As an artist, a large part of getting things going is to submit proposals to grantmakers, funders, galleries, nonprofits and businesses. After having had the pleasure and pain of sitting on many panels for all of the above, I thought I would share the reasons why artists get rejected and what you can do about it. Whether you are asking for a show, a pot of money, an in-kind donation, a fellowship or a residency, a few thoughtful considerations will go a long way towards less rejection.
• Don't apply if your work is not a good match. Too many artists apply for everything without considering whether their artwork makes sense or fits the requirements. It wastes your time as well as the funders.
• You make good work, but the images you sent with your proposal suck. I can't tell you how many bad images I have seen in a grant panel. Do yourself a favor and invest in getting good images, whether you learn to do it yourself or hire a professional.
• The project you are proposing does not fit the guidelines. Always read the guidelines at least twice.
• The budget you sent does not add up (bad math), or you have forgotten key elements in the budget that are obvious to the panelists.
• You don't do your homework and find out what things really cost and you guess. Panelists have a keen sense of what things cost and can usually spot an inflated budget fairly easily.
• The project description is not clear or is muddled. A clear, concise and thoughtful description of the project or your work is vital.
• The work does not match the artist statement. Many panelists will look at whether your work is actually doing what you claim in the artist statement or proposal. It is a way to weed out those artists whose work does not match their claims.
• You did not answer the questions correctly. It is vital to understand what the funder or exhibition space is asking for. Consider the question from the perspective of the funder.
• You waited until the last minute to submit, and you didn't have time to proofread.
Things to consider:
• If you are not getting rejected often, you are not applying for enough things.
• Sometimes you can call and find out why your application or proposal was rejected. This is a good idea, as it might have been something fairly simple that you can change when you try again. If you don't find out, you may keep repeating the same mistakes.
• Have someone else read your text before you submit it. If you can have a person who knows your work as well as someone who doesn't, this is a great way to find out if you are communicating.
• When panelists are looking at a ton of proposals, they often look for an excuse to say no, in order to narrow down the field. Often, panelists get proposals before they ever see the images. If you are an artist who cannot discuss your work and depend on just your images to communicate, you are naïve. That might work for selling, but rarely for monetary support.
• If you are not sure about how to answer a question or whether your project fits their guidelines, call them if they allow it and ask questions. But be sure to read all the guidelines, find out what they have funded previously, and whatever you do, do not ask a question which has been answered on their website.
• It is hard enough to get funded, supported or awarded, so don't make mistakes that keep you out of the running. The trick is to stay in the "maybe pile" until the end, so your chances of getting to yes are good.
If you need advice, here is a book which is getting a lot of attention, authored by Gigi Rosenberg, The Artists' Guide To Grant Writing. gigirosenberg.com/book/