***Note to all: This is a long article, about 10 pages single-spaced. Just warning you! It is taken from my talk on grants that I did this past weekend at the Transcultural Exchange
(TCE) Conference for Opportunities in the Arts. I hope some of you find it useful. I don’t usually write many personal things but this one contains part of my story. Oh, and one more thing…special thanks to Erin Williams, Executive Officer of the Worcester Cultural Coalition
in Massachusetts for such an amazing introduction and thanks also to Mary Sherman
, Director of TCE, for her amazing spirit and relentless support of the arts.
FINDING MONEY FOR YOUR DREAMS
Some of my old friends call me “The Grant Queen.” Recently, a new friend asked me why. I said that it all started when I was hit by an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer almost ten years ago on the New York Thruway. I woke up the next morning with an MTBI, a mild traumatic brain injury, and a lawsuit that didn’t settle for five years. I tried to go back to teaching, but found I’d get lost mid-sentence or develop a migraine from the sound of the heater or someone cracking their gum in the room. I couldn’t read any of the articles or stories I assigned to students because I’d get stuck after one or two paragraphs and have to begin all over again. Most of the time, I couldn’t follow my own train of thought for more than a few minutes. I gave up trying to teach art, lost my freelance writing jobs, maxed out my credit cards, and could no longer afford health insurance. I had to do something to pay my bills. Even though it took me three hours to write a cover letter back then, I applied for every kind of grant under the sun. I surfed the Internet for emergency funding and asked every friend I knew if they had heard of grants for people in my situation. I googled keywords like, “money for women” or “emergency grants for writers,” “artists fellowships” and so on. I thought about what I wanted to ask for and I typed in the words.
I ended up getting emergency funding from Pen-American, Change Inc., the Author’s League (which gives no interest loans), the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, the Barbara Deming Money for Women Fund and other places. I also applied for visual arts grants and received $20,000 from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and $5000 from the Gottlieb Foundation, as well as several smaller art grants. I kept applying to anything that seemed applicable to my situation. Every ‘yes’ I got in the mail spurred me on to apply for more. Every ‘no’ just made me say, hell with you people, I’m on a roll! In 2004, several months before my lawsuit settled out of court, I applied for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s (AROHO’s) Gift of Freedom Award, a $50,000 grant for creative nonfiction writing. By then, I could write again, although with limited endurance, for I’ve never been able to fully recover. I heard about the grant the week before it was due. I canceled my life for seven days and focused on that application (it’s a huge one). I didn’t get it—it went to another writer, named Merideth Hall, but I found out I was a finalist. A finalist for a $50,000 grant? Are you kidding? I didn’t even expect to get in the final round. I had no book out there yet, only a handful of literary journal publications. Then I found out that even the winner hadn’t published a book before. In fact, I had more journal publications than she did. I thought at the time—if I could be a finalist for something this big, couldn’t I win someday too?
When I was asked to speak at this conference on how to find money for your dreams, I realized, after thinking about it for a while, that I really became a Grant Queen long before my car accident. I was a twenty-something artist living in Chicago in the mid-1980s, trying to juggle a painting career, teach, maintain a relationship, and not give up the freedom I enjoyed by creating my own schedule. I had figured out a way to organize my work life so I could travel or paint for several uninterrupted weeks at a time.
I didn’t receive my first real grant for writing or visual art but for teaching. I worked for a place called Artists Book Works, a struggling artists’ book/letterpress printing studio in Chicago, which, combined with a papermaking studio, eventually became the Columbia College Center for Paper and Book Arts. While working there part-time I wrote a grant to create an interdisciplinary book arts program in the Chicago Public Schools. I thought—wow! I can create a job for myself and get money for it? My boss, and wonderful mentor, a woman named Barbara Metz, helped me write the grant and in a few months I was the visiting artist at a vibrant and progressive elementary school on Chicago’s North Side. I got paid well, had fun and began to see the possibilities of finding funding for my own artistic projects, not just educational ones.
