Working as a creative today can be an uphill battle, especially when it comes to getting the necessary resources for producing great work. That’s usually where arts grants come in. There are many, many arts grants out there, but with so much competition, how do you win them?

We brought in guest writer Vanessa Richards, Director of Creative Together, to share her expert knowledge about arts grant proposals. Vanessa is a recipient of over 32 major grants, and has often been a juror on the other side. Here are her best practices for winning arts grants.

Imagine that the person reading your proposal knows little or nothing about your work. They would like to. The word proposal in and of itself is a clue—make yours an easy one to say yes to.

Many artists feel uncomfortable with the process of explaining their vision. If you also feel that way, you are not alone. However, the opportunity to extend your vision beyond your own innate understanding can bring greater clarity, new insights, deeper commitment, and a foundation from which to continually enhance your skills and ideas.

Adopting an attitude of generosity towards your reader has the added benefit of decreasing the anxiety of “justifying” why your work should be supported by the programme. The proposal isn’t to prove or justify your value as an artist. It is a living document that can invite others into your unique and valuable perspective and inspirations.

Some granting programmes receive more than 150 applications. After each juror has read the proposals individually in their own time, they meet to discuss the applications collectively. These meetings may require 5 or 6 days to get through the proposals submitted. Some jurors will have travelled from afar to participate in the process and all will be exhausted by the end of it. This is why making your proposal an ease to read and a delight to consider is so very important.

Make it feel like a privilege, not a task, to read your proposal.

If you apply some of the following strategies your proposal will be ready for adaptation—and eventual success—from one of the many and various funders looking to support brilliant projects.

1. Make It Readable

photo by Vanessa Richards
photo by Vanessa Richards

Jurors have many proposals to get through. When they are difficult to read or understand, it detracts from the content. That’s a negative effect when the goal is to encourage a positive outcome. When your proposal presents well you literally afford the reader more time for nuanced considerations.

Use the suggested font size or bigger. Do not exceed the word count ever. Use fewer words than the allotted amount and your proposal will feel gutsier and confident.

Being succinct while evocative gives your reader a chance to participate imaginatively. Your well-written proposal will inspire people to champion your vision. Not sure if your vision sings? Ask someone else to read it and give you feedback before you submit.

Even though your proposal may have taken you weeks to write, it might take the reader 15 to 30 minutes to review. The jury may discuss it for 10 to 15 minutes, or less. Sit with that. Now make choices that allow your proposal to stand out for all the right reasons.

2. Answer The Questions

photo by Vanessa Richards

Deceivingly simple but seldom addressed directly. Each question on a proposal is chosen carefully. Answer it and say you are answering it.

Example: How does your work do ABC? This work does ABC by…. This makes it clearer for individual jurors to assess the proposal, how it meets the criteria, pushes the form, reinvents a classic, or any other important aspects that make one proposal stand out over another.

Thereafter, the discussion with the team of jurors can be about the answer and not if it was answered.

3. When In Doubt, Call

photo by Vanessa Richards

When you are unsure how the guidelines or priorities of the programme relate to your work, call the funder. They have a toll free number. Free call, free advice, better application.

You will not be penalized or “look bad” for not understanding some component or language in advance of your submission. You will be given useful feedback that will assist you in making the strongest proposal for your work.

You will “look bad” if you fake your way though an answer when a simple call could have clarified the pesky question, and saved you the anxiety of having to invent flabblegab in hopes that it baffles or just sounds smart.

Funders, sponsors, and donors want to give you the money if you meet the criteria and alight interest in your vision. Call them.

4. Address Your Shortcomings Or Concerns

photo by Vanessa Richards

If an aspect of the proposal is not fully determined before being submitted, anticipate the questions that would arise from that and address them.

Example: We anticipate the jellyfish will be problematic in this ocean-based work until we find water with the non-stinging variety, and thus plan to spend X amount of time assessing possible locations on the West Coast.” Or, “This core creative (or administrative) team is not experienced with social media and thus we’ve allocated budget to hire support.”

It is a rare artist, creative or administrative team that has expertise in all areas commonly assumed necessary for success. It is not expected. You are expected though to know the risks or shortcomings in your project and clarify how you will mitigate them. Don’t hide potential issues, address them.

5. You Are The Expert On Your Work

photo by Vanessa Richards

Help your readers understand it to appreciate or enjoy it more thoroughlyEven a jury well-versed in the discipline of your practice or your work will have gaps in knowledge and exposure. Use examples, context, or background, where possible.

Example: My work builds on the historic Argentinian gaucho and is distinct from hippodrome, equestrian arts and circus culture in these ways.” Then name them.

By illustrating the distinctions and directing the jurors attention to genre/form specific attributes, the proposal is assured a more comprehensive and insightful assessment.

6. Support Material Supports Your Success

photo by Vanessa Richards

Assist your viewers in seeing the most important aspect of your current or historic work. Contextualise and date images/sound files/video clearlySome jurors watch support material as a group while others do it during the initial review process. Either way, it is appreciated when jurors can just click play.

If it is not possible to edit support material to its most essential component, always mark clearly where in the video/soundtrack to begin viewing/listening. Sometimes more powerful images can be cropped from mediocre images.

Remember how visually literate our culture is, and keep good visual records of your work or relevant/related research so as to have plenty on hand for grants. Support material helps a jury fall in love with your work, how you work and what you are becoming.

Vanessa Richards started sharing her thoughts at the table at an early age. She is an artist with a foundation in performance, poetry, music and community engagement. She is fascinated by how stories can be developed across creative platforms, and shared. She loves collaborating with groups and supporting individuals and organizations to create inventive, meaningful and beautiful projects.

As a performer she has worked in music, film, television, and theatre. As an artistic director she’s devised public celebrations and arts education programmes with The Arts Club Theatre Company, Public Dreams, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Capilano University, Portland Hotel Society and SFU in addition to premier venues in the UK. Richards earned an MPhil in Creative Writing from Cardiff University, UK, with poetry and critical works anthologized in the UK, Holland, United States and Canada.

Her current focus is song in common life. She is the founder and song leader of the Woodward’s Community Singers, a drop-in choir open to all people and voices, and Creative Together, a song based facilitation process. She thinks it is very interesting how every human body is a perfect musical instrument.

Vanessa Richards photoShe is a recipient of over 32 grants from various organisations inclusive of Canada Council for the Arts, British Columbia Arts Councils, City of Vancouver Office of Cultural Affairs, London Arts Board (UK) and Arts Council England. She has also been a juror for these organisations in addition to Black History Month – Black Artists’ Network in Dialogue (BAND) and TD presents Then and Now.

Vanessa Richards is the Director of Creative Together.