3 Secrets of Artists Who Get Grants & Residencies

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Erin Treacy, visual artist

Erin is a painter.

She is currently the artist-in-residence at the Paper Factory Hotel, a new program of the Queens Council on the Arts.  Actually, she is in the lobby where there is a constant stream of curious guests and visitors.

Offbeat? Yes.

Untraditional? Yes.

Intentional? Absolutely.

Like many artists in New York City, Erin supports her creative career by seeking residencies and grants.  Sometimes the number of people she is competing against is small, say 50 – 60.  Sometimes the competition for a limited number of grant dollars can be fierce with over 1000 people in the mix.

It can be really tough to put together a life around being artist. Many emerging artists run from one freelance job to another so they can carve out precious studio time leaving almost no time to write proposals and grant applications or cook dinner.

How do you land residencies and get grants?  Is there a closely guarded secret that other artists know and won’t share? Does someone have the perfect proposal that sails to the top of the YES pile over and over?

What Erin and other successfully funded artists have in common is a different approach to being an artist in the world. This approach and way of thinking is common to every successful artist and creative entrepreneur I have seen over the past decade as an arts funder.

If you are asking to yourself, “What if I’m not a writer, will that knock me right out of the running?” or “Who’s going to take me seriously? I’m just a beginner, nobody knows who I am.” or “Wow, this is a lot of work, where do I start?”

I have good news for you.  Everyone has the same concerns, no matter how cool or smart they look.  And these questions have very little to do with whether or not you will succeed.

When you are applying for a grant, a residency or pitching a project, what makes people say YES to you is your mindset.

Here are 3 simple mindsets that will immediately set you apart from the rest:

Your poetry, your music, your art is for someone else. Not you.

Think of yourself as part of the service industry and place the needs of the customer before your own. Talk about how someone will feel listening to your poems or music. Paint a picture of what effect or change will happen to a person experiencing your art. This is a subtle but powerful shift in how you position yourself to your audience and to your funders.  Show a funder you care about who they care about by creating art for them.  That you can be a great partner, not just a great grant applicant.

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Brian Sonia-Wallace, poet

Brian Sonia-Wallace, the recent winner of the Mall of America’s writer-in-residence, says that his poetry is for someone – someone other than him.  He plans to write 125 poems on an old school Corona typewriter that will be inspired by the mall shoppers and their experiences.  The mall representatives said this idea “stood out as creative and engaging.”  For his Amtrak residency, he proposed the idea of sharing his work by setting himself up with his typewriter in areas where people could talk to him and using social media platforms.

Go for delight.

There is a wonderful Jewish word, Dayenu, which means, “that would have been enough”. It is also a Passover song that expresses greater appreciation for blessings.

Don’t stop at Dayenu.  Go for delight.  Make something that startles people by going beyond what they expected.  People are attracted to joyful experiences.  They want that in their lives and if you are the one who can deliver this, they will want more of you which can often open up unexpected opportunities.

An artist applying for a major public art commission had an idea that was very similar to another finalist. He presented a vision of how people walking past his piece, a wall of colored glass, would be bathed in constantly moving colors as day moved into night transforming their everyday commute into a journey of light.  Then he actually lifted a sheet of glass to the window and instantly put all of us in that moment he described for us.

That was amazing.  We were so delighted we gave him the commission on the spot.

Write for YES.

Which means don’t stop at NO. Go for everything. There are so many reasons behind a NO that have absolutely nothing to do with you as a talented, qualified artist.

For example, you may be a composer who lives in the midwest with a terrific project that checks all the boxes, pushes all the right buttons and doesn’t get funded because last year they funded midwest artists and this year they want to fund east coast artists.  Or they want to fund sculptors. If it is a private or family foundation, sometimes it is simply because Uncle Phil started kayaking and decided to fund water conservation projects this round instead of music.

My advice? Toss NO over your shoulder, save your draft for another time and keep going. Again, it is not about you. It is about them.

You will find yourself in much more creative and positive places if you embrace these mindsets.  Like a hotel, or a mall or an awards ceremony.

But whereever you are, your career will attract all kinds of opportunities, success and people who want to be part of what you do because your energy is different.

Believe me, people will notice.

Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Four artists.

Four dreams.

Four proposals.

Sometimes you can just tell from the first few lines of what they have written, or what they say in the first few minutes, whether their project will succeed or not.