During the time I worked for ABW, I managed ABW’s slide registry of book artists and helped manage the place. Suddenly I was on the other side of the table, looking over slide sheets from strangers and offering input as to which ones were appropriate for shows, residencies, exhibits and our archives. I was the slush pile gal. I got to help separate the sheep from the goats at the tender age of twenty-four. The experience had a profound effect. If, after spending an entire day shuffling through slides, I came across a set that was overexposed or out of focus, or the person wrote an undated, misspelled and awkwardly written cover letter without a SASE, I dumped it in the NO pile. I took no prisoners. I also saw how true professionals projected themselves in image and print. They wrote succinct, articulate and kind letters. Concise and well-written artist statements. Their slides were impeccable and clean. They never pressured us to get back to them the next day, or any time soon. And most importantly, they never said things like, “My grandma really likes my art,” or “I think you’ll like my totally awesome books. Everyone does.”
While working for ABW, I began applying to artists’ residencies. Another older woman artist I knew had been to one, and encouraged me to apply. This woman, and others, like my mentor Barbara, who were all twenty years or so older than me, kicked my butt. One older friend said to me once, “Well, if you never ask, you won’t get a damn thing.” Opportunities didn’t come to her—she came to them. She believed in herself and believed that her work was worthy of support. She, and my other older women mentors, were always entering shows, putting themselves out there, without giving a damn whether they might be accepted or not. They just did it. Before they even heard back from one place, they already had twenty other slide sheets out in the mail. These were our first wave feminist artists and I was on the receiving end of their wisdom and their will to thrive and succeed. They had had families, hardship, illness—all that stuff that makes us human as well as very, very tired. But these women were not whiners; they just forged ahead and cleared the path for newbies like me.
At that time, when I was in my mid-twenties, I got into my first residency, in printmaking, at a place called Centrum in Port Townsend, WA and soon after that I got accepted to one called Ragdale, just outside of Chicago. Around that time, I applied for a Fulbright to study fresco painting in Italy and didn’t get it. I didn’t do all the things I since have learned you should do when applying for a Fulbright, i.e. get invitation letters from the host country’s institutions where you want to study if they require them, ask the people you need recommendation letters from way in advance and so on. I was new to all this and didn’t know. But still, I had about fifteen other things in the post by then and my learning curve grew exponentially. I wanted to apply for an Illinois Arts Council grant but soon realized that I wasn’t professionally ready to apply for their larger grants for mid-career artists. I had had only one one-person show, the rest were group exhibitions. That told me that I was “emerging” but not mid-career. Nevertheless, I felt qualified to apply for an IAC professional development grant. I received about $1500 and used the money to hire a professional photographer to shoot high quality prints and slides of my work so I could use those for galleries, other grants and residencies, thereby cultivating more work and shows, more time to do my painting and more grants. This was obviously way before the Internet, so I had to do all my grant research at a foundation center in Chicago, and at the public library and of course, through word of mouth. I also got on mailing lists of arts organizations that published upcoming deadlines; I joined CAA (College Art Association) and any magazine or organization that offered information on opportunities for artists. Eventually, when I began writing I took out subscriptions to Poets & Writers Magazine and the The Writers’ Chronicle. I did get a Fulbright by the way. I just got it ten years later. And by that time I knew a lot more about how to write a kick-ass application.
MYTHS and MISCONCEPTIONS
What irks me now sometimes is that when I tell certain friends or colleagues to apply for a grant or some great opportunity, they often let out a big sigh and say things like: “Oh, you really have to know someone to get one of those.” Or—“My work’s just not good enough.” Or, “I teach at a university. I don’t feel right about asking for anything.” Or this one—“What if I get rejected?” And then, my favorite—“I don’t know how to use the Internet. I don’t even use “the email.””
