Grant Writing 101

Here's a fantastic article on grant writing that features advice from the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council about how you can get in on this fabulously moderate wealth to keep doing what you do.

Grant Writing 101

Image of someone writing a grant

"Get on that Government Grant Gravy Train!" - By Tiffy Thompson | Published in Toronto Standard, February 15th, 2013

So you had a major lapse in judgment and became an artist. Failing a hefty trust fund, you’re probably broke right now.  You don’t have to starve. Piles of money are lying around waiting for you to claim them: government grants. But you have to do it right. We asked theOntario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council how you can get in on this fabulously moderate wealth.

Here’s what you do:

Be an ‘artist’: Basically, you consider yourself an artist. You make art consistently, sell it occasionally, show your work, and have training. The training doesn’t have to be ‘formal’ per se, but it has to demonstrate that you have mastered your craft. Develop a CV. Generally, you can apply one year after you are out of school; they don’t fund student work.
Know Your Work: Sit down and write 2-3 paragraphs about what you do as an artist, your interests, what sort of arguments you’re putting forward, what your pieces are about. “Keep it as a living document that changes,” says Peter Kingstone, Acting Visual And Media Arts Officer at the Toronto Arts Council. “It helps with artist statements, gallery shows, and to keep an understanding about who you are as an artist.”
Tell a story: In the proposal, “make a narrative story of what you’re planning to do, why you’re planning to do it. Whether to further artistic practice, build community, or to examine a particular politic; those are the types of things the jury wants to hear,” says Kingstone.
Be in contact BEFORE you send in your grant application: OAC and TAC officers and consultants are amenable to providing feedback to your application before the deadline. USE THEM. They can tell you what your application is missing, how to re-word your proposal to maximize your chances of success or tell you if you’re wasting your time. They can refer you to a different grant category that may be more suited to your work. They want to help you get money for your projects, let them.
Don’t Wax Poetic: You will be judged by a panel of your peers. These are other artists who have received grants before. There is no need for lengthy preambles about why art is important in society and should be funded. Write in a definitive style. Avoid using cliches.  You’re not writing a flowery university essay. Keep your language simple and concise. If reading it annoys you, it will annoy them.
Be Passionate, Not Cocky: “This sort of ‘You should give me money but I’m not going to tell you what I’m doing’ really puts off a jury,” says Kingstone. “Often that cockiness is masking an inability to really talk about one’s work.” Rather, you should be passionate about your project. This doesn’t mean over-using exclamation marks!!!  Convey that you know what your project is all about and what it means to you.
Get Others to Look it Over: Preferably someone who isn’t familiar with your work (no boyfriends or girlfriends). Preferably not another artist. Find an accountant or a construction worker, even. Don’t make assumptions that everyone knows what you are talking about. Listen to their criticisms; they have the objectivity that you lack. 
Unify your Package: “There’s the written portion, the images and the CV,” says Kingstone. “Make sure all these 3 pieces work together.” That means not throwing in random images because they look pretty; it has to pertain to the work you’re proposing to do in some way.
Make sure your budget checks out: Remember that it’s a jury of your peers. They have a pretty good idea how much things cost. Don’t super-inflate your expenses just to get the maximum amount of money. Be realistic. Make sure your budget balances.
Ask for feedback: Approximately, one in four who apply for a TAC visual arts grant will receive one. The funding body will have juror’s notes on where you went wrong and where you can improve. “If unsuccessful, call for feedback,” notes Nasreen Khan, Arts Education Officer at the OAC. “You can even call if you are successful.”

“We’re hoping to encourage artistic excellence and fund those projects that we think deserve to be funded, so the artist has an easier time making them, can make them faster, and not have to work 3 full-time jobs at the same time,” says Kingstone. Ultimately, the grants go to those who apply. You have nothing to lose in applying. 


Special thanks to Nasreen Khan and Bushra Junaid at the OAC.

For more info, see the OAC Grant Application Survival Guide here. Overview of the Ontario Arts Council here. Also check out Artreach: a Toronto-based grant resource guide.


Tiffy Thompson is a writer and illustrator for the Toronto Standard.  Follow her on Twitter at @tiffyjthompson. 

Grant Writing for Artists 101