Week 4: Applying for Artist Grants Continued

Week 4:  Applying for Artist Grants Continued

An Anatomy of Grant Applications

If a grant agency is interested in your proposal, these are the materials they typically request:

  • Formal Letters of Recommendation.
  • Proof of Eligibility (for regional grants especially, the funding source may request proof of residence in a given city or state).
  • Budget and List of Anticipated Expenses.
  • Works sample.

When thinking about how to compile all of these materials, there are several similarities to the artist residency applications we discussed in weeks one and two.  First, make sure that the work sample relates to the project proposal, showing that you have technical expertise to execute the proposed project.  The process of assessing material from your references or letter writer will be fairly similar as well.  They are more often character references than anything else. Grant agencies frequently use references to make sure that you are trustworthy, accountable, and ethical (as these are important considerations when awarding substantial amounts of money). 

Application Dossiers:  More Tips (& a Horror Story)


  • Many writers make the mistake of choosing a reference who does not know them well at all, but is a very well known person in that field. They usually anticipate that a big name will impress the selection committee.  When juries  check references, though, one of the questions most frequently asked is “How long have you known the applicant?”  With that in mind, choose someone whose accomplishments you respect, but also someone who knows you well enough to do justice to your project, ability, and character.
  • A good percentage of applicants use former teachers as references.  If you are self taught, or graduated from your MFA awhile back, don’t panic that you don’t a have professors to list as references.  You may also list colleagues, friends who are arts professionals, your publisher, editors you’ve worked with in the small press, individuals with whom you’ve collaborated, etc.  Be sure to ask them first, however, and provide enough information about your project so that they can speak to its merits.  I typically supply my references with an up to date C.V., copy of the work sample, and a copy of the application. 
  • If you’re requesting a formal letter, give your letter writer at least one month lead time.  


  • Grant agencies are most likely to approve small reasonable requests for funds than larger amounts. The reason for this is that there are many artist applying for these grants, and funds are scarce.  So request only what you need and can justify in the application.

As promised, the horror story

I have a close friend who is a very accomplished poet.  He has won numerous awards for his work, and completed not one, but two, M.F.A. degrees from top-flight programs.  His first book was reviewed widely, and was a finalist for a major award.  A few years ago, he applied for a grant, thinking that his credentials would set him apart.  He was so confident that his application would be approved that he requested $70,000.00 in his initial letter of inquiry. The grant agency returned his materials promptly with a form rejection enclosed.   

And a happy ending…

Artists do get grants, more often than people realize.  Don’t make unreasonable requests, though, as these could potentially take away from the opportunities available to artists much needier than yourself.   If you’re reasonable, professional, and do your research, you’ll be surprised and delighted to find people who believe in your project as much as you do.


Reading Assignment:  Ways to Stay in the Loop

What is the most common reason that people don’t get grants?  They missed the deadline.  Here are some links to open calls, newsletters, and websites that are continuously updated and describe various funding opportunities for arts professionals:

Fund for Writers:  http://fundsforwriters.com/

Poets and Writers:  http://www.pw.org/grants

Art Deadline:  http://artdeadline.com/

And few grants that are well kept secrets…

Word Riot Travel Grants:  Kicking The Small Press Into High Gear:  http://wordriot.us/travel-grants/

Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences:  http://www.awesomefoundation.org/


Kristina Marie DarlingKristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry. Her awards include two Yaddo residencies, a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, and a Visiting Artist Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, as well as grants from the Whiting Foundation and Harvard University’s Kittredge Fund. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in English Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University.