Well, the truth is—these are all myths, fallacies and poor excuses. There is a method to this madness. If you are willing to take a little time and have a bit of courage, you will be able to reap the fruits of your labor. Before we get started with the nuts and bolts of finding money for your dreams, here are a couple things I think get in the way of asking for what you want.
Myth One: You have to know someone in order to get a grant.
Truth: No. You just have to be good.
Maybe you still have to know the right person in Hollywood but not in the world of grants. You just have to be good, and then put yourself out there. You do have to have talent. Mediocrity usually doesn’t generate grants, hard work and talent does. I didn’t know a soul when I started applying for money and yet I still got funding. Sometimes I did, however, need a recommendation from someone in my field. Those contacts I had to cultivate. I often did that at residencies, workshops, as well as conferences such as the Transcultural Exchange Conference on Opportunities in the Arts. But a lot of grants don’t ask for recommendations. They go on your work and the way you write that application, which we will cover in a minute.
Myth Two: In order to get a grant, you have to be famous.
Truth: Most people who are awarded grants are on their way up, not already there.
Case in point. Look at me. Do you see my face on every billboard? Or take Meredith Hall, the woman who won that $50,000 award for nonfiction. She hadn’t yet published a book, had started writing in her late forties and yet, she won the award. Famous people don’t need grants, we do. Meredith calls asking for money to make one’s art The Audacious Act, especially when women do the asking. She was audacious to ask for $50,000, even though she had barely published. And she won!
Fear of Rejection
The fear of being rejected prevents a lot of people from applying for opportunities that are out there. This phobia reminds me of that old song we sang in the schoolyard when we were kids. I loved it because it was so gross. The song goes: Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go away and eat worms all day. And so on.
Do you really want to go hide somewhere and eat worms all day? Rejection—who cares? We are rejected every single day. People don’t like our hair, the color of our skin, our politics or our fashion sense. Fear is our worst enemy. Look how it drove our country into ruins during the last eight years. It’s time for all of us to be fearless—we really have nothing to lose. Remember, judges are only human and the judging process is subjective. The person who wins this year’s arts council grant might not win next year because there are different people on the panel. What’s the worst that can happen if you just apply for something? Okay. You don’t get the award. Does that mean you truly suck and should just quit making art right now? Or are you more afraid that you might get the award and then have to deal with the responsibility of the hard work that follows, maybe even the success that follows the completion of the work.
The best remedy for fearing rejection is to not apply for one thing but to apply for five to ten things at the same time. Keep a log, date each entry, and label it, record when you hear back, send things out again right afterwards. If you keep those applications alive, tweaking them here and there to suit a particular grant or residency, those applications just become one of a host of many. In time, you will get used to the ebb and flow of yays and nays. The Audacious Act of asking for money will become as easy as taking a breath or turning on your computer, opening up a tube of paint or sitting down at the piano to practice your scales. Something natural that is part of the process of creating.
Once I asked my friend Jack, a professional singer, how in the world he had the guts to sing all the solos he did in front of so many people. “Aren’t you ever afraid they won’t like you?” I asked. He replied, “It’s just singing. They’re just people.” Then, he said, “When I am on stage about to sing, I imagine everyone sitting there petting a cat and drinking a cup of tea.” He added, “Okay, so sometimes I also imagine them naked.” So the next time you are gripped with terror at actually sending out an application for a writing or art grant or something else, try to imagine the person at the other end, sitting in by the fire, their hair kind of messy, a cup of tea in their hand, and a big yellow cat purring in their lap. You can imagine them naked or not. These are real people. I know many editors and directors of foundations now and I can tell you that most of them are very kind, they work long hours, often for little money and they really and truly want to support your projects.
Letting go of ego.
