What I Heard at the Grantwriting Watercooler in the National Endowment for the Arts

I should have known better after the cab screeched into its third U turn in the shadow of the nation’s capitol.

“I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine…”  I chanted through gritted teeth just like I always do when I am in gridlock hell in Flushing or in crosstown traffic on 34th Street in Manhattan. Of course it was raining, foggy and puddled along 7th Street.

I really should have known better after I looked up at the address and was informed by a cheerful Salvation Army Santa that I was at 400 7th Street NW, not SW.

I flag another cab.  No, I actually jump in front of a meandering stream of traffic ( you can only do this in places like DC.  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME).

Then I pile into a startled cab and head to the other end of 7th Street where I end up in front of a huge, defiantly beige marble and glass edifice populated by Special Forces people in khaki uniforms and hats that blended into the color of the lobby so through the foggy windows they looked like moving heads, hands and feet with no bodies.

Well, that’s kind of artsy I am thinking to myself as I am ushered by several of them through a series of very serious looking metal detectors and double glass doors.

“Turn left and wait to be allowed access,” barked the woman at the first desk without looking up.

“Thank you,” I said to the top of her head and began my second journey through high level security land.

To my surprise, the folks at the National Endowment for the Arts like their new digs.

Very 21st century work environment, reasonable and tasty subsidized food service, Metro station close by…

I like making my annual NEA visit.  In fact, I like visiting all of my funders.  To me it reminds all of us that we are people doing this work..

I also learn a lot about what is going on in their particular world.

 

Here’s what I learned on this trip:

The new chairman, Dr. Chu, is really getting out in the field to visit artist communities, especially tribal groups.

There is increased interest in getting more new groups into the Challenge grants.  This past round one third of the awardees were new applicants.

The big question is how do you get the word out to as many groups as possible across the nation about this and other grant opportunities?

We talked about how often there is great work being done by artists and groups who may not be able to write a competitive grant application – how do we make sure they are heard?

Some grant makers do interesting things like invite applicants to be part of their grant review in a “face to face panel”.  I am told that this process brings complete transparency to the review and allows artists to truly present themselves.

A reminder to make sure to give as much detail and context as possible.  Other panelists may not know you or your work at all and will need you to paint a compelling picture for them.

What does this mean for you?

The takeaways I recommend you focus on are these:

  • Every funder seeks to have the widest outreach as possible.  Show who you know.
  • Be relentless in your research. There are many grant opportunities that may not be well marketed on the website by their funders so dig deeper.
  • When you are writing your application, assume you are writing for Martians who have just landed on Earth and know nothing about you, what you do or where you live.  Clear context and compelling details are crucial in making you and your project come alive.
  • Conversations on the national level echo on the state, city and private level. Chances are, other funders share the same interests, concerns and priorities.

 

On the train back to New York, I thought about the NEA in its new highly secure surroundings and at the same time, peeking over the glass walls to see as far as they could to find artists to be part of their world.

Artists like you.

 

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2 thoughts on “What I Heard at the Grantwriting Watercooler in the National Endowment for the Arts

  1. Hello Houng
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    Thank you.

  2. Thanks for signing up and best wishes for the holidays to you!