Intro to Funding for Art Projects

Every few weeks, we’ll be posting tips straight from the Professional Development Program’s Artist’s Tools Handbook, a 200+ page resource we give to Core Workshop attendeeswritten by PDP Core Leaders Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman. The book covers everything from writing to budgeting, websites to fundraising, elevator pitches to work samples. Similarly, each post will be packed with practical ideas to make your life run more smoothly, leaving you even more time for your creative practice. 

Getting Started: Almost all of your fundraising will be done through partnerships: with venues and presenters, advisory boards, and directly with funders and donors. Creative Capital advocates thorough and clear communications about money betwen funders, venues and artists. The better you articulate what you want, what you do and how much it costs, the better off the entire field will be. Thinking of your funders and donors as partners will help you find more opportunities and will make you easier to work with. You will be ready when a venue says, “We found a commission to apply for your project. We need 250 words and a few images. TODAY!” Conversely, if you find a funding source your partners haven’t reached out to yet, you’ll know how to help them through the necessary steps to bring more funding to your project. Partners will want to work with you again and again because you help them help you.

Sources of Support: Your methods for supporting your work will change as your career evolves, as your rate of production changes, and as your needs and priorities change. It may be that each project has several income streams, including sales, teaching, grants, and donations of goods and services. As with investments in the stock market, diversity is good: it helps build a strong portfolio. Take a look at the ten descriptions below; see if there are any new sources that you might consider using now, or as new projects arise.

  1. Support from Individuals: In your quest for grants and fellowships, don’t ignore individual donors. In fact, they may be your greatest source of support. Individuals contribute eighty percent of all philanthropic dollars, and this number rises to eighty-seven percent if you include family foundations. Although these numbers may be skewed a bit differently for arts organizations as opposed to religious or human service organizations, the share of arts funding that comes from individuals is significant. The great thing about fundraising this way is that you can apply funds from individuals at your discretion, rather than adhering to an institutional funder’s guidelines. And if treated well, individual donors tend to be loyal. Even if you’re only raising a small amount of money, you’re likely to get repeat contributors.
  2. Self-Subsidy: Self-subsidy is support from an individual, but the individual just happens to be you. As an artist, you are often your own biggest financial supporter. This is common among artists at every level. Self-subsidy comes in different forms; some artists have a commercial outlet for their work, like a graphic design or video-editing studio that supplements their income from films or paintings. Others teach full-time and write during their off months, while others invest in real estate that later pays for a child’s college education. Your method for self-subsidizing will depend on your personal combination of circumstances, abilities and interests.
  3. Fellowships and Awards: Fellowships and Merit Awards use either a nomination or application process to award financial support. Fellowships offer support and recognition for an artist’s work as a whole rather than for a specific project. These programs support artists at varying stages of their careers. The applications generally require less written material than project grant applications, however the work sample often plays a more significant role. Artists use fellowships to take time off to work on their art, to travel or conduct research, or even to contribute to their 401K or pay for child care so they can focus on their work. Examples of fellowship programs include: Guggenheim Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, Kresge Fellowships, the Joan Mitchell Foundation and Pew Fellowships in the Arts.
  4. Project Grants: Project grants are awarded toward the completion of a specific work, a series of works or other projects. They are often made through a sponsoring organization: a fiscal conduit, service organization or venue such as a gallery or performance space. In a way, a project grant is a contract with a funder to complete a specific work or series. The quality of the work and its alignment with a funder’s guidelines are primary considerations. Examples of organizations offering project grants include: Creative Capital, the Jerome Foundation, the MAP Fund, the Arts Writers Grant Program, as well as commissions from organizations like the National Performance Network.
  5. Government Agencies: This category includes all funds apportioned from public tax dollars toward the arts, including local and state arts councils, the National Endowment for the Arts (while they no longer fund artists directly, they do help organizations to commission artists), the National Endowment for the Humanities, your local Mayor’s Office and unexpected places like the Chamber of Commerce. Many of these funds are project based. Government grants can include project grants, commissions and general operating support to organizations. Government funding priorities include access and accountability, meaning: Will taxpayers have easy access to this work and will they be able to justify supporting your project to their governing bodies?
  6. Service Organizations and Residencies: This broad category includes organizations that offer non-monetary support to artists, such as colonies and residencies, advocacy groups and organizations that help with tour booking, bookkeeping, professional workshops and other services. Examples include: The MacDowell Colony, The Field, Fractured Atlas, Virginia Center for the Arts and the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.
  7. Corporate Support: Corporate support is another broad category, encompassing many things, from the local hardware store advertising in your event program to an airline underwriting a major tour by a dance company. The important message to communicate when appealing to a business is what tangible benefit they will get from the arrangement: visibility, access to a demographic, goodwill or hip caché.
  8. In-Kind Goods and Services: This refers to the donation of goods and services instead of financial support. As with financial support, in-kind goods and services are tax-deductible, which is an added incentive for the donor. Goods include equipment or space rental; services include accounting or legal services. Examples include a local scaffolding company donating scaffolding for your installation or a community center that lets you use their space to mount your photo documentary project about the local club scene.
  9. Earned Income for Services: This is when you get paid for performing a service. Be sure you’re asking for enough from each lecture, teaching job or critique that you are invited to give. Examples include an artist lecturing on their work, topic of interest or expertise; a university residency where an artist critiques student art and works in their studio living space; or a fee received to perform at a gallery.
  10.  Earned Income for Goods: This includes selling artwork or tickets to a show, as well as income from publishing or film distribution. Because the market and methods of distribution are changing in every medium, we recommend finding an MBA candidate to help you research ways you might maximize your earned income. These students are often eager to explore new fields and know ways of generating revenue that may be new to you.


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