And when I say success, I mean that as something that defines an artist’s entire career, not just one grant proposal even though many of the same contributing factors can affect both.

One of the artists in a recent proposal writing workshop said,

“I really want to give people a hands on experience that can change their perspective by directly participating in my project.  This will help me grow as and artist and develop my creative process.  And the grant will help me create new projects and help me develop new experiences based on traditional art forms.”

Her proposal had been turned down by another foundation and she wanted to know how she could make it better.

My answer was really a question.

“Better for whom?”

Why this is important

No one likes rejection.

Or the feeling that you have invested so much time and energy for something that has been turned down.

You start to question your work, you start listening to that pesky demon whispering in your ear at 2:00 am, you wonder if you really have what it takes.

How do some people make it through?  What are they doing that makes that all important difference between getting a grant and getting a rejection letter?  Is their success unique or a sequence of strategies that you can learn?

And, what are reviewers really looking for?

What you can learn from your competition

You have a creative dream and a passion to share it.  It is something that will make a tremendous difference for the people who experience it.  You need moral and financial support to bring this to life and to build a life around your creative work.

I have been thinking a lot about how to create spaces and opportunities for artists to make life more beautiful and vibrant and all of the reasons we choose to create.

After spending a lot of time reviewing grants on the city, state and national level, I have seen patterns of success in the proposals of artists who get grants and go on to build great careers.

There is one thing that makes grant reviewers like me sit up and pay attention.

My dear friend and colleague, David Johnston, said it best, at the end of a long panel session:

“I just want to be delighted.”

 

How do you do this?

Create from a sense of joy.

It will fill you with energy, motivation and a sense of purpose and the work you produce will often be more successful in the market or with your audiences whether they are ticket buyers, fans or grant panels.  These 2 values – creating work you are passionate about that is successful – are not always closely linked but there is a way to find that sweet spot.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Think about framing joy as your intention.
  2. Then take yourself out of the equation.

That’s right.

Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

My answer to the artist was an invitation to rethink why she was doing her project.
If the intent is to help her to grow as an artist, who really benefits besides herself?  If it is to change a person’s perspective, and perhaps in a joyful way, the world will benefit, one person at a time.
Never underestimate the power of delight.

Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

What’s In Your Pockabook?

the Kelly bag

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

“The bag is at once, the simplest, the most complicated and the most emotion laden of accessories… because in one of its key manifestations, the handbag, it can be deeply expressive of a woman’s life – serving as a companion, a receptacle of secrets, a status object and a means of self display.”

from Fifty Bags That Changed the World: Design Museum Fifty by Robert Anderson

Well, that certainly makes everything in my bag much more significant so I am only going to have things in mine that are the best representation of me, and so should you.

I discovered the mysteries of a woman’s handbag with my Jewish babysitter.  Standing on my tiptoes, I watched her clutch her bag, thrust her solid fingers into the deep silky recesses and emerge with a toffee or a shiny nickel for me.

More revealing than her medicine cabinet, which was a formidable cabinet of curiousities, her handbag was a rare peek into her everyday soul. One that was fed by a scramble of assorted candies, cough drops, tissues, a Helena Rubinstein lipstick – always a brilliant red, loose change and bakery string.

I waited for those moments.  The ones where she would peer through her glasses and sigh, “Kindeleh, gib mir mein pockabook.”  And I would stand on my toes to peek into the deep universe of her handbag.  Her pockabook.

Pockabook!

How I longed to have one of my own.

And what would I put in my pockabook?  What precious items, things I wanted near me, things I would feel incomplete leaving the house without?

I consider everything I carry in my bag as urban survival tools.  They are everything I need to navigate my way through my daily jungle.

Here’s what I have in my bag today and why:

  • keys – can’t drive without them
  • wallet – can’t buy coffee or get into buildings in the city without little pieces of plastic with my name and face on them
  • phone – can’t deal with the ridiculous anxiety I get when I don’t have my phone. I know, that’s hardly a good reason but I can’t help it.
  • pencil case – yes, i still carry No. 2 pencils.
  • sketchbook – I love to draw people. And trees and conversations and attitudes.
  • a story to work on – there are always those unexpected snatches of time – sometimes just a few minutes, sometimes a 25 minute train ride – where I can get some thinking and writing done.  It adds up.

That’s it.

These are things I carry through my day but they actually carry my artistic vision closer to reality everyday.

