Money for artists (and that includes writers)

If you are an artist, there are several reasons why you should be seeking grant and fellowship support for your work:

  • money to make art, learn more, and develop career;
  • support for the scope and completion of specific art works;
  • recognition and encouragement;
  • credentials in the artistic community; and
  • because you’re a worker, and workers get paid.

If you are an artist, there are reasons why you think you don’t need money in support of your art work:

  • I make art; I don’t seek money.
  • My work stands for itself; I don’t want to talk about/explain my work.
  • I have a day job that pays me enough to live. I don’t need money.
  • I haven’t developed enough as an artist to ask for support.
  • Fundraising is salesy, and I don’t want to do it.

People, my eyes were opened to both of these sets of reasons when, in April, I gave a guest lecture/workshop to students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (SMFA), at the invitation of an artist who teaches a class there on “Creative Futures,” which helps undergraduate and graduate students plan for the career part of being an artist.

Because I worked in development for many years before becoming a writing teacher in 2003, and because I’ve had significant experience doing freelance grant-writing more recently, I was invited.

But… I have never applied for grant support myself (for writing projects) nor have I helped any individuals seek grant or fellowship support.

I turned, therefore, to my artist and writer friends for their insights into and advice on the world of grants and fellowships.

We talked on the phone, met for coffee, or corresponded by email. There were eight of them, and their feedback gave my workshop (see slides above) a real context. In my interaction with the 10 or so students in the SMFA class, I was also able to understand their attitudes toward and questions about grant-writing, and I also was excited to hear that a couple of the graduate students had already been successful raising money for their projects. They shared their advice with their younger peers and with me. For example, I learned more about fiscal sponsorships from them.

In preparing the workshop — and you’ll notice in the slides that it’s set up like a class, with exercises — I learned a lot that I tried to bring to the students, and yet also a lot that has affected my own thinking on grant seeking. I make a living as a teacher, so I don’t really need more money for survival or even some extras. I have long thought of my creative writing as something I do that I might, if lucky, sell. After prepping for this class, I now think that I should keep grant and fellowship support in mind. One or two projects may require travel for research. Money is available for that. Why not me?

If you are a productive artist (as in, you’re making art and writing regularly), then I encourage you to be aware of the support that is out there. Starting at slide 13 in my presentation (above), there are links to helpful resources: sources of funding, whether government or private support. On slide 26 is a short list of great how-to resources. I highly recommend Gigi Rosenberg’s book. I don’t know her, but I bought and love her book. On slide 27, the last one, is a list of the eight artists who gave their time and attention to my questions about artists and grants.

One of them, Ian Kennelly — Boston artist and teacher — summarized rather pointedly an overall approach to fund raising for artists.

  1. Understand what’s out there.

  2. Have feelers out.

  3. Strike.

Artists (including writers!), make this approach yours.

P.S. Please let me know more advice and resources if you have them! I will be giving this workshop again.


4 thoughts on “Money for artists (and that includes writers)

  1. Thanks for this, Jane. After getting dinged for several funding opportunities for my sabbatical project, I’ve been feeling a little gun-shy about applying for grants…but this makes me realize that the odds of securing money that way might be a lot better than getting funding through other channels.

    • Rosemary, for your line of work, you might want to search the excellent database of opportunities compiled by Michigan State University Libraries:

      Also, last year I went to a talk at AWP (Associated Writing Programs) by historians and nonfiction writers, and one author recommended that, for writers doing research for a project in one particular archive, they should ask the archivists if there are any grants available through the archive itself. That was news to me. She said archives often do have a grants program to encourage people to complete projects based on their holdings (or something to that effect).

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