The most important thing to remember, when you are starting out writing grants—keep you mind on your work, not your ego. Once again, I think of music—I have been an amateur musician and singer for years and always loved what a conductor said to our choral group once, following an outburst of bickering amongst the sopranos: Ladies, serve the music, not yourself. This might sound counter-intuitive when talking about grants, etc.—shouldn’t you be serving yourself? Isn’t that what it’s all about? You worked hard—you deserve a break, and so on. But in my opinion, thinking that you deserve it might not the greatest thing to focus on. Thinking you don’t deserve it is just as unfortunate a mental and social construct. Both concepts are about feeding the ego, not the act of creation itself. The more you ask for and do in the world for the work, the greater your ability is to create. Your work will be here long after you.
I don’t believe in deserving something but believe in what Meredith Hall calls Audacious Act—asking for what you needed. The act of asking creates the possibility to ask again, to encourage others to ask, to say to yourself I need money to work, to create, to make art because I have a voice that has something to say. I don’t believe in entitlement. Entitlement is a deep and bottomless well. Entitlement makes us lusty consumers, not great artists or greater human beings. I would frame it differently—keep the focus on the art because it’s not about you. Serve the music not your ego. Serve the writing and the art, not the writer or the artist.
One more thing about what stops us from writing grants—I have been taking surveys for over a year now from a wide range of people in the arts, all ages, genres, stages in their careers. Across the board, the main reason people tell me why they don’t apply for grants and other opportunities is that it takes away from the time they need for their work. That’s a very valid point—one I struggle with myself. If you don’t apply for anything, it is hard to evolve as an artist, fund that perfect residency, build your CV. Next to impossible, actually. Yet you need to work as hard as you can on your art. I think the answer lies in finding a balance between those two things, and everyone has to find the right place for him or herself. For me, I tend to work for several months, then, during a time when I know a lot of applications are due, say, around mid-September or mid May, I blast several applications and/or literary journal submissions out in the mail. I used to apply for things or enter contests every two months or so but now I only do that after I’ve created a larger volume of work. Then I take a week off from my own work and focus solely on applications. And if, during the year, something really important suddenly pops up, I stop everything and apply for it. That’s what happened with the $50,000 AROHO grant. The other thing I do to ease the pain of application writing is I keep a good cover letter template and a good application template in my computer, then customize those things to fit specific grants, contests, etc.
The Nuts and Bolts of Grantwriting
Now that we’ve gotten some of those myths and misconceptions out of the way, here are some suggestions to get you started on finding funding.
1. Work really, really hard at what you do.
The first rule is obvious: write, write and write or paint, paint and paint. Or whatever you do, do it early and often. You can’t get a grant or a residency or fellowship if you have nothing to show. You need to have a body of work. If you’ve never published a book before, start thinking in terms of a book, not separate pieces. A book will change your life, a published story won’t. Think of a collection or essays, or a novel, or a book of short stories or poems. Show up at the desk and write. If you are an artist, show up at your studio and work toward that one-person show. Work hard. You know that. That’s the first step.
2. Get your work out there.
For those of you just starting out in your career, or those of you returning to your art after a long period, when you are ready, send your work out—send your writing out to be published, or your slides or jpgs out for shows, films to festivals, whatever it is you do. You will not get a grant or fellowship if you cannot show that your work is and has been in the public eye. You need a track record. This comes before all applications. Grant givers want to know that art is your serious passion, not just a hobby.
3. Do your homework.
This is extremely important. You need to learn how to look for opportunities and discern which ones are right for you. Many rejections from grants and other opportunities are actually the result of an artist or writer not choosing the right place for her work, or ignoring the small print that says “must have published at least three poems in a literary magazine,” or “award is for only for artists under thirty-five who have not had a one-person show.” Know your market—If you’ve never published a story before or have had a one-person show, you are not going to apply for a Guggenheim or an NEA. Read the eligibility requirements. Are you an emerging artist or mid-career? You can be in your fifties, but still be considered emerging, depending on how many shows you have had or other projects out in the world.
