How to win grants: Top tips from winning artists and resources on how to write your best application

As an artist of any medium, it can be fearful enough to put your artwork out there for the public to see. Applying for a grant application? That can be a whole other level of anxiety.
 
Though some say that “Works should speak for themselves,” artists need to have the ability to write (and talk) about their work in an understandable way for just about any application you’ll come across, from exhibitions to residencies to grants. And now is about as good a time as any for artists to get to writing, since the Arts Council of Hillsborough County (ACHC) Professional Development for Artists Grant applications are open now (July 19) through Aug. 6 and it’s free to apply.
 
Any artist who is a permanent resident of Hillsborough County who isn’t currently enrolled in school can apply: painter? Yes. Sculptor? Of course. Musician? Definitely. Puppeteer? Sure. A diversity of artists working in an array of mediums have won in the past. Artists must use the funds for professional development purposes, which boils down to two categories: an educational experience (like a residency, workshop, or conference) and equipment (think permanent, non-disposable equipment instead of consumables like paint). 
 
While most people reading 83 Degrees know me as an arts writer, I’m also a visual artist (silversmith, lapidary, and painter) who received an ACHC grant in 2019 and was one of the 2021 grant jurors. Viewing this grant from both sides as an artist and as an “art judge” really put things in different perspectives. From these experiences, I wanted to put together a few personal “Top 3” tips to help my fellow artists pull together their best applications:
 
  1. This should be an obvious one, but seriously: proofread your work. Start early and take a few hours each week to come back, re-read what you wrote, and see if it still resonates with you while you’re looking for budget mistakes or spelling errors. Pro tip: Have someone who doesn’t know much about your work read your proposal. Having fresh eyes read over your application may bring up sections that could be confusing or unclear for panelists that may not know about you or your work.
  2. Use the image captions to your advantage to give some context to your work. This will give you some extra words to explain pieces because word limits in the main writing sections can be tricky. Still, try to explain in as few sentences as possible.
  3. Remember scoring rubrics from like, 5th grade? The ACHC provides one (which can be found here, which is a lovely, helpful PDF you should definitely keep in front of you as you’re writing. Go down the list of “Excellent” in each of the five categories (“Need and Impact, “Commitment,” etc.) and ask yourself as you re-read: Does my application fit these “Excellent” qualifications? If not, you need to start coaxing out your inner lawyer because you’re basically pleading your case as an artist to these jurors. While each juror will score differently (some more lax than others), it’s nice to know that jurors change each year, so if you didn’t get a grant last year, it’s always worth applying again with an even stronger application!
 
Back on May 4, I was part of an ACHC panel discussion “Achieving Funding Success,” where previous grant winners and jurors talked a little about their grants and have some extra advice. If you happened to miss it, you can still watch the Zoom panel at this link
 
If you also happened to miss the ACHC grant webinar on July 16 that went over tips to help navigating the grant system, eligibility, and other important information, the ACHC will be making it available to view again soon after by signing up for their emails through their website or following them on Facebook.
 
Still on the fence about applying? Here’s more advice and encouragement from past ACHC grant winners:
 
“My advice for artists looking to apply to the grant is to assess their practice and see what would help them develop the work they are striving to create: some artists might Allotment installation by Robert Aiosa, which is currently on view at the Museum of Fine Art St. Pete for the SKYWAY exhibition.need a residency to spend a large chunk of uninterrupted time away from daily demands, or perhaps they have been wanting to learn a new technique that will help them gain a skill set to produce a certain type of work. There could be a piece of equipment or tool that will help them elevate their work process and help hone their craft. The applicants should ask for the total amount of the grant and prepare great examples of how the grant will help you move your practice forward. Details are very important to the jurors.” -- Robert Aiosa, 2018 grant winner who used the funds to purchase a professional table saw for his studio. He also served as an ACHC grant juror in 2019.
 
“Apply and listen to feedback! I had to apply twice before receiving the grant. My first William Douglas, "JS BLOWN AWAY + WHATABOUTTONIGHT," Cyanotype. 20 X 24 in., 2021.attempt was a learning experience that helped me shape my second application. The juror public evaluations are important to attend. The juror's comments assisted in having a better understanding of how my application was read amongst a diverse group of art professionals. With the grant, I have been able to begin projects that had been on hold due to the convenience of resources.” -- William Douglas, 2021 ACHC Grantee who used the grant for purchasing an archival Inkjet printer and a table saw.
 
“There is no reason or excuse for not Some samples of work by Matt Larson, 2019 ACHC Grantee.applying for a grant. Period. The funds are set aside to help you in your career path -- so why not you? More importantly, the process makes you think about your process, how to explain your process and the reasons behind your process. It’s a great exercise to go through and you’ll benefit from it. Trust me.” -- Matt Larson, 2019 Grantee who used his grant to purchase a Canon Pro printer to make transparent negatives from his digital images.
 
A photograph from Renato Rampolla’s photography collection Dignity: A Light Within.“Regarding the application process, details matter to the judges. Take time with your answers and think them through. Don’t assume they know everything about your work. Spell things out.” -- Renato Rampolla, 2019 Grantee who used his grant money for a 24mm camera lens.
 

“High-quality documentation of your pieces is probably the most important part of your application. Good lighting, proper editing, and a clean background makes portfolios stand out. Having someone edit your narrative statements is also a good idea!” -- Libbi Ponce, 2021 Grantee who used her grant money toward a Sony A7SIII digital camera.
 
“I would encourage any local artist to apply for funds -- you don't have to have a perfect project! More often than not, not enough people are out there applying for opportunities. Unfortunately, it is a reimbursement-based grant, which means you have to be able to spend up to $2,000 yourself before getting reimbursed. Just be sure you're ready to take on those expenses so they don't catch you by surprise!” --  Liz Prisley, 2021 Grantee who use her grant to purchase a keyboard and supporting equipment to put music to her spoken word poetry.

“My advice for applicants is summed up with this quote, ‘Every artist dips her brush Leeann Kroetsch models a swing coat; she utilized what she learned in ACHC grant-funded fiber workshops in her wearable art.into her own soul, and paints her own truth into her pictures,” by Henry Ward Beecher, who was an American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker known for his support of abolishing slavery. How does this translate to the application? While I encourage you to speak from your soul and let your heart guide your words; you must ensure that your responses directly answer the application questions.  Your response is ranked in comparison to each entry so your ability to concisely answer the question will determine how well you rise to the top of the stack.” -- Leeann Kroetsch, 2015 and 2018 ACHC Grantee who used both grants to attend felting workshops for her wearable fiber art.
 
“My best advice for grant applicants is to be thorough but concise. Try to think a bit like the judges tasked with selecting the grantees. Be considerate of their time.” -- Tim Boatwright, 2015 and 2018 Grantee who used his recent grant to fund the purchase of digital studio equipment. 
 
Alyse Trent, 2021 ACHC Grantee, working on soldering in one of the classes she used her grant money for.“Definitely have an English major proof your application! Typos and grammatical errors will count against you. Be prepared for and open to constructive feedback from the judges.” -- Trent Alyse, 2021 Grantee who used her grant for silversmithing classes and jewelry-making equipment.
 
“The best advice I can give to Tampa artists is: believe in yourself and your work. It pays to be passionate about what you create.” -- Crystal Haralambou, 2018 grantee who used her grant to attend a 6-week improv intensive workshop at the IO Chicago.
 
To find out more about the ACHC Grant, eligibility requirements, and other guidelines, visit their website.
 

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”
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