Business of Art | Navigating the Grant Application Process as a Performance Artist

Business of Art | Navigating the Grant Application Process as a Performance Artist
Image: Lauren Slone, Photo Credit: Erin Tindol

These tips from Lauren Slone, Director of Grants and Research at the MAP Fund, will help you be more strategic when applying for grants.

As the Director of Grants and Research at the MAP Fund, Lauren Slone, who is also an artist and an advocate, focuses her career on exploring “how resources move and how they concentrate in the field of performance, attempting to build new grantmaking practices that change how power circulates.” She recently shared her expertise about how to navigate the grant system at Dance/NYC 2021 Digital Symposium. Read on for insights from Slone on how to strategically apply for opportunities while maximizing your time and energy.

The Great Grant Application Burnout

“Why do I repeatedly have to prove myself through applications?” is one of the first questions that Slone anticipates having to answer when opening the conversation. Many artists are exhausted, under-resourced, and expected to be successful entrepreneurs as much as they are successful creators of artwork. One of the mechanisms available to support their work–grant systems–are frequently inaccessible, unclear, and labor-intensive for those they are supposed to support. And if the stress of applying and reapplying was not enough, performance projects are also becoming more expensive to fund while the competition for grants is increasingly competitive. Many grantmakers are aware of systemic inequities and are actively seeking ways to make meaningful structural changes, but artists cannot wait for these fixes before seeking funding for their projects. Should you keep applying for grants, then? The answer is yes, but in a more strategic way. Plus, Slone reminds us, “by participating in the process, artists have more opportunities to meet the staff and influence how programs operate moving forward.”

“New collaborations or presentation opportunities happen regularly, whether or not the artist received the grant.”

Why Keep Applying

Yes, grant systems have problems. Still, “If you apply for a grant, you automatically increase your odds of receiving support or other opportunities beyond what the grant program offers. Even 1% is a better chance than 0%,” Slone reminds us. Think of it as a learning experience. It is through such processes that “Many artists say that they learn something important about themselves, their ideas, and how they wish to represent their work when they go through the process of applying. They develop skills that translate into sharing their ideas in many different contexts,” Slone says. She adds, “people will learn about you, sometimes beyond your field.” So while much-needed funding might not come your way, you might be introducing a lot of important industry professionals to your work and practice, which will help you build your reputation. “New collaborations or presentation opportunities happen regularly, whether or not the artist received the grant,” says Slone. 

“Getting a grant or not is not a measurement of your value.”

How to Keep Applying

Before starting any work, make sure you’re eligible! Grantmakers oftentimes make themselves available to answer questions about a grant application. Check for emails and information sessions to learn more about the selection process. And the main thing to keep in mind? “Getting a grant or not is not a measurement of your value,” Slone emphasizes. 

Using applications as a networking tool is a good strategy, but this doesn’t mean you should apply for all the grants that come your way. “I actively discourage people who are exhausted from putting themselves through any more labor than is necessary,” says Slone. The “apply all the time and do everything you can” strategy is definitely one that she doesn’t recommend. Instead, she advises, “consider the opportunities that are worthy of your time.” That means, you should consider the time you spend applying for a grant as labor, and as such, this time must be financially compensated. One way to calculate whether it’s worth your while is to compare how long it will take you to apply with the value of the grant. Will the hourly breakdown equal less than your hourly rate as an artist? If the answer is yes, you might want to reconsider.

Illustration of an individual staring at a  document with highlighted passages in it.
Image: unDraw

Do Your Research

Researching past grant recipients and the review panel is another good way to gauge whether you should or should not apply—“notice characteristics that you may share in terms of discipline, region, etc.” Checking your odds is also a good idea. Try to find out how many applications the funder receives on average and how that breaks down in terms of the number of grants available. This doesn’t mean you should not apply if your odds are low. The goal here is to “scale the hopes and expectations to receive the money to the scale of those odds.” 

Another important tip is to make sure you’re talking to your peers. Slone explains: “It’s helpful to check in with peers because you’ll share some of the same eligibility characteristics. Find out which programs they’ve applied to, which they haven’t, and why or why not [they applied]; this is valuable information.” But be careful not to buy into assumptions. “What you bring to an application process and your chances of receiving the funds are unique to you and cannot be compared against anyone else’s.” 

“Create a personal template to aggregate and track grant systems that are relevant to you.”

Consider Becoming Fiscally Sponsored

Joining a Fiscal Sponsorship program increases access to fundraising opportunities from foundations, government, and corporate funders. Some of these programs, like NYFA’s, for example, might even offer you proposal writing assistance. 

Organize Your Data

The key to effective decision-making when it comes to grants (and many other things) lies in data collection. Stay informed about the industry and keep tabs on trends. Most importantly, don’t let this information get lost in your files. “Create a personal template to aggregate and track grant systems that are relevant to you. At the very least, you’ll want to track the funds, the website, the contact person’s name and how to reach them, award amount, cycle timeline, and the open and close date of the application process,” Slone advises. The best way to stay in the loop? Subscribe to newsletters from the organizations that offer the grant programs that most interest you.

Illustration of individual placing a document inside a folder
Image: unDraw

Create Your Own Process

In summary, Slone encourages the following approach: “If the odds are not in your favor, but the potential return is very high, and you have the energy to submit, I strongly suggest applying. If the odds are not in your favor and the potential return is low, it may be much more worth it to focus on building other relationships in the field with the hours that you would use to apply. Whether or not you choose to submit in any particular cycle, you will have created a great process for deciding to apply in the future.”

– Compiled by Luiza Teixeira-Vesey, Designer/Marketing Officer

This article draws tips from Navigating the Grant Application Process,” a presentation given by Lauren Slone, Director of Grants and Research at the MAP Fund, at the Dance/NYC 2021 Digital Symposium. Sign up for NYFA’s free bi-weekly newsletter to learn first about NYFA’s awards and grants.

Luiza Teixeira-Vesey
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