Gigi Rosenberg, The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing

How Artists Can Find Funds

In your book, you write that "A proposal is a creative act like any other." Can you expand upon this comment?

Proposal writing takes time away from all the other things you should be doing like making art, marketing, and grocery shopping. For this reason, I encourage my students to ensure they will benefit from the process of writing a proposal or grant application, even if they don’t win. Also, you have to decide if your time would be better spent in the studio or at the writing desk just making more work. When you apply for a grant you usually have to submit a work sample and that sample must be of the highest quality. You only get that quality by putting in the time. Without that work sample, even the most beautifully written application has much less chance of winning funding.

How does writing a grant benefit you in more ways than money?

What many artists don’t realize is that the panel that judges your grant application is often made up of other artists. So one huge benefit to applying for a grant is that your work, your resume, your artist statement, and your application is studied very closely by other artists, curators, and others in your field. At the end of the process this panel will know more about you, the artist, than your own mother! So, even if you don’t win funding, you now have some new, potentially influential fans who you’ll surely meet further down the road. They can refer you to other projects. When they run into you, they may say: “Yes, I know you and I love your work. Have you heard about…?” You never know what opportunities this exposure can lead to.

What is fiscal sponsorship? Which organizations in Chicago offer such assistance? 

Fiscal sponsorship is one of those topics that make people glaze over. So I’ll keep this brief, and if it sounds intriguing or helpful, there are whole books written about it! In short: an artist who needs to raise a lot of money for a big project might consider finding a non-profit organization that can act as a fiscal sponsor. What this enables the artist to do is to apply for grants that are only available to non-profits, not individual artists. This may sound vaguely illegal but it is on the up and up. Many funders can only grant money to an individual if that individual is working under the umbrella of a non-profit. Artists may wonder if this sponsor then has any creative control and the answer is absolutely not. When you sign the contract with the sponsor, make sure that’s stipulated in the contract. The best fiscal sponsor is an organization that has experience acting as a fiscal sponsor and working with individual artists. It doesn’t even need to be a Chicago organization. You can start your search with the New York Foundation for the Arts or with Fractured Atlas. Or check

How have you found alternative sources of funding for your own projects? 

Alternative funding sources means money that doesn’t come from a grant. Usually this means raising money from individual donors and yes, I’ve raised money for my own projects by asking my friends and colleagues to donate. I did this by writing a letter to them and asking them to send between $10 and $50 to support my project. It’s a pretty scary process because it makes you feel more vulnerable than writing a grant application but it helps you raise money faster and is usually less work than applying for a grant. I have one whole chapter in the book with literally hundreds of ideas for doing your own fundraising from writing letters to throwing all kinds of fundraising events and parties.

In your book you write about the "elevator speech."  What is an "elevator speech" and how does it strengthen one's grant proposal and benefit an artist's career in general? 

Your elevator speech is the few sentences you will say to someone you’ve just met—say, in an elevator—where you have less than 60 seconds to tell someone who you are and what you do. Most artists have a few different elevator speeches that emphasize different aspects of their work and career, and they’ll use one or the other depending on whom they’re talking to. For example, you’d have one if you were talking to a curator and another one if you were talking to someone interested in hiring you as teacher. You need an elevator speech for the project you’re looking to fund for a few reasons. One of the most important reasons is that when people ask you what you’re up to, you’ll tell them about your new project in a few pithy sentences. You’ll be amazed at how many good ideas others will have for you when they understand what you’re doing and what you’re looking for. You’ll also use your elevator speech if and when you call the granting agency. It quickly conveys to them who you are, what you’re doing, and what you want.

What is your own "elevator speech" for your book?

I wrote the book The Artists Guide to Grant Writing to empower artists with the tools and strategies to write winning proposals and fundraise for their artists endeavors.

This excerpt entitled “Hone the Big Idea” explains one of the many advantages of the process of writing a grant, besides the chance to win funding: 

Hone the Big Idea

The grant-writing process is a way to find your own answers to the big questions about your next project. It forces you to ask questions like: Can I do this work? How will this work add to the world of visual art (or of literature, or of performance)? It compels you to articulate not only what kind of art you make but also why and how you make it.

Many artists—even writers—don’t like to explain why they do what they do. They don’t want to dissect the meaning of their art. “Artists don’t like to be nailed down,” said artist Rita Robillard. “With good art we crave indeterminacy, and that seems in conflict with clarity.” Some artists feel that if it can be said in words then what’s the point of making it? The challenge then becomes how to be clear while maintaining the poetry.

Poet Mary Szybist, who won a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship for her second book of poetry, has a love/hate relationship with being forced to articulate what she’s working toward when she writes. She wonders whether too much explaining takes away from the work. “Poems have to have space to take on lives of their own,” she said. “The danger of articulating what a poem is about is that it could lead to being overdetermined and take the life out of the work.” On the other hand, the process of articulation can be useful. “There can be something very generative about being forced to articulate a theme or an idea,” she said. The process of writing her grant led her to decide on the central motif that shaped and informed her second book.

(Reprinted from the book The Artist's Guide to Grant Writing, by Gigi
Rosenberg. Copyright © 2010 by Gigi Rosenberg. Published by
Watson-Guptill, a division of Random House, Inc.)

Gigi Rosenberg is an author, speaker, coach, and workshop leader. Her essays and articles have been published by Seal Press, The Oregonian, Jewish Review, Parenting, and Writer’s Digest. Her book, The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing: How to Find Funds and Write Foolproof Proposals for the Visual, Literary, and Performing Artist (Watson-Guptill, December 2010) grew out of her acclaimed professional development workshops launched in Portland, Oregon, and taught at Chicago’s Self Employment in the Arts, New York City’s Foundation Center, and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Today she works in downtown Portland, Oregon, in an historic 1891 building near the urban shore of the Willamette River where she glimpses Mt. Hood from her fifth floor window. From there she writes books and memoir, coaches clients on presentations, and teaches workshops on grant writing to artists.

Interview conducted by CAR Visual Art Researcher Lindsay Obermeyer. 

Published by CAR_Laura on Tue, 02/01/2011 - 8:22am
Updated on Fri, 02/17/2012 - 5:05pm