Know what kind of grant you want and investigate what is out there. Here are just a few kinds of grants available to you, depending where you are in your career: Grants for special projects, need-based emergency grants, career fellowships, short-term fellowships, travel and study grants, research grants, residency fellowships, emerging artist grants, distinguished artist grants, collaborative grants, production grants to complete a work in progress, and more. By the way, a really good book on grants is listed on my sidebar toward the bottom on the right. It’s called Guide to Getting Arts Grants by Ellen Liberatori. The book contains excellent advice on everything from researching the right grant for you to how to write a personal statement or application essay.
As far as doing your homework, go online and visit different search engines to learn more about opportunities. Visit my blog,Mira’s List, to start with. There, you will find links to search engines, deadlines for grants, fellowships and residencies and more. Nowadays, the best sources are all online. If you are an artist, go to the CAA website and NYFA, if you are a writer, visit the Pen-American site and Poets & Writers. Michigan State University has a great grant database for all the arts. Visit your state Arts Council site. There are many, many sites out there—there are university search engines, such as the great one at MSU, blogs and blog carnivals to subscribe to, email alerts for deadlines, etc. And there is the fine art of googling. When looking for grants—technology is your friend.
Remember: this is a process. You don’t have to do it all in one day. Give yourself a half hour here, a half hour there. If you can’t find what you are looking for on my blog or other sites, type specific words into your search engine …for instance, “Grants for Women Artists 2009.” Or Money for Gay Jewish Poets. Artist Residencies. Printmaking Fellowships. Fiction grants. You get the picture. Also, don’t discount using the phrase “small business grants,” especially if you are searching for local funding. I got an interest free car loan that way once. Here’s another thing to try: look up artists you like, google them and see if anything pops up about what grants they’ve gotten. Read their bios, the foundations they thank. When you get the name of the organization that gave them money, go to that site. See what they offer to people at your career level. See if they have a place to click on for “links” or “resources” and check those sites out too. Sometimes you have to sniff around a bit.
4. Put yourself out there.
No one is going to know about you if you stay at home. Cultivate professional relationships by attending conferences, residencies, workshops, retreats, etc. Check out blogs and list serves and grant forums on Yahoo and Google, if that sort of thing appeals to you. Tweet on twitter if you are into tweeting; connect with other artists on Facebook and other social networking sites like LinkedIn or artbistro.com. Go to readings and events that support people in the arts. Be a recluse when you do your work but come out of the barn from time to time to build your community.
5. Keep Track of Everything
I keep a log of submissions to journals, publishers and exhibits as well as grants and residencies. I list when I completed a work, the title, when I sent it out and to whom. I also list the reply date, if there was a personal response, if I had to query about anything. This way, I know to whom I sent what to and when, in case I forget or I just want to track my progress. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment to see how many things I’m actually sending out into the world.
6. Have your ammunition ready
I’m sure you know this, but just in case you need reminding: before you start applying for grants, you should have these things at your fingertips: a good, no, a GREAT artist statement. I know. This is always a tough one and hard to write. Keep it to around 250 words. Talk about your artistic approach, who your influences were, what your accomplishments have been. Your personal vision. If you need helping writing this, go to a workshop offered in your community or look for help online at various forums and get feedback from a more established artist or writer. Okay. You usually need a good bio (once again, short and sweet) and/or a full CV, reviews if you have them, business cards and brochures if that is appropriate to what you are applying for. You often will need recommendation letters from professionals in your field, so ask for these way in advance, not at the last minute. And last but not least, you need a good solid work sample for each application. Have you revised those twenty-five pages a million times so they are absolutely polished? Have you double-checked to see if your jpegs or slides are overexposed? Is the sound quality on that MP3 up to snuff? Strive for perfection. Your work sample should be the best example you have of what you do. Dazzle the committee that opens up your application.
