The 6 essentials of writing an artist grant (from someone who's written her fair share)

Struggling with your grant application? Hanan Hazime has you covered.

Struggling with your grant application? Hanan Hazime has you covered

Not all of us are as self-sufficient as Meryl. (Fox)

If there's one thing that can reduce even the most stoic of artists to tears, it's grant writing. Whether you're drafting a grant proposal for the Canada Council for the Arts or a provincial or regional funder, getting through all the paperwork and budgeting can be a total nightmare. Fortunately, there are things that can help make the process a bit less painful, and as a seasoned grant writer, I've stored a few tips up my sleeve. I can't guarantee that you'll receive the funding you're after, but if you follow these guidelines, you'll definitely have a better chance at securing a slice of that delicious grant pie!

Research, research, research

The first step is to collect as much information as you can about the different funding opportunities available in your arts field. You need to find out which funding packages best fit the vision you have for your project. From individual artist grants for small scale projects, like writing a novel, to group grants for large scale projects, such as international exhibitions, there are plenty of funding options to choose from. In fact, the choices can be overwhelming. That's why it's important to research all your options thoroughly.

Browsing the sites of government, non-profit and corporate funders is a good place to start, but make sure you network with other artists and art organizations in person, too, by attending relevant industry events and conferences. Don't be shy to inquire about their funding sources and for advice on how to adapt your project idea for specific funders.

The program officer is your new BFF

OK, so you've spoken to other artists, and you've read the online guidelines provided by the funders. You think you have an inkling about which program matches your artistic goals, but you're still not sure if your project is indeed eligible for funding, as you're having trouble wading through all the bureaucratic jargon. Now what? It's time to email a grant officer to arrange a phone call or in-person meeting.

Usually the program officer's name and email will be listed in the contact section on the funder's website. Trust me: talking to an actual human who can decipher all that grant speak will help make the application process so much easier and smoother. Go to the meeting armed with a list of meaningful questions to get the most out of your conversation, take notes and don't be afraid to ask seemingly silly questions — program officers are there to help.

Stay in touch with your officer through email or by phone if you have additional questions (I personally find connecting via phone to be much more effective than engaging in email Ping-Pong). Then, once you've finished a rough draft of your proposal, ask the program officer if they wouldn't mind looking it over for you. I've found most officers are happy to provide feedback.  

Tackling the mound of paperwork may seem insurmountable, so you may be tempted to put it off. But I promise that if you break it up into smaller chunks, you'll manage to get through it all with far less stress.- Hanan Hazime

Give yourself plenty of time to work on the application

Remember back in high school when your English teacher said you shouldn't write your essay the night before it's due, but you didn't listen to her and were up at 4 a.m. downing coffee after coffee and hurling Elizabethan-era curses at Shakespeare? Well, you really, and I mean really should not attempt to write your grant proposal the day before it's due — or even the week before.

Tackling the mound of paperwork may seem insurmountable, so you may be tempted to put it off. But I promise that if you break it up into smaller chunks, you'll manage to get through it all with far less stress. Schedule designated grant writing days at least a month before the deadline. Dedicate a couple hours per day to working on a small section of your proposal, and before you know it, you'll have completed the entire application.

Most grant applications can be completed online, but I highly recommend that you first answer the questions in a separate document (or even in a notebook), then transfer your responses into the application. You don't want to accidentally lose all your hard work due to a glitch.

Create a realistic budget (don't ask for too little — or too much)

Ah, the budget. This may feel like the most overwhelming part of the application, but crunching numbers isn't that scary if you break up the work. You want to show the grant committee that you know your stuff and have thought the budget through. Double-check what expenses are eligible for your specific grant, and make sure that all your revenues and expenses balance out.

Depending on the scope and length of your project, your budget breakdown might differ, but here are some general expenses to consider when creating your budget:

  • Cost of supplies or equipment: The best way to add up the cost of the materials you will be using is to go on a virtual shopping trip. To figure out the budget for a painting project grant, I visited my favourite art shop's website and added all the items I thought I would need to my cart. This gave me a good estimate for the materials portion of the budget.

  • Venue fees: Whether you're renting a venue for a workshop, exhibit, performance or to use as a studio, you'll need to include venue fees in your budget. You may be able to find the required information on the venue's site, but give yourself a bit of time as you may need to email or call the venue and inquire about their fees.

  • Accessibility expenses: If you need to make your project more accessible for yourself, other artists and/or the audience, you might want to calculate projected accessibility expenses such as ASL interpretation, ramp installation and so on. The best way to do this is to consult friends, colleagues or advocates from the deaf and disabled communities and ask them what accommodations they may require so that you can budget for them.

  • Artist fees and other staffing expenses: All artists involved in the project (including yourself) deserve to be fairly compensated for their work. Do some research to find out what professional artist fees are typical in your field. You may find it helpful to consult CARFAC for fees related to the visual arts and PWAC for fees related to writing. And don't forget to allocate a portion of your budget toward administrative staff fees if your project will require such work.

  • Other project expenses: Some grants allow you to budget for expenses such as transportation, food, training, marketing and outreach, honorariums, accommodations, and other project-related expenses. For instance, if you're holding community art workshops, you may want to provide participants with food and transportation stipends to make the classes more financially accessible. Check your grant guidelines to see if you can include such expenses in your budget.

Try to secure in-kind donations or other sources of funding

Some grants require you to have alternate sources of funding as they will not cover 100 per cent of your project budget. An excellent way to finance some of your project expenses is to partner up with a local arts organization or business that may be able to provide you with in-kind donations. For example, a community arts centre may allow you to use its space free of charge. You may also opt to do an "energy exchange" with other artists or art organizations (a way to pay for things with work and time, as opposed to money). You should still include the monetary value of the in-kind donations or energy exchanges in your budget.

Proofread and edit the application before submitting it  

When you've finally completed the application, give yourself a pat on the back, then ask a few of your more grammar-oriented friends to proofread it for you. Make sure that you have answered all the questions in full, but also watch out for word limits; while you want to be thorough, you should aim to keep your writing succinct and clear.

Once you have edited and revised your answers until they're as perfect as you can possibly make them, simply copy and paste them into the online application. Give the application one final check, and hit that submit button!  

About the Author

Hanan Hazime is a multidisciplinary artist, creative writer and community arts educator living in Toronto. Hazime’s debut poetry chapbook Aorta was published by ZED press in April 2018. She is currently working on her first novel.