Some people carry earphones to listen to music.  I will carry earphones to block out any sounds that distract me from what I am doing.

Some people load up their phones with games and movies to entertain them.  I load up my drawing apps with sketches.

Some people read e books.  I write ebooks.

I carry only what I need to get through my day and to capture it at a moment’s notice.

I am not a carrier of stuff.  I am a gatherer of images.

I do not need toys.  I need tools.

I am not a consumer.  I am a creator.

What are you doing and what is in your pockabook?

 

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Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

The Most Powerful Question You Need to Ask. Again.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

I knew it was time for me to jump through the hoop.

The consultant power posed alongside the last slide of his presentation with the customary upward chin tilt that read,

“Impressive, don’t you think?  Now here’s what we need from you.”

As the art person at a table full of suits, I often get the sense that people walk on eggshells around me, or peer at me the way you would look at a new species of a goldfish. Curious, even cautious – you never know about artists and those unpredictable temperaments.

In this case, the suits actually needed input from artists to help make their proposal more compelling.  They needed to rise above the stiff competition to win the bid to put up a new building development in a community that lost hundreds of working artists to growing gentrification.

Their vision was to create spaces for different categories of people in the community.  Something for everyone.  After figuring out what the spaces were, they started filling them until someone told them they needed an art expert to tweak their plan, give it a local spin.

This is what they told me when they first called.  Now, they were all looking to me for my answer.

What I told them was not what they expected.

What a grant reviewer can teach you about getting funding

My background is in art and funding artists.  However, I have also reviewed proposals for real estate, fellowships, radio, education, disaster relief, small business and technology over the past decade.  Enough variety and range to see patterns emerge that appear in the proposals and more importantly, in how they are judged.

So much time and effort goes into preparing proposals.  There is never enough money to fund every worthy proposal and that ratchets up the competitive environment for everyone. Your project may be outstanding in your world but will it elbow its way past a stack of equally worthy projects to get funded? Did you do your best in creating a winning case for your project?  For people who depend on winning bids, grants and funding awards to grow their businesses and careers, mastering the art of proposal writing is crucial.

3 common and unremarkable ways to answer a question

The most common and bewildering thing people do is this: they don’t read.

And to make things worse, they don’t answer the questions. What I often see are answers that make me hunt through a sea of text to find the information I need, eventually making me cranky and annoyed because it takes so much time and I always have a huge stack of proposals to go through.

Many people use the questions as a place to get up on a soapbox and talk about the following:

‘Here’s my passion.”

“Here’s what I can do.”

“Here’s what it will look like.”

Why this is a bad idea

This is not about you.

It does not matter how much you love what you do.

It does not matter how eloquently you write.

To emerge from a competitive environment as the winning proposal, it is a given that the basics are done well, including the above.  But that is not what you lead with.

What turns the grant reviewers into your passionate advocates is something else.

Proposal writing is a confidence game.

People fund people.  Grant reviewers are people, too.  Your challenge is not to convince them you are the best developer or the best artist for the grant because of your talent or expertise.  You need to boost their confidence that you are the best candidate for the grant because you will deliver a specific experience that promises a better version of the world.

This is about other people.

How do you create a proposal that does that?

Imagine your proposal is the one being read.

In your mind’s eye, everyone suddenly sits up, their eyes light up and the discussion becomes animated and alive. “I love the vision,  I can see myself in it,  I can feel the difference….”  They are united in nominating you for the award.

There are things we can control like creating a vision, research, writing, team building.

And there are things we cannot control.

For example, your proposal could be the first one, the last one, or the one that gets reviewed when the coffee runs out.  Maybe they funded a similar project in the last cycle and want to move on to something different.  What if the proposal before yours was for a similar project or in the same area? There may be an internal preference – politics.

In my situation, the consultant had done research and figured out what the needs of the neighborhood were.  Armed with these answers, they put together a plan that included a place for everyone.

Which is exactly what every other applicant did.  This proposal, without a deeper and clearer vision about their impact upon the community, would be no different from the others.

They asked the right questions, which everyone did.  But they stopped once they got the quick and easy answers. They have to keep asking and keep listening for what is not revealed until that particular impact or value is revealed to them.  The transformative outcome that they uniquely are positioned to deliver.

The most powerful question

One very simple but extremely way to do this is to ask yourself and your team,

“Why is this important?”

The consultant I was working with answered, “Because it will fill some pressing needs in the community.”

