Thanks Theaster for those recommendations to artists. I ‘d like to do the same for grant givers.
First off though two warnings about my list:
1. It reflects my personal preferences and the experience gathered from knowing and funding individual artists alone. While I think they are all good recommendations, there are many other formats by which to fund artists that are also viable. I think the more different kinds of grant opportunities out there the better.
2. We also need to differentiate between two kinds of shared enterprise: funding individual artists and funding institutional (or individual) projects that are intended to benefit others. The shared enterprise for both stems from the shared belief in the importance of the arts for our society, the need of the arts to make our world livable, lovable. When funding individual artists and their work though, granters simply and straight-forwardly support the artist in doing what they do. When it comes to funding institutions or individuals with programs that are meant to support/benefit others, a lot more responsibility and accountability is needed, and sometimes joint planning. In this latter case, it might not be feasible to follow all recommendations I give below.
So when supporting individual artists I recommend to:
Next to the obvious need for openness to the work and the artists applying, I also recommend an open granting structure, most importantly open application calls, not nomination. I am sure there is a place for nomination processes, but if you want to make sure all artists have a chance of winning your grant, you need an open call–if feasible at no charge.
Keep it simple
I think keeping the mission of an institution as simple as possible will reflect in the applications received. If the language of the institution is to the point, the materials that are submitted by the artists will be as well. Artists write grant proposals in order to get selected, thus they try as best they can to customize their application to fit the “field of interest” of the institution. If the area of funding is very narrow and convoluted, the applications will be too.
Simple application materials also reduce the time spent on them and the anxiety involved. While I think that, as Theaster already mentioned, writing (or rewriting) your artist statement or a project proposal is a great way of gathering and clarifying your own thoughts about your work, that alone should be the goal with a grant proposal.
Be willing to fail
When selecting grantees, con’t put your money with save bets, only. There is no advancement/discovery—by definition—if you only proceed on already charted paths. Give money to the risky, outlandish projects, artists without arts degrees, artists who have never shown before. Look for promise, courage, vision.
Defer judgment to others
Artadia selects a new group of jurors for every awards cycle. There is a big advantage to this on many levels. We are continually engaging new curators in learning about new artists and—given Artadia’s mission—from an area of the US that might be new to them. Vice versa, the artists always get their work seen by a new group of acclaimed jurors giving them crucial exposure. This makes reapplying much more attractive as well.
Also, the role of the program officer/manager thereby is separated from the role of the judger. The program officer is “only” the transmitter of good and bad news and can therefore build a less charged relationship with both the artists that win the award and those that don’t.
Build a relationship with your grantees
A granting organization can ideally become the perfect go-to place for artists seeking professional, confidential, and neutral advice on all kinds of arts-related issues. This is because granters have only the best intentions in mind for the artists they support and have no ulterior motives or are overwhelmed by requests like others in the field can often be. At the same time, granters know all areas and people of the arts world well, and can thus be a terrific source of information.
At Artadia all Awards winners become part of the Artadia family (or posse, as our founder likes to say) forever. My colleagues and I are always available for meetings by phone and in person. Between the three of us, and our board and our national network, we can help with all kinds of matters. From advice on the look of a portfolio or a website, to advice on troubles with a gallerist. We know about grant opportunities, and as a neutral, third party, we can also facilitate introductions to gallerists, curators, and other arts professionals.
Give advice—when it is asked for
That said, no one likes unsolicited advice. (This is one of the most memorable things my dad taught me, and which of course, being a dad, he does not follow at all.) But grant givers aren’t parents. They can give advice, but only successfully when asked. At Artadia we always offer to give feedback to all applicants, independent of if they are selected as an awardee or not. And when applicants and awardees ask for it, we make a phone date, review the application again with our colleagues, get feedback from the panelists if available, and then share those thoughts with the artists. The result is always positive, because it is a frank conversation initiated by the person whose work is being discussed.