While grant writing is a reality for most artists, it can feel overwhelming for emerging and established creatives alike. 

In an effort to demystify the process, I reached out to ten grant experts – recipients, jurors and arts leaders and asked them: 

In your opinion, what is the most important thing an artist can do to create a successful grant application?

Below, they have generously provided their tips for getting the grant. 

GIGI ROSENBERG – Public speaking coach and author of the popular book, The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing, now in its sixth printing. For details visit gigirosenberg.com.

“The most important thing an artist can do to create a winning proposal is to imagine their project completed and then look back at it and describe it. This helps solve the grant writer’s conundrum: How can I describe something I haven’t made yet?

Also, it’s essential that you’re getting something out of writing the grant (like a clearer vision or a plan) so that you win whether you get the money or not. Writing a gorgeous application is not a sure thing so you have to find a way to benefit so that the process of writing the grant spurs you and your art further into the world. 

Here’s a link to the book on my website and a blog post that might be helpful. 

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ALLIE HARVEY – Program Manager of Artreach

Ensure you submit a complete narrative in your application package: what’s written in your application should match the expenses in your budget, the activities in your workplan, and be supported by your supplementary material. Confirm all steps of the project (including pre- and post- project activities) are included in your workplan and that associated costs for each activity are in your budget. When these key documents don’t match, your application won’t make sense or clearly demonstrate what you hope to achieve. Show the grant review team you’ve considered all details of your proposed project and are prepared to execute it.

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JESSE WENTE – Chair of the Board of the Canada Council for the Arts

“Honestly, there is no magic formula. The truth is, on a national scale in any given competition, there will always be more projects the jury would like to support but cannot due to budget constraints. Having said that, the most important thing an artist can do is focus on the why of their project – if you can’t explain the why, the assessment committee may question why your project should be funded. Some of the simplest points are the best – don’t wait until the last minute, use plain language, proofread. Call the Council. Talk to an officer if you have questions. They are there for you.

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SEDINA FIATI Performer Producer Creator for Stage & Screen

“Ensure that you get some process pieces started early. Start the gathering of bios and resumes from collaborators early, as well as gathering and editing any support material.

Find an accountability buddy/editor who will help you, edit the grant or someone you can rant to when needed. There are a lot of steps and it can be a lot. Make sure this person is available on the day the grant is due. As much as we try, there is always last minute work to be done.

As well, this may seem basic, but answer the questions. I re-read the questions frequently to ensure that I am answering them well.

I also recommend checking out artistproducerresource.com, where there is thorough advice on grantwriting.”

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JENNA TURK– Theatremaker

“First and foremost the most important thing to do is TRY. I think before an artist has completed an application, the process can seem quite intimidating. However, once you’ve done one, you will know so much! Otherwise, my biggest piece of advice would be to contact the grant officer. They are full of knowledge and truly want artists to succeed. Often they will even offer training that will walk you through the process step by step —take advantage of this. Just make sure to reach out early!”

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ESTHER MALONEY – Founding Director of Illumine Media Project

“I think writing grants as an artist is about getting really clear and precise on what exactly you want to do, not in a general sense but with specificity. From that vision, it gets easier to write the why, where, with who and how in simple, direct language. I find it really helpful to keep re-reading the questions on an application and ask myself “am I really answering that here?” It’s also great to reach out to a grant officer for additional support or clarity and to ask a friend or colleague to read a draft and ask for feedback.”

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IZAD ETEMADIActor, Writer, Producer, Grant Writing Assistance

“Be specific! You can never be too detailed or specific in a grant application. Show those grant jurors how prepared you are so that when they give you that money, you know exactly what you’re going to do with it. 

We are storytellers and it’s ok to tell a story in a grant! Your application doesn’t need to be an academic essay. Take the grant jurors on a journey with you so that they become invested in you and your project.

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CAYLIE STAPLES, Musician 

“When I am truly committed to a project and determined to create it and make it happen, I find that the jurors can sense that and put their support behind those projects. Propose a project that excites you artistically and write honestly about what support you need. 

Read fine print – I once realized 15 minutes before a deadline that the application had a 10 page maximum and mine was 14 pages. I did some very quick deleting! I received that grant. Calling a program officer with any questions you have during the writing of your application is also extremely helpful.”

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SPARK BOX STUDIO

“Before we even start to look for funding we build a roadmap. We break down the project we’re working on into all of its different parts and assess what will be needed to complete it. We ask ourselves what is it we want to do? Who will the project be for? How will the project be completed? What will the project look like when completed? When do we think we will be working on it and when will it be finished? Why/how is this project important to us or our community? What will we need to complete the projects (space, time, materials, mentorships, travel, etc.)? Once we have solid and well formed answers to these types of questions we start looking at funding opportunities that are well suited for the project.”

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ADAM FRANCIS PROULX – Theatre Artist

After you do or don’t get the grant, make an appointment with your granting officer for feedback. Sometimes many of these conversations can feel frustrating and you might feel like you’re not learning anything, but often the lessons you are actually trying to learn are: What are these people thinking? What do they see when they see my application? What is confusing to them about my artistic practice?

Keep really good documents with all of your answers. For example, you are likely to be asked to describe your work in almost every grant, so keep a document with your stock answer, or even a bunch of answers you’ve used for different purposes. Then, even when there is that day when you don’t feel like you have it in you to write an application, you can copy and paste, at least as a starting point.