Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grant Writing!

I've been thinking for a while now that I need to do a posting on grant writing. I just received an email from an artist friend with questions regarding one grant in particular and it made me realize I am not the only one struggling to build up a new skill set in such writing and thinking.

Grant writing is important to the development of one's art if you want to engage in projects involving research and communities, if you want to collaborate with other artists and basically just necessary if you want to bring your ideas to life AND get funding for it!

The Foundation Center is a great resouce and the whole month of October was Funding for the Arts month so they had a whole series of free workshops. These workshops are not only great for the information delivered by the presenters, but also wonderful for meeting other artists. I met one very understated artist who had insightful feedback on my first tortured draft of a grant application. It was obvious to me that he was very knowledgeable and generous with his information. I looked up his website when I got home and was so glad that I did. His projects are brilliant and his writing style elegant. His name is Todd Gilens. I really enjoyed his playing cards project for the Delaware Art Museum. .

Narrative Hook
In one of the workshops I attended we were told that there needs to be a narrative hook in the writing, some fragment of imagery from which the rest of the writing hangs. I struggled to understand what this meant until I read Todd Gilens' bio. It got me to thinking about what was the root of inspiration for all my art? What in my childhood was like his experience of sitting on a giant concrete ground sloth? (OK, if that doesn't get your interested in clicking on his bio link above, I don't know what will!)

I realized that although I, too, lived in L.A. and visited La Brea Tar Pits, I had many homes growing up...about 12 addresses in all. I began to think about how that shaped me. Reading Todd Gilens' bio helped me frame an application for an individual artist grant (Silicon Valley Arts Council Artist Fellowship) with a personal narrative at the beginning:

As a small child I was frequently tucked into the car and wrapped in a patched quilt of kimonos, rice bags and faded Hawaiian aloha prints. On long cross country drives to a new home on one side of the country or the other, I carefully studied the fabrics rolling in small hills across my knees. They whispered of rustling sugar cane fields, of great aunts cooling off in rice bag slips, and of kimono doll dresses made of apple wrappers. The fabrics were warm reminders of family life and blended cultures on islands far away. They are the inspiration for my mixed media art today.

At the end, I had this to bracket the whole Artist Statement:
My art is rooted in the knowledge that textiles anchor us to cultural memories and help shape new identities. I will always be that child gazing in wonder at the diverse fabrics patched into the rolling landscapes of my life.

My point here is to read other artist's bios. It can light a spark of memory in your own life and help with formulating your voice.

Sharing Resources and Info
Another great thing about meeting other artists and joining arts organizations is the resources and information they share if they are generous. Not all artist are generous. I have come to really appreciate the ones who are.

After sharing some of my textile experimentation with Mr. Gilens he sent me this link on intricate Islamic tile work. It is a fascinating article.

John Kuzich is another very generous artist. After only meeting him a few times, he showed up and helped me pack up the evening before my de install at the de Young. His residency at the de Young was this past summer and his show and reception were fantastic.

I have a network of friends who are artists, arts educators and teachers and it is great to be able to pool our information. A few months ago I applied for the Rambus-KCI Innovation Award. I happened to hear about it from a friend and would not have known about it otherwise. Last week I was notified that I was the final runner up for the award. It will be wonderful to meet the other arts educators honored at the ceremony.

Hire a Grant Writer/ Reviewer
I have also been working on a Creative Work Fund letter of intent with a museum. Until a few months ago I didn't know what a letter of intent was. Now I know it is a letter explaining your grant concept with preliminary budget and timeline. If the funder likes it, you get invited to formally apply for the grant.

I consulted with a great grant writer/artist, Nancy Hom, who read draft after draft of my concept. She posed many insightful questions which helped me to tighten up my ideas.
Nancy teaches a 2-part workshop on grantwriting from time to time (next one starts on Nov 16, 2-4 PM at the International Hotel Manilatown Center), plus gives private consultation.
For more information, contact Nancy at

I highly recommend getting the help of a grant writer when attempting a grant for the first time. I felt like I took an intensive online workshop with Nancy Hom and I learned a ton from her. Even if the museum and I do not get invited to apply, I have greater knowedge of the process and feel it was a very worthwhile experience.

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