Start The Process
If you’ve never applied for a grant before then I suggest a good way to begin is to start local but dream global. Try your hand at a local arts council grant first, a smaller one for professional development, not one of the larger $5,000-7,000 ones. Maybe ask for enough money to attend a writing conference like AWP (Associated Writers and Writing Programs) or the next TCE or CAA conference down the road. Or ask for money to hire a photographer to shoot your work like I did, or to travel to an artist residency in another state. Most local starter grants are between $500-1000. That will buy you a plane ticket and then some.
Okay. Let’s say you are a painter who has been in several group shows. You need the time and space to focus on developing a body of work for a one-person show. You would love to land a residency in Japan, since your work right now is highly influenced by a strange juxtaposition of Japanese manga (comic book art) and ancient Zen scroll paintings. You find out about a great residency at an art colony outside of Tokyo. You take the chance and apply for a three-month residency and you get it. Great! But now what? The foundation that runs the residency offers you an apartment with an adjoining studio, rent-free. You will also have the opportunity while you’re there to give a talk on your work and be part of a huge show at a gallery in Tokyo. All great things for your career. You’ve taken a leave from your summer teaching gig so you can go to Japan, but now what? Can you really afford it? You do the math. You need to buy a plane ticket, keep up with your bills at home, and save a little money for the fall. Even if you got a sub-letter for your flat, you still can’t do it without extra money. You’re going to have to find a grant to fund your trip to Japan. But how much should you ask for? First you come up with a budget. How much do you need to pay your bills? How much does a plane ticket to Japan cost? What does one week of groceries cost times twelve? And so on. After careful consideration you decide that you need $12,000 for the summer to live in Japan.
The next step is finding the grant to serve that goal. You first go to a website such as Trans Artists and click on “related subjects” and go down the list to where it says, “funding.” You try their suggestions, the sites they say to go to. You go to my blog, Mira’s List, and find the links on the sidebar that direct you to finding money for travel, such as the Kansas City Artists Coalition which sponsors the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program that gives up to $5,000 grants for artists to travel, provided they get involved in the arts community where they are traveling to. Okay, you also visit other sites, like artheals.org, artisttrust.org, other sites listed on my sidebar. You google Travel Grants for Artists, Japan arts grants, etc. You check your state arts council and other arts foundations in your home state. Some might offer travel and study grants, like the Jerome Foundation in Minnesota. Alright, let’s say that you find a fantastic grant from some Asian cultural organization, such as the Asian Cultural Council in New York, that offers up to $15,000 for travel grants (I don’t know if the ACC in NY does this…I’m speculating here). $15,000—great! Do you ask for that much? No. Ask for what you need. You don’t really need more than $12,000. They can tell when you are stretching the truth, believe me. Plus, it’s greedy. Here’s an important tip—when applying for larger grants like this, let the foundation know that you are trying to find funding from other sources, but not for the exact same thing. You can apply to one organization for travel funding and another only for materials and certain expenses. Foundations don’t want to be your only gravy train. They are not banks, but rather, supporters of the arts. You have a better chance getting a larger grant if you show resourcefulness on your application.
Here are some other tips to help you along:
Use tasty language when applying for grants. The same rules apply for grants as they do for good writing. The language in grants must be focused, specific, and concise. Be really clear about what you want. Use direct verbs and sentences. Don’t be redundant or vague. Go for the particular, stay away from generalized sentiments. With applications, the devil IS in the details. You need a good hook just like you need one with a great short story. Avoid describing your work as “interesting,” and all those other words we are told to avoid in Writing 101. Be succinct but eloquent. Let them know why your work stands out from the others. What you specifically will do with the money. Where else you are looking for funding. Why this is important at this time in your career. How it will affect your work in the long run. How will it affect your community, the art world at large, if that is important in the application? Remember, serve the project, not yourself. This is about the art, not you. And this is key: pay attention to the order in which a funder asks for information. Follow the rules and just write a great application. If they ask for a five-page essay explaining why you think you should get this grant, use all five pages, unless you find that you are repeating yourself. This is your opportunity to shine, to stun the committee with your brilliant writing, and a chance to reaffirm to yourself where you are now and where you want to be a year or so from now. If you have trouble writing, don’t be afraid to ask for help, from a seasoned mentor, at a grant writing workshop, or online forum. And, as I mentioned earlier, if you are applying to several places at once for the same thing, you can use that application as a template for other grants, just tweaking the text here and there to fit. There is no need to re-invent the wheel each and every time.
