Sometimes you can just tell from the first few lines of what they have written, or what they say in the first few minutes, whether their project will succeed or not.
And when I say success, I mean that as something that defines an artist's entire career, not just one grant proposal even though many of the same contributing factors can affect both.
One of the artists in a recent proposal writing workshop said,
"I really want to give people a hands on experience that can change their perspective by directly participating in my project. This will help me grow as and artist and develop my creative process. And the grant will help me create new projects and help me develop new experiences based on traditional art forms."
Her proposal had been turned down by another foundation and she wanted to know how she could make it better.
My answer was really a question.
"Better for whom?"
Why this is important
No one likes rejection.
Or the feeling that you have invested so much time and energy for something that has been turned down.
You start to question your work, you start listening to that pesky demon whispering in your ear at 2:00 am, you wonder if you really have what it takes.
How do some people make it through? What are they doing that makes that all important difference between getting a grant and getting a rejection letter? Is their success unique or a sequence of strategies that you can learn?
And, what are reviewers really looking for?
What you can learn from your competition
You have a creative dream and a passion to share it. It is something that will make a tremendous difference for the people who experience it. You need moral and financial support to bring this to life and to build a life around your creative work.
I have been thinking a lot about how to create spaces and opportunities for artists to make life more beautiful and vibrant and all of the reasons we choose to create.
After spending a lot of time reviewing grants on the city, state and national level, I have seen patterns of success in the proposals of artists who get grants and go on to build great careers.
There is one thing that makes grant reviewers like me sit up and pay attention.
My dear friend and colleague, David Johnston, said it best, at the end of a long panel session:
"I just want to be delighted."
How do you do this?
Create from a sense of joy.
It will fill you with energy, motivation and a sense of purpose and the work you produce will often be more successful in the market or with your audiences whether they are ticket buyers, fans or grant panels. These 2 values - creating work you are passionate about that is successful - are not always closely linked but there is a way to find that sweet spot.
Here's what you can do:
- Think about framing joy as your intention.
- Then take yourself out of the equation.
Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.
My answer to the artist was an invitation to rethink why she was doing her project. If the intent is to help her to grow as an artist, who really benefits besides herself? If it is to change a person's perspective, and perhaps in a joyful way, the world will benefit, one person at a time.
Never underestimate the power of delight.
Hoong Yee is a writer who draws. She is the author of Rabbit Mooncakes, a children’s picture book and the Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts. Hoong Yee is married to a nice Jewish boy and they live in Rockaway Beach, NY with their family. Visit her website at hoongyee.com