I asked the question again, “Why is that important?”

Pause.  Then he said, “Because we will have the spaces for groups.”

Getting there.  This process is like opening those Russian nesting dolls to get to the center doll at the core.

I recommend you ask this question at least 5 times.  Unexpected insights will pop up as you are forced to think more deeply.

Done right, you will find the answer will not be about what you can do, but what you can do for other people.

This process of asking that same question continued a few more times until everyone realized there was a greater potential for change and transformation they could provide.  What excited them was seeing that they were uniquely positioned to deliver these outcomes.

That passion is what a proposal needs to transmit to the people reading it in order to turn them into passionate advocates for your proposal.

With this knowledge, you can sell people on a journey to a destination.  Something they can see instantly, feel and want to be a part of.

Sell Paris, not the airbus

Once people are hooked on the vision of roaming the streets of the City of Light at twilight, all they will want is to be confident that you will take them there.  Now you can talk about what you are going to do, how you are going to do it.

The consultant and his team got a set of Russian nesting dolls.  Now it is up to them.

 

 

How to Write a Proposal that Gets to YES

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

She stared at the envelope in her hand.

With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and slowly pulled out the letter.

Her fingers told her the paper had a nice weight to it, a linen finish, 2 or 3 paragraphs of text, an embossed logo.  Impressive.

Her instincts told her nothing.  They were wrestling with conflicting outcomes, each one invested with tremendous emotions.

If I get the grant, my life and career as an artist will be successfully transformed.  If I don’t get the grant, I will be crushed, dejected and consumed with self doubt.

If you are an artist who has written grants for your work, chances are you have been in this moment of truth situation. Anyone who has put together proposals or pitches knows that this is simply part of the territory of fundraising and awareness building of who you are.

Getting grants is important for more than just the cash award that comes with it.  A certain validation and recognition comes with grant awards. Some artists have developed long lasting relationships with their funders who have grown into loyal fans and collectors.  And in some cases, getting your first grant can open the doors to getting grants from larger funders.

This was actually my path to becoming a grant supported artist in the beginning of my career. Now, after spending over a decade in the arts as a grantmaker in Queens, NY, a grantwriter and a grant reviewer for many foundations and corporate philanthropies,  I know that the ability to put together a clear and well written proposal is the most powerful skill an artist needs to build a successful career.

 

Rejection is tough.

No one likes spending a lot of time and effort putting a proposal together that gets shot down and feeling that your work isn’t worthy of funding. This is the time all those pesky demons start coming around to fill your head with self doubt and thoughts of giving up.  But you keep wondering, “How do other artists get grants?  What are they doing that I’m not doing?”

Here’s what you may be thinking

“I’m an artist, not a writer.”

Yes and no. This is an excuse. Being an artist does not exempt you from being to communicate clearly whether it is about your work or directions to your studio.  That knowledge, insights and a deeper understanding will emerge when you spend some time asking yourself clarifying questions about your work.  You can write with confidence once you know what it is you want to say.

“My art can speak for itself.”

This is the second part of the first excuse.  The only thing your art will do is open up a million reactions, none of which you will have any control over.  People are drawn to the back story of the art as well as the actual piece.  In a grant proposal, it is the story that is important.   The art illuminates your artistic process and thinking.

“I don’t know where to begin.”

You start by asking yourself some important basic questions to understand the why, what and how of your project.  The answers will help you understand why your work deserves to exist.  In a grant environment, this is what builds passion and support for a proposal to be funded.

Mastering the art of proposal writing will give you a powerful tool to benefit all parts of your creative career.  These skills impact how you talk to people about your work, how you pitch your projects to funders and donors, what you say in your elevator speech or while you are waiting on line at the bar during a reception.

Most proposals are written close to the vest.  Just you, your project and your computer.  You are the best person to give life to this project and at the same time, that closeness can make it hard for you to communicate that in a compelling way that rises to the top in a competitive grant review process.

After spending over a decade around grants as a grantmaker, a grantwriter and a grant reviewer for foundations and corporate philanthropies around the country, I have seen certain things that grantwinners do that reflect a distinct mindset and focus.

There are some things you can control and some things that you cannot control.

You don’t know how your proposal will land.  Your proposal may be the first one out of the gate to be read, it could be the one after the morning coffee wears off, it could be the last one of the day.  This is something you cannot control.

