.I.S.S. stands for "Keep It Short and Simple". Avoid jargon and technical terms that will require a lot of explaining or alienate the reviewer who may or may not be familiar with your exact process. Avoid large words and long convoluted sentences. Remember, I might have a hundred other applications to get through. I'm human. If you bore me, I will glaze over. Bullet points are your friend. So are paragraphs. And bold type to separate sections.  
     
  • Follow all the directions to the letter, and answer all questions fully.  If they want you to only list your name on every third page, then do it. If you get 3,000 words to tell us about your process, and you write three junky little sentences, how am I supposed to know what you're trying to use this money for or if you even deserve it? Also, I've seen plenty of applications come through where the work sample and resume are excellent, but the artist statement is either really pretentious and unnecessarily long-winded, or way too short and smacks of entitlement: "Just give me the dang award already! Can't you see how magnificent I am?" Find that balance of pride, humility, and sincerity in your artist statement, then find people whom you trust will give you brutally honest feedback, and ask them to read it.
     
  • Proofread your work.  Don't just read on the screen when you're typing. Print it out and read it aloud. You'll catch tons of errors that way. I've even heard of people reading it on their Kindle because the perspective changes. Also, learn the rules of semi-colons, or don't use them. 

Give yourself plenty of time

The last-minute rush will show like a wonky seam in your materials. If there's software online you have to register to use, create an account at least a month before the deadline so you can figure out how it works. Plan on turning in the application at least ten days before the deadline in case there are kinks, setbacks, stalled screens, finger fumbles, etc.

Same goes for hard copies. You'll need multiple copies of your work samples, at least one trip to the copy shop, and so on. 

Keep an open-mind, and keep trying

Sometimes application decisions have little to do with the work sample and more to do with missing components in the application itself. Sometimes parts -- important parts -- are left out altogether.

Don't be ashamed or give up if you don't get the award on the first or second time. Crafting an application like this is an art in and of itself. The more you do it, the better you'll become, so save your work. Thankfully, most processes will offer you some feedback from the reviewers, or even a workshop before the grant deadline, which you should definitely attend if you're a first-timer.

Keep talking about the project to anyone who will listen. Ask a friend to go over the application with you or at least listen to you talk about it. Buy them lunch or something to grease the wheels. Record the conversation if you feel comfortable doing that. Most people are better at sayingthan writing anyway. Even for a lot of writers this is true, when it comes to talking specifically about their work. Talk long enough and eventually you'll get to the heart of why you want this award. 

This all may seem like common sense, but trust me, as an occasional reviewer, I've seen that it's not common sense to plenty of people. If you follow these suggestions, you're almost guaranteed to get out of the slush pile and onto the next round!

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.

* * * * *

Click here to find more items about sustainability

Browse GrantSpace's resources for individual artists, starting with these pages:

Knowledge Base Articles for Artists
Arts & Culture gallery