e think of contacting the government for serious concerns like income taxes, the environment, education and the passing of new legislation. Few people realize that an agency exists in every state's government that dabbles in the arts. And dabbling means providing money in the form of grants.
These agencies are funded by your tax dollars. Some of the money comes from your state taxes and some from federal dollars trickled down from the National Endowment for the Arts (www.nea.gov). These are public monies, and information about how they work, who they go to and how they are divided and distributed, is public information. Time to learn more, right? Of course.
State arts commissions come in many shapes and sizes. The largest state can have a council that offers few grants to individual writers, while a small state can abound in opportunity. You can't judge an arts commission by its location, nor by the population or political persuasion. Regardless of where you reside, you must contact your arts commission. You might be surprised at what awaits you.
These state agencies come with names like:
- Arts commission
- Arts council
- Culture and tourism
- Arts and humanities
- Arts and cultural affairs
- Culture and history
Regardless of the name, the agency offers grants, educational programs and information for the arts - and that includes the art of words.
A simple place to start is at the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies - www.nasaa-arts.org. They have a lovely map to click on to locate your state connection. I clicked on my home state of South Carolina and the information took me to the South Carolina Arts Commission at www.southcarolinaarts.com. The goal of the agency is "to make it possible for every citizen in the state to enjoy and benefit from the arts, even if he or she doesn't have a lot of money or live in a large city."
At first glance, you might envision every South Carolinian having access to an arts grant. Actually, this mission statement emphasizes that every citizen should be able to enjoy the arts. Whether visiting a museum, attending a concert, perusing a book fair or reliving history through presentations, the activity should benefit the average citizen.
Many writers might read the mission statement and move on, thinking that their book of poetry, drama or ghost mystery doesn't apply. But the website indicates the agency has fellowships of $5,000, and each year they rotate the awards amongst visual arts, music, dance, literature and crafts. Reading further, the state provides quarterly grants to local counties to distribute to its residents, and each county handles the money differently. Another reason to know how arts councils work. You might have easier grant money in your hometown.
Jump over to Idaho, a state noted more for its nature and rustic setting than its writing culture. Yet, when you go to www.arts.idaho.gov and click on grants for individuals, you find marvelous avenues of hope. Not only do you have fellowships like South Carolina, but you have Quick Funds for talent development, which can include attending a conference, taking a class or traveling to a resource you couldn't afford otherwise. Artist Apprenticeships are offered to continue cultural and artistic traditions. The Tumblewords program funds artists bringing the arts into rural communities. While each state has grants, each state also has different programs, different dollar amounts and different ways of enabling artists.
"Glancing at the
website is a start. A
phone call is better."
By now, hopefully, you see the need to orient yourself to your state and local arts agency. Glancing at the website is a start. A phone call is better. But visiting your agency could open your eyes to wonderful avenues. The employees at these agencies specialize in furthering the arts and helping artists find employment, grants and assistance.
If the idea of applying for a grant scares you silly, don't feel alone. Many people feel they don't deserve a grant because they aren't destitute, or they envision a grant application as a close cousin to an income tax return. Neither is true.
Sometimes an application is a form with your writing attached. At other times you have to create a small budget showing where you'll spend your money. Others require a narrative explaining the direction of your writing career and your project. But if you are still afraid of completing an application, don't be.
Most of these agencies hold meetings during the year to educate people how to apply for these grants. These meetings don't get much attention in the media, which is more reason to know your council and receive their mailings. These meetings involve grant specialists advising how to write a grant to grab the attention of judges. Not only do you receive pointers, but you also learn about successful grants of the past, which are public information. You can see what has worked in the past and talk to the council people who impact selection. Networking is an asset in the grant world.
I once attended a general knowledge public meeting by the Arizona Commission on the Arts - www.arizonaarts.org. The room was full of artistic types from dancers to photographers, from poets to musicians - all seeking funds for their craft.
One gentleman wanted to photograph and publish a book on single fathers. Another wanted to do interpretive dance in elementary schools. A lady did bead work, and several wrote books - nonfiction and novels. The moderator of the presentation was an arts commission employee, and he did a phenomenal job teaching the group grants don't bite.
He asked volunteers to mention their craft and what they hoped to accomplish. Then he connected them to a group, an organization, a library contact, a commission expert, a workshop, and even another artist. Finally he discussed the grants. These folks are information Meccas for artists, plus it's nice to have a face to put with a name when you need advice how to word an answer to a question on the form.
New Hampshire State Council on the Arts not only educates potential grant applicants, but they offer other services. This year they are conducting Artist Entrepreneurial Workshops to aid artists in their business and tax practices. The business end of writing can be dry and easy to cast in a drawer and forget. This council is trying to not only aid artists with grants, but to also help their careers stay afloat. www.nh.gov/nharts
Let's go one step further. Most of the agencies have newsletters. Some are still old-fashioned in paper format, but many have newsletters delivered via email each month. Some are biweekly. By signing up, you receive advanced notice of grant deadlines or changes in grant policies. You see who won the grants and for what projects. You can place dates for informational meetings on your calendar and see who may have changed as the staff contact person.
But it gets better. Most of the agencies also have an area called Opportunities. In my research for FundsforWriters, I subscribe to at least 15 newsletters, and I scan websites constantly for new ones as they develop. In these publications, I learn about contests, job offers, freelance markets, conferences and workshops, in addition to grants. I list the FundsforWriters annual essay contest in these newsletters. They are full of potential catalysts for your writing career. Sign up for as many as you can, but especially the one for your home state.
Tax dollars fund grants. But unlike many public funds, these grants are competitive and not guarantees. Remember that grant budgets don't come with deep pockets, making them as difficult to land as many freelance markets and contests. Taking the time to apply properly and give attention to your presentation makes all the difference. In talking to grant winners, the most common thread I hear is that you have to insert your passion into the grant document. Somehow, that judge or that panel has to feel your desire to write, and specifically, write the project you have in mind. Just like the two-page synopsis that has to sell an agent on your novel, the grant application has to make judges wish they were writers just like you.
One word of warning. Don't think a grant can start your writing career. Part of a grant application invariably asked for your writing credits. Writing grants are for writers. If you have not published yet, place your focus on obtaining clips and credits for your work. When you can show serious work effort, and can define where you want to take your writing career, then you should add grants to your writing business plan.
*NOTE: Another resource to locate your arts commission is through the National Endowment for the Arts at www.nea.gov/partner/state/SAA_RAO_list.html
Look up your council. Make contact. I guarantee every arts commission has a soul interested in helping you achieve an end and maybe even find some funding along the way. Search for your local, regional, and state arts commissions and make a connection. These folks only want to see artists succeed, and overlooking this resource is like not filing for your income tax refund. You are entitled to the help.
C. Hope Clark is founder and editor of FundsforWriters.com. She’s written for Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Byline Magazine, Turf Magazine, Landscape Management, Next Step Magazine and more. She served 25 years with a lending/grant agency of the US federal government.