Why An Artist Should Write Project Grant Proposals (even if you never get one).

I just spent the last week after taking down our exhibition for the Medium of Exchange Collective show, Process, writing a project grant proposal. It’s the second one I’ve done this year and I will likely write at least one more. I have probably written one a year for the last 10 years. Although I am getting faster they still take me a while to write, and I have never gotten one.

So, given my terrible track record (no one is going to be hiring me for grant writing services anytime soon) why would I continue to write them?

Once upon a time I wrote them for big projects that I could not accomplish without taking time off from my day job. So they were always written for projects to start after the adjudication process, as I’d have to know if the project were funded before I could commit to doing it. Then one day I decided I was tired of leaving the fate of my projects in the hands of strangers.

I decided to write a grant for a project I was going to do regardless of the results of the application. In fact, I wasn’t even going to wait for the results, I was just going to write it, submit it and start working on the project. And guess what? Did I get the grant? Well, I’ll just say that the project is complete and the jury is still out on the grant, BUT the tortuous process of writing a grant proposal really helped me clarify what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how I was going to do it.

I really thought through what I was capable of doing both in terms of time and finances given my current circumstances, and what level of risk or sacrifice or economization I was willing to take on without compromising myself or the project. Simply put, the project had a better chance of not going off the rails midway due to anything that I could control (as we know from the last year there are circumstances which one cannot control, such as pandemics).

The result was that my project went smoother and faster, and the results were more impactful, because I wasn’t second guessing myself or wandering down the garden path anymore, but executing the decisions I had already weighed before hand.

That is not to say that once defined there is no room for inspiration, but the big picture is in place and everything else needs to fall in line to support that big picture. If the inspiration better supports that big picture then I could by all means follow it.

So this is why I am saying that artists should write project grant proposals, whether or not they ever get one. We only have so much time to make our visions real, whether that time be spent making or waiting. Taking the time upfront to really define a project, think through and explain the value of it, work out the logistics of it, can only enhance the outcome of the project. If the grant application looks weak even to you, maybe the project should be rethought. And hey, if you actually get the grant, all the better.