The Business of Art: The Business of Practicing Your Art (Part II of II)

The Business of Art: The Business of Practicing Your Art (Part II of II)

The Business of Practicing Your Art: Part I presents the importance of developing a personal idea of success, as it relates to your work as an artist. It also provides an overview of the ways in which mapping a detailed outline of your artistic goals, needs, identity and current/potential audience can directly translate into the materials, i.e., your artist toolkit, needed to communicate the aspects of your practice that are key in you obtaining opportunities (e.g., grants, residencies, fellowships, exhibitions, and teaching) to realize and support your success as an artist. With your goals set and your toolkit in place, you are prepared to begin the task of developing habits for success by doing two things.

The first is developing a regular schedule to research and apply for opportunities. This schedule should be informed by the goals of success that you have set for yourself. Meaning, the frequency that you will need to research and apply for opportunities is dependent upon the amount of support needed for your practice. Are you looking for the occasional project-by-project support, or are you in need of more frequent support to sustain a full-time practice? Whatever the case may be, developing a weekly or monthly schedule will aid in your ability to obtain sufficient support to reach your goals. 

The second habit for success is developing an understanding of the types of opportunities available to artists and which is right for you. There are many opportunities out there for artists, including ones that are centered on cash awards, space awards (e.g., residencies, subsidized studio rentals, etc), and exhibition and publication opportunities. To streamline your search, you need to consider some basic guidelines that will help you narrow your focus. Use the following four main ideas to help you get started: 

  • What Do I Want/Need?
    Why do you need support? Opportunities are typically specific in their purpose. Therefore, it is important to determine the reason behind applying for one. Are you seeking opportunities for training or an apprenticeship? Do you need to acquire studio space, materials and/or specialized equipment to realize a project? Have you already completed a project and are in need of exhibition, publication, or presentation opportunities? 
  • Who Am I?
    Many organizations that administer opportunities have stipulations around eligibility, based on either their mission, purpose, or a specific initiative. These eligibility criteria can include specifications around geographic location, gender, ethnicity, career point, discipline, academic achievement and more. For example, New York Foundation for the Arts’ Fellowship program awards $7,000 grants to artists in fifteen specific disciplines. The applicants must be a resident of New York State for at least two years prior to the application deadline and cannot be enrolled in a degree program of any kind. Refer back to section 3 of The Business of Practicing Your Art Pt. I and think about how to identify yourself. 
  • Who is my Audience?
    Who are you trying to reach through your work? Is your work region specific? Is it community oriented? Is it geared towards children? Just like organizations have eligibility requirements around the identity of the artist, many also have stipulations around the kinds of audience supported works should address. For example, The San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst Fund: Individual Artist Fellowship Program supports local professional artists in the creation of new work that “that advances their careers and encourages civic engagement and social change in San Diego neighborhoods.” 
  • Timeframe
    By when do you need to receive support to realize your project goals? Plan ahead, since there is normally lag time between applying for an opportunity, being notified of receiving the opportunity and actually receiving the opportunity. Also, check an opportunity’s guidelines, since most will list specific dates for when each part of the process takes place. 

With your framework in-place, the next step is to set-up anywhere from a weekly to a monthly schedule of a day or a few hours that you can commit to in order to research and apply to opportunities. The idea is to keep this as part of your regular practice, so that it does not become a burden. During this time, use a spreadsheet software (such as Microsoft Excel) to maintain a list of relevant opportunities that you have come across. While researching information, think about creating your own tailored database of opportunities on your spreadsheet. Don’t limit the information you add to opportunities that are relevant to your current or next project. Instead, divide your spreadsheet into sections (e.g., travel grants, cash grants, residencies, exhibitions) and add any opportunity that could potentially be applicable to you now or in the future along with brief notes about what materials are required for the application. Also, don’t be afraid to add information about opportunities with deadlines that have passed. If it is an ongoing opportunity, i.e., something offered on a rolling basis or with some identifiable regular schedule (monthly, annually, bi-annually), add it to the spreadsheet with a note approximating when its upcoming deadline. If an opportunity is ongoing, it is likely that it will be offered around the same time, from year to year. 

While research should take place regularly, the frequency at which you will apply for opportunities will be dependent on your specific needs. If you are an artist who is looking to occasionally fund specific projects, you may find yourself intensely focusing your efforts on many applications over a very limited period of time. If you are an artist looking to almost completely (if not completely) sustain themselves with awarded opportunities then you will find the need to apply to many opportunities continuously. 

Regardless of which track you choose, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that no opportunity is guaranteed until you have actually received it. Unexpected complications can occur that can delay the start date of opportunities. In rare cases, they can even result in the cancellation of an opportunity (even after you have received notification of it being awarded to you). Protect yourself by trying to anticipate the unexpected and leave space in your schedule to account for any possible adjustments you may need to make. 

Finally, remember that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself time and don’t let setbacks discourage you. Apply to a variety of suitable programs, to increase your chances of receiving the support you need. You may find that out of a lot of applications completed, a small amount may result in an award. This is not unusual and should not be taken personally. There are many talented artists in the world vying for needed support. Use every experience to help you rethink your strategy and adjust your approach to work better for you and move you closer to your idea of success.

Toccara A. Holmes Thomas is Program Associate, NYFA Source. 

Amy Aronoff
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