Friday, June 7, 2013

You Can Get Paid for This?

Your dreams of being paid to make art can be reality

by Amalia Nicholson

When I was in art school there was constant chatter about who got what scholarship, who got the special exhibition wall for their senior showcase, and who would probably end up going to some ritsy grad school where they'd rub shoulders with Cindy Sherman and Robert Polidori. Competition is a great motivator for some people, but for me, it just brought out my insecurities about not being good enough. So I never tried. I would keep many ideas to myself and only share what I had to in class.

Once I graduated, the harsh reality that I no longer had access to equipment or even a computer drove to finally investigate the world of Minnesota arts funding in all of its glorious bounty. What I found is that there are a lot of organizations in this state that really, REALLY want to give you money to make art. It's just sitting there, and all you have to do is apply. So that's what I did.
My project was funded on my first try, and while many of you may not get the big bucks your first time, the things you will learn from the process will be invaluable.

A year after receiving a $9,000 grant from the MN State ARts Board's Artist Initiative Grant, I was invited to sit on the panel as a judge for the media arts section. I had a lot of misconceptions about this process when I was an applicant, but as a judge I learned that I was wrong about SO MUCH. Here is what I know:

You have to be the next Van Gogh to get grant money.

Yea, right. You know what happened to Van Gogh? He didn't get paid for squat and then he killed himself. That sucks. A lot of the grants geared for emerging artists look at artistic merit as well as potential. Judges understand that you have to start somewhere, and the goal is that this money will further your career and skill level. Basically, if you are an emerging artist, don't apply for a grant that's looking to fund an artist who has been working for 50 years. It'll help your chances a whole bunch.

Grant Panels are made up of the smartest, richest, upper-crust art people in Minnesota.

Nope. Artists are a pretty diverse group of people, if you haven't noticed. Some of us get paid to make it full time, while many of us probably work in a coffee shop. We all find different things beautiful and as judges, we're encouraged to leave personal bias and aesthetic aside. Some of us can be a bit harsh (I was told to stop being the Simon Cowell of the panel), but it's just one person's opinion.

I will literally quit making art if I don't get this money.

That's the exact opposite thing you should do! If you don't get the grant, see if you can get feedback! Most of these panel meetings are recorded, and I bet you can get a copy of it. Sometimes that's the scariest thing in the world, but I promise it will do more good than bad. Take the next year to make work on the cheap, think about your grant proposal in new ways, and then apply again!

Account for everything.

Make your budget as detailed as possible, and include TAXES. That's right ladies, this money is taxed and counts as your income. Nothing stings more than having to pay $1,000 out of your own pocket during tax time because you didn't think to include that in your proposal (sigh).

Actually read the grant prompt.

And then read it again. Just like when you were in school, the grant requirements are there for a reason, and they want you to thoughtfully address each and every one of them. A lot of the reasons for people being disqualified for grants was simply because they didn't address the entire grant prompt. What a bummer!

Don't over extend yourself.

Only write a grant that you know you are capable of accomplishing. These organizations are making an investment in you and if you're writing checks that your booty can't cash, have to give the money back! So if you know you can get a week to make your epic film on an ocean liner, go for it! If you can't...Figure out an alternative plan.

And that's what I know! There will always be more grants and you will always be an artist, even if you don't get the money you want. The thing I miss most about art school is the creative feedback, and if anything, the grant application process is probably one of the best critiques you can get as an artist outside of school. Apply once, then apply again and again and again.

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