The lesson is clear—be direct about what you want, and have the track record, the planned out budget and the brilliant work to back it all up. There are some great artists and writers out there who fail time after time when it comes to grants primarily because they send in poorly written, vague requests. Treat your grant like a great piece of writing. Check your spelling and grammar as you would anything you send out. Make sure you’ve included everything they ask for. If you send a cover letter, make it warm, professional, short and sweet. The person reading it probably read a thousand other grant applications that week, she’s got to get home to feed her cat (remember, she has a cat and drinks tea, perhaps naked, perhaps not), and her baby needs to be fed, she’s being audited by the IRS, and she’s had the week from hell. Keep it short and don’t be whiney or sound desperate, even if you are applying for emergency funding following some financial or medical disaster. Put a stamp on the envelope, make sure you include your own SASE and send it in the mail ON TIME. After that, forget about it. Send out another the next day and the next. Then get back to work, because that’s why you’re here in the first place.
The Ripple Effect
There’s a ripple effect with this application process—Grants beget grants and so do residencies, fellowships and any kind of award. There is something about winning a grant or an award—somehow it tends to breed other ones. When I was awarded a Fulbright in anthropology in 1997 to live with reindeer herders above the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway the money started to flow after that. It’s important to keep the momentum going. When people and foundations see your other awards and residencies listed on your resume, they’ll assume you have resourcefulness, passion and drive. They will all want to invite you to their party. Assuming your work is good, and you have a track record of getting it out there.
The ripple effect also affects others—Honor those who have helped you—send thank you cards, encourage others to apply for grants and fellowships. Remember—You don’t deserve a grant, your work does. If you score a month long residency atYaddo or somewhere else, you most likely will produce more than you would have in several months. Then you apply to another place or you send that essay you’ve been sitting on for two years because you read it at a little reading one night atRagdale or the Millay Colony and people loved it and one of those people said, Oh, try this literary journal, they’re looking for some new work. And you send that essay out and it gets rejected but the editor really likes your style and says send something else in a few months and you do and it gets in and lo and behold, that journal recommends it for a Pushcart Prize. And slowly you build up your publishing resume and sooner or later you are eligible to apply for an NEA because you’ve got at least five great publications out there.
It is really crucial that you don’t throw in the towel, even if you have a year of rejections. Or two years. Some of the greatest artists were rejected dozens of time before they got their first grant. I now refer you back to the worm eating section of my talk. If you feel compelled to wallow in self-pity by not getting that Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant for five years in a row, start humming the worm song to yourself and use some good old self-deprecatory humor to get back on track.
For me, the key to committing the Audacious Act of asking for money with grace and guts is to take the path of nonattachment. Don’t expect anything, but ask for it all. Acceptance isn’t resignation; it’s simply not being attached to the outcome. Don’t put stones in your pockets and walk into the river if you don’t get a Guggenheim or Bunting Fellowship this year or the next. Go to the river and toss a stone in instead. See the ripple effect of your own making. Grants beget grants beget residencies beget others being inspired who apply for grants which then, in turn, begets change and courage and brings forth stories and art that do not destroy but heal. I’ve always loved that old Graham Nash quote: “Make sure that the thing you do keeps us alive.” We need your stories and poems; we need your paintings, your beautiful prints and songs and films to keep us going. You need money, time and a place to create. So toss a pebble in the stream, turn on your computer, open that studio door or violin case and begin.