What Makes a Strong Application? Tips on Applying for the Creative Capital Award

With the 2020 Creative Capital Award application open, we asked the panelists who recently completed the process of reviewing the 2019 cycle applications about some common strengths and weaknesses they saw. We’ve compiled their advice here to help you create the best possible application.

Clarity and Communication
Panelists emphasized the importance of a concise, direct application, free of jargon or “art-speak.” Rasu Jilani, director of community engagement and recruiting at NEW INC, stressed that applications should quickly get to the heart of the work, its impact, and desired audience, and the “why” of your project. Successful applicants were able to communicate the originality and urgency of the project using concise explanations of the research and methodologies behind their practice.

Since panelists are experts across a range of disciplines such as literature, visual arts, performing arts, and film, artists are cautioned against making assumptions about reviewers’ prior knowledge. Jillian Mayer, a 2015 Creative Capital Awardee and interdisciplinary artist, summarized it best: Describe your project “with the clarity of a children’s book.”

“A good work sample connects where the artist has been, and where the artist wants to be.” — Scott Macaulay

Choosing Great Work Samples
“Imagine that there’s a dialogue between your written proposal and the actual sample,” Scott Macaulay, editor of Filmmaker Magazine said. “The questions that one asks should be answered, or at least addressed, in the other. A good work sample connects where the artist has been, and where the artist wants to be.”

Video and film samples especially should be approached with intent and deliberation—the first few seconds and frames make a critical impression on reviewers. Sixto Wagan, director of the Center for Arts and Social Engagement at the University of Houston, explains that “artists know their work so well, but many of the reviewers will not be familiar with the artists’ work. I felt that artists need to be specific about why they chose the clip, and what they’d like us to focus on.”

Since the evaluators have limited time to review applications, the key is to show past proficiencies and the originality of their vision. Panelists cautioned against referencing too many other artists or existing works. Most importantly, remember that the panelists want to understand you and champion your work—they just need to see compelling evidence of the work they are supporting.

Read our article for more tips on choosing work samples.

Why You? Why Now? Timeliness and Making Sure Your Project Fits
The urgency of a project, whether in response to a political moment or to a pivotal point in the artist’s career, is a key component that brings some applicants to the top of the pile. Reviewers often ask, “Does the project need to happen now, and is this artist the best equipped to execute it?” Your application should answer those two questions to reviewers with clarity and conviction.

Additionally, the timing of a project is key—projects that are within a year of completion or artists who are not at a phase in their career to take advantage of the non-monetary services that Creative Capital provides are less likely to receive the award. Ethan Nosowsky, editorial director of Graywolf Press, was most interested in projects that occurred at “a catalytic moment for an artist’s career and best aligned with Creative Capital’s mission” to support innovative artists.

Considering Community Engagement and Impact First
A core component of the Creative Capital Award is its commitment to artists at the forefront of social change. Whether that impact is through direct community engagement, or through critical dialogue with a social movement through the artist’s medium, successful applicants managed to express their dreams of the project’s impact on their chosen field. Macaulay cautioned against “tacking on issues in the news cycle” as an afterthought, instead suggesting that even projects that did not appear linked to social issues on the surface could still present surprising engagements with the artist’s environment and communities.

The Creative Capital Award application is free to apply for artists of all disciplines through February 28, 2019.