Guide to Getting Arts Grants

"How do I get a grant?"

As an employee of the Foundation Center and a resident of a neighborhood filled with writers, filmmakers, and musicians, it's a question I hear all the time. Typically, my response goes something like this: "Well...it's hard but not impossible. First, you have to have something you can show funders. You do have something to show funders, don't you?"

If the answer is no, as it often is, I tell the would-be grantseeker, as gently as possible, to give me a call after he or she has spent a couple of years actually producing some art. Or, as Julia Cameron reminds readers in her book The Artist's Way: "Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite — getting something down."

Ellen Liberatori, a writer and poet who has worked in the nonprofit sector for nearly thirty years, knows this, and knows how difficult it can be for a young artist to accept it. As she writes in Guide to Getting Arts Grants, "Too many artists...envision a life outside of what they are doing right now. They haven't managed to integrate their present situation into their artistic goals. And fairly speaking, it can be difficult to make our dreams a reality..." In other words, in art, as in life, one has to learn how to fly before one can soar.

Fortunately, Liberatori, a late-blooming artist herself, wants all artists, whether novices, emerging mid-career stars, or seasoned pros, to soar, and she has written a guide to help them do just that. The key, she writes, is to accept grantseeking as a necessary component of one's experience as an artist. You have to "meet, meet, meet, write, write, write, and send, send, send." Yes it's work, but when done diligently and well, it can more than repay the effort and even deepen an artist's understanding of his or her unique gift and the creative process.

Like any artist about to embark on a journey, Liberatori begins at the beginning, with an overview of philanthropy and trends in the field. Along the way, she notes the four primary motivations for foundations (or individual philanthropists) to fund artists and the arts: ensuring that the arts are understood and appreciated; supporting the artistic development of individual artists; supporting arts education and organizations that foster art in the community; and supporting art as a way to impact the public good.

She then proceeds, in the tradition of The Artist's Way, to a discussion of the creative process and its implications, at various stages of an artist's development, for the grantseeking process. Each chapter in this section (and throughout the book) ends with bulleted lists of sometimes-helpful hints ("The Grants Zone") and boards' pet peeves ("Do's and Don'ts"), including things like "Focusing on grantseeking means you have to focus on your own development first," or "Don't assume grantmakers lack understanding about how artists become artists."

The heart of the book, chapters four through ten, explores the grantseeking process in detail, with separate chapters devoted to creating grantseeking goals and a strategic plan, prospect research, writing the grant application, and fiscal agents and sponsors. Like a good coach, Liberatori breaks things down into easy-to-understand steps and provides an abundance of examples and illustrations. The chapters on writing and submitting a proposal are particularly helpful, and the book ends with important advice about how to respond to a decision, whether positive or negative.

For a sample page of Getting Arts Grants, click here.

The book is not without flaws. The author has a tendency to slip into politically correct self-improvement speak — "heroes" alternate with "sheroes"; "centeredness" is an essential attribute; and fears — of failing, of change, of power — loom large; and portions of it, especially the chapter on prospect research, seem dated. For better or worse, the Web sites of foundations and information clearinghouses like the Foundation Center are the sine qua non for prospect researchers these days, and Liberatori hasn't quite caught up with developments in this area.

But those are minor quibbles. On balance, Guide to Getting Arts Grants is an engaging, well-presented examination of a frequently mysterious subject and deserves a spot on any artist's bookshelf. As the author notes, within the maze of creativity and genius there is a plan; regardless of your level of achievement, and her book will help you find and develop it.

Mitch Nauffts
Publisher/Editorial Director, Philanthropy News Digest
Foundation Center
New York, New York