Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Looking Ahead (aka Grant-writing)

The continuing saga entitled my art career has once again found its heroine entering new territory: grant-writing
also know as,
There's certain artists out there that, with great success, follow a path of residencies, competitions and grants. This means countless hours devoted to research, writing and filling out applications. I've been of the belief that if you spend all your time pursuing these opportunities, you find yourself making less art and more persuasive essays. Why would I want to waste my time?

BUT, like all good ideas, this Regional Artist Grant for Guilford County (+ 5 neighboring counties) was placed in my inbox. All the details presented at just the right time and a far-enough-away deadline for me to think "I could do this". But grant-writing isn't me, right?

Then my next push from the universe: I went to a fundraising gala where a one-hour grant writing session, with a seasoned vet in the field, was up for auction. I took it as a sign, knowing how little I knew about grant-writing and being smart enough to see a chance to get valuable help. I made sure I won it, and I'm awfully glad I did. Sometimes, my biggest hurdle can be simply understanding the prompt. This grant proposal was no exception. The prompt was simple really; it asked "What do you want to do next year with your art?"

What am I doing? Where do I want to go?

I was stumped. I have worked so hard to get where I am this year, I hadn't even begun to think about plans for next year. I thought so hard about it I swear my head hurt for a week. I was awash in emotional instability, lost at sea on the 20-something raft of life that I had fooled myself into thinking was in the right direction. Well, not even the right direction, any direction really. I found that I didn't didn't have any pie-in-the-sky dreams for my art or art career. How can I follow a direction if I don't even have a goal? More instability, more drifting. 

With the help of grant-queen Margaret, I was able to eventually wrap my brain around what was being asked of me. We improvised our one-hour into a series of emails where I would throw all my ideas at her (I mean all of them) and she gently nudged me in the right direction. I really did a lot of soul-searching over the month leading up to the deadline, including some intensive brain-storming sessions with my bff, where we wrote down as many big dreams as we could think of in 10 minutes. And then organized them into groups and talked about it.  Lots of talking.

In the end, I went for something clear and definable, easily monetized into their mandatory budget proposal and simple to write about its benefits: I asked for funds to purchase a knitting machine. It was an idea I hadn't given more than a passing fancy but, as I reflected on my art, I realized how much I desired to scale up my work and how this machine would allow me to do it. The real reason I hadn't looked into buying a machine before was because I was WHOLLY INTIMIDATED. Where do I buy a machine? Which one do I buy? How do I learn how to use it? What if I can't figure it out and I wasted all this time and money?? But then, there was the magic of the grant. If I sit down and actually do research on them -- persuade others into why this would be great for me -- then maybe I'll gain some more confidence. AND if they actually give me the money, then I HAVE TO figure it out!

Along with working with Margaret and getting my friends' advice, I reached out to Instagram friends who I knew owned knitting machines and asked for their input. 
----(Lemme tell you, I have been blown away with the network of artists and crafters I've met through Instagram! It's been quite the valuable tool for advancing my art career)----
 Of course, they were great help and eventually led me to learning about a local machine knitters guild in my area. With fabulous luck, they were meeting the next day and 2 days before my grant was due. THAT was the ticket! They sat down with me and literally walked me through my budget proposal, telling me exactly what I needed to buy and how much it would cost. They even offered to help me shop. Not to mention, they will be a valuable support system once I actually get a machine and need to learn. That's right, now that I've done all the research, I have to get a machine, whether or not this grant comes through. I'll figure it out.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON GRANT-WRITING: I have to say, I think I might be a big fan of grants now. You still have to accept the fact that you have no control over how many other people with great ideas apply, who the judges are, and what their personal tastes may be. But I've already gained so much just in the process of writing it. It forced me to think ahead and dream big. I'm thinking that I should apply for a grant every year, simply for those benefits. It's so amazing that we have programs in place specifically for encouraging artists to keep doing what they're doing, why not try your luck at some of that funding. Even if you don't get it, you'll be amazed at where it can take you.

What are you doing next year?

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