Making the Pitch

Making the Pitch

March 13, 2019

The Council’s most sought-after support comes by way of Creation Grants. Both the number and size of the awards have recently increased, but the competition remains stiff. A strong application matters.

Start with quality work samples (here’s a tip sheet that will help). And when you’re ready to kill it on the narrative questions, read this sage advice gathered from three crack panelists: Andrea Rosen, Allison Coyne Carroll, and Mickey Myers. Each were asked the same questions. No one minced words, and the responses were remarkably aligned.

Allison started with “Writing an arts-related grant requires two equally important skills: being able to thoughtfully and accurately address the narrative questions asked, while ensuring the passion and excitement for your creative work is not lost in the process.” One way to that path was suggested by Mickey with, “As established as you may be in your field, and the jurors are in theirs, assume nothing when providing the context for your project. Simple, declarative sentences go a long way in describing the environment in which your project will exist. Enhance your goal with clarity, not presumption.” Andrea also called on focus. “Even if you don’t have an exact end goal in mind, your proposal will be stronger if you make clear to the panel the intention of the work—the impetus, the driving force, what you want to communicate with your work, and if you have a vision in mind for how this grant could impact your work going forward.”

Claire Dolan made a convincing case for starting the Museum of Everyday Life, recently featured in the New York Times, with a Creation Grant in 2011.

Claire Dolan made a convincing case for starting the Museum of Everyday Life—recently featured in the New York Times—with a Creation Grant in 2011. Image from website.

Those First Impressions

Allison narrows the pool this way: “Honestly, I first check the applicant has completed the entire grant application. Are all of the narrative questions answered, high quality work samples included, clear budget and evaluation plans (if applicable) submitted? As a grant panelist, if I’m looking at a bounty of strong applicants (as is often the case in Vermont), these technicalities can sometimes be a deciding factor when we need to thin out the applicant pool.” Mickey had a similar approach: “Do the work samples support the project narrative? Are they an efficient use of my time in understanding the artist? Do they give enough evidence as to what the artist is doing these days, rather than many years ago?” Andrea’s first impression is based on “the quality of text, and behind that, how much effort was put into it. Artists aren’t always writers, but does it seem like their texts were an afterthought, or did they really make an effort to make a clear and concise statement about their work?”

Andrea made clear, “This grant is largely about artistic quality, and for the first round, that’s most of what we’re looking at. But once we get to the second round, when we have a handful of candidates who are all great artists, it’s going to be the quality of the application  . . . that will likely be what pushes the application from finalist to grant winner.”

A Thorough Review

Final decisions are made after an in-person meeting of the entire panel. Mickey noted, “ . . . I will examine if my first impression holds up or whether I missed something. She also allowed “The reverse is true also. An application that knocked me out though it impressed no one else on the panel will cause me to revisit it (albeit quickly) and then decide whether to go to bat to point out what impressed me.”

At least once, influence came from outside the group. Allison recounted, “Artistic excellence is, by nature, subjective. Even within a grant panel, there can be a host of opinions on an artist’s work. I once was on the fence about an applicant’s submission, as it simply didn’t speak to me. But, the artist included a video where they spoke passionately about their work and included genuine patron reactions—some of whom were almost moved to tears by the artistic experience. That was all I needed to better understand and appreciate the quality and value of the artist’s vision.”

A still from FY2018 awardee Madsen Minax's in progress film "North by Current."

A still from FY2018 awardee Madsen Minax’s in-progress film “North by Current.”

Saying “No” Hurts

Andrea: It’s always painful to say no to people. These grants are very competitive, with many more worthy applicants than available funds. Just because you didn’t get the grant doesn’t mean we didn’t see the quality and worthiness of your work. Along similar lines, Allison noted “there are so many applications to review, I always appreciate submissions that are able to directly address the narrative questions asked in a succinct manner, while also articulating the vision behind their work. The hardest part of the process is realizing that because of the sheer volume of submissions, you may not get to assign grant funding to every deserving application you support.

Mickey’s words point to the idea of pushing boundaries. “To me, a Creation Grant really has to do with taking risks. It is support that goes beyond prior success for a project that requires courage. Perhaps what I have to say in this regard will not be too popular, but I suggest applicants be encouraged to apply only when they have a body of work behind them or the proof they can see a risk taking project through to completion.

We’re All Richer

Allison added “I always walk away from a [Council] grant panel with a renewed excitement and appreciation for the sheer breadth and depth of artistic life in Vermont. We have a cultural embarrassment of riches and are lucky to have the Vermont Arts Council’s dedication and advocacy in supporting our artists, organizations, and communities.”

All of us at the Council appreciate our panelists and the artists who are a part of that wealth.

Creation Grant applications are open now with a deadline of June 3.

—top left: Eric Wright used an FY2018 Creation Grant to make a duet album of fiddle music with Mairi Rankin

Susan McDowell

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Tags: Allison Coyne Carroll, Andrea Rosen, Creation Grants, grantmaking, Mickey Myers


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