Excerpt from the Proposal Writing for Individuals in the Arts - Write Your Proposal with Passion and Clarity program featuring writer, teacher, and solo performer Gigi Rosenberg, presented March 27, 2007
As part of its efforts to help grantseekers succeed, the Foundation Center offers free training and workshops for individuals and representatives of nonprofit organizations at its five library/learning centers. We are pleased to make available the following excerpt from "Proposal Writing for Individuals in the Arts - Write Your Proposal with Passion and Clarity," presented at our New York library/learning center on March 26, 2007.
Writer, teacher, and solo performer Gigi Rosenberg has been a commentator on Oregon Public Radio and has taught writing at Lewis and Clark College's NW Writing Institute, the Willamette Writers Conference, and Community of Writers. Her work has been funded by Oregon's Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), and she has served on the review panel for RACC's Project Grants.
If there is one thing that I want you to take with you today, it is that grant writing is the beginning of a conversation between you and your art and your art and the world. Yes, it can be drudgery, but writing a grant application can also be a way to hone your vision and to take your art further out into the world. And if it isn't doing that, then it's probably not worth doing.
When a singer is asked on a grant application to write something to describe her work, it's the equivalent of asking me - a writer - "Could you sing a song that would show us what your writing is like?" and I'd say, "What?! You've got to be kidding." So, yes: you need to learn another art form to express yourself about the art that you do. But the benefit of writing is that it helps you hone your vision and plan your next project.
Grant writing forces you to get your next project on paper. The deadline for the grant forces you to talk to that choreographer, talk to that graphic designer and get them on board. So even if you don't get the money, you now have a plan, your project is now real.
Because grant writing takes so much time, the process needs to benefit you even if you don't get funded. Many grant applications are reviewed by a panel of your peers so grant writing is a great way to get your name out, expose your peers to your work, and start to build your community. Grant writing helps you clarify the vision for your project, come out of the closet with your idea, and make it real.
Another thing that very few people want to think about is that it is also great practice in asking for help. It's very rare that a successful artist works in isolation. As artists we need to get help from other people to move our art forward into the world, and grant writing is a great way to start practicing asking for help - both from your colleagues and friends during the process and from the people who are granting funds.
There are two main phases to the writing process. Phase 1 is where you are like a hunter and a gatherer; you are going around gathering everything you can get. So what are you gathering? You're gathering all the ways to write about your art and your current project. This includes writing on your own about your process, development as an artist, audience, etc., and using the questions on the grant application. Also, you are having friends interview you to get you talking about your work because you're going to say things in speaking that you would never even think of writing down. In essence, you're gathering your own language.
In Phase 2 you're going in with a scalpel and slashing and cutting and making your answer pointed and tight so there is not one word that is extraneous. I'm sure you can imagine you can't do those processes at the same time - it makes you totally nuts. So that's why you need, once again, time: at least overnight, but if you can spend a couple of months getting your grant together that would really be the best. You've got all this time to do your hunting and your gathering, take a break, don't look at anything, and then a lot of time to go back and cut, cut, cut till you get down to the essentials.
I want you to go out and start interviewing your audience about what your work means to them. This is one of the most powerful things you will do for your project. How are you going to find those people? I started with a group of friends who had seen my work. Interview the people who love your work - those are the people you want to find to talk to. This interview is extremely useful. The kinds of things you're going to be asking are: "After you have seen my work, what questions do you have? What about my work is disturbing, intriguing?" Write down verbatim the words and the phrases people are using to describe your work. This will blow you away because they are going to say things that you never thought of before. They are going to make connections in the work that you never thought of before. You can ask them things like "How would you describe my work to somebody else?"
I encourage you to go and interview your audience members. They can be people who know you well or people who don't know you that well - but just start to ask them these kinds of questions. When I talk about the hunting and the gathering phase, the widening phase, this is one of the things you do to collect ideas and language to describe your work.
The grant panel that reviews your application is your first audience for this project. Your job is to inspire them about your work. Grant writing is about how to express yourself clearly and passionately so that the reviewer is so excited about your project that they'll fight to get your piece funded.
When I sat on a panel reviewing grants, the grants that got funded were the ones where the words painted pictures in my mind when the applicant answered the questions. As a grant reviewer, I needed to get excited about the work and I got excited when I could see the work in my mind's eye.
Remember to be personal and specific in all your proposals and remember that the funders want you to do an excellent job on your proposal because it makes their job easier. Remember that it is not a computer that's reading your application. It's another person - often another artist. And that this is not a solo effort. You've got to get other people involved in your process.
So use your grant writing to hone your vision and meet the world with your art. The grant writing process helps you do both those things and really makes you a better artist.
For more information about this workshop, contact Gigi Rosenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional resources for individual grantseekers, visit Welcome Individual Grantseekers at the Foundation Center's web site.