There is something that can be your superpower if you use it well, or your worst nightmare if you don’t.  This is something you engage when you think about how your proposal lands.

You need to write as if you are going on after the Beatles.

How do you do that?

By engaging your superpower: Readability

This is your most powerful weapon against panelist fatigue, panelist rage (yes, this can happen, but I will show you how to turn around to work in your favor), and will position you ahead of your competition.

I have 6 time tested strategies to sharpen your readability skills:

  • White space
  • Shorter sentences and text blocks
  • Bullets
  • Consistency
  • Clarity
  • Kill your darlings

White space

MASTER MINDSET: YOUR EYES NEED AIR

When I am faced with a stack of proposals that look like walls of text, I can feel overwhelmed and less than ecstatic about trudging through them.  I get tired and frustrated when I have to dig further or navigate through a seemingly endless sea of sentences to find the answers.  My eyes seek places to land and anchor myself.

With e grants and their specific word counts, writing becomes a challenge for you to distill your thoughts into a highly skimmable and readable form, not a place to dump everything you want to say.

Use shorter sentences.  Choose a simple word over a ten dollar word. Avoid jargon.

This is a place where you can turn every answer to the questions into a compelling reason why you are the best candidate for the grant.

Many fiction writing teachers tell their students that each sentence they write must exist to do one thing – to move the story.  In a grant, the purpose of every sentence is not to present yourself as the best artist, but to position you as the best candidate for the grant by answering the questions.

Answer the questions.

If you do this well, you will be way ahead of the game.  The narrative is not a soapbox for your artistic statement or vision.  It is not a place to present yourself as the best artist but as the best candidate.

Your eyes have to come up for air. White space around text has this curious effect of compressing importance and urgency into a space that we can focus our attention on.

When you section off your responses, you make it easier to find the information we are looking for. It makes things look less daunting, less confusing.  The breaks in your text, which I love, set the pace for an easy to read, clear and balanced flow of information.  It gives our brain a moment to absorb what we have just read and retain what you want us to remember.

E grants often have set word counts and other limits.  You will be doing yourself a big favor by using white space in your narrative where ever possible.

Bullets

MASTER MINDSET: BULLETS ROCK

They don’t call these things bullets for nothing.

Bullets make your data pop. Bullets make you look professional.

They make it easy to take in and remember key points.  Use bullets to highlight important data that support your answers.

I have heard other grant panelists easily make a case in support of a proposal by simply rattling off bullet points to support their opinion.

Consistency

MASTER MINDSET: CONSISTENCY IS ATTRACTIVE

The mind loves patterns.

Patterns make it easier to navigate and remember information.

To be memorable, be consistent.

If you are using numbers i.e. “2”, be sure you do not spell out “two” somewhere else in your narrative.  If you are using the third person voice, maintain that voice throughout your writing.  If you capitalize your captions, capitalize all of them.

E grants offer limited formatting options, sometimes you will only be able to capitalize or use numbers. Still, strive to create a pattern of consistency in your writing with what you are given to help grant panelists read and retain information.  They will remember you for that.

Clarity

MASTER MINDSET: DON’T MAKE ME WONDER

Write as if the person reading your proposal does not know who you are.  Chances are, they don’t.

If you are writing about an organization with a long name, identify it with an acronym the first time you mention it.

For example, Queens Council on the Arts (QCA)

Focus on answering the questions.

If the question is really several questions, you can set off each response to make it easier to find the answers.

Remove anything else that does not support positioning you as the best candidate for the grant.  Unless specifically requested, remove quotes and testimonials.

Kill your darlings

MASTER MINDSET: GIVE ME ONLY WHAT I NEED

Be brave.

This is your next best step.  Be ready to kill your darlings.

Grant writing is best done with many eyes.

Write your first draft and let it sit.  Ask other people to review your work and be a ruthless editor.

To avoid writing that is weak and ineffective, be ready to, as Stephen King famously said to aspiring writers, “Kill your darlings.”

This way, you deliver exactly what a grant panelists needs, that and only that.   Take out whatever doesn’t clearly answer the questions so that you are left with a proposal that is well written, lean and powerful.

Follow these 6 strategies to write a proposal that places you in the top 10% of the field and delivers what a grant panel needs to know to say YES to your proposal.

Deploy readability, your superpower, to avoid panelist fatigue, panelist rage and to position yourself as the best candidate for the grant.

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Hoong Yee

20140603_142704

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.