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How Do Independent Artists Apply For Grants?

Artists can help a culture hold up a mirror and see itself. You are crucial to your community’s well being! But sales don’t always cover the bills. So where do you turn?

Grants can be an amazing way to shore up gaps in your resources and enable innovation and calculated risks!

But where do you start? And who is welcome to the table?

Keep reading for our guide to grants tailor-made for independent Canadian artists!

1. Find blogs and lists of grants for artists.

If you know organizations that grant funds for artists, great! Look through what they offer.

If you don’t know any organizations that provide that support, search for blogs and lists that have gathered the information for you. Try some of these search terms:

  • “Grants + musician + Canada”

  • “Grants + Independent artist + [your province]”

  • “Funding + writer + deadlines”

  • “Funding + painter + submission guidelines”

The results your search returns will likely include fund-granting bodies themselves, but don’t miss the blogs that point the way to more. They may also offer some insights on the focus or peculiarities of each grant or organization.

Check out our own list of Top Seven Grants for Independent Artists.

2. Check your eligibility before putting in a lot of work.

Your time is valuable! If the grant covers the type of project you’d like to do, next skip down to the eligibility requirements.

All grants will outline who they are inviting to apply. Is it emerging artists? Established professionals? Visible minorities? Artists partnered with a community organization?

They may also have criteria that define a give descriptor (eg. they may define a professional musician as someone who has received compensation for their work on par with peers in their field, etc.). Think about what kind of documentation you might have available to demonstrate that you meet the criteria.

If you had any doubts (and even if you don’t!), you can also pick up the phone and ask the program coordinator.

3. Contact the grant program coordinator.

These people are an invaluable resource. They want to help get the money they represent into your hands. And they are NOT the people who sit on the panels to make decisions, so speaking to them is not overreaching! They are there to support you, inform you, and do what they can to get high-quality applications in front of panels.

Tell the program coordinator about your idea. They can help identify whether this or another grant is the best fit for you. They can also tell you which aspects of your idea are the best fit and worth pumping up in your application.

Let them be a mirror. You never know what you may see when you hold up your idea for them to reflect back.

4. Have a CLEAR idea.

Artistic pursuits usually sprawl. The discovery and exploration of the process is nearly boundless!

But criteria and forms have bounds.

So find the salient core of your idea and be incredibly clear about it:

  • “I will paint a series of five portraits showing the same subject in various states of health.”

  • “I will offer a series of four pottery workshops for youth in my community.”

  • “I will spend six months researching the history and stories of Alcoholics Anonymous in my city to inform the novel I am writing.”

  • “I will mount a production of TITLE, a two-act play written by me.”

The more readily you can concisely define your aim, the more confidence your panel will have that they understand your idea. They will similarly have more confidence that you know what you’re aiming for and have the ability to achieve it.

Do you fear that the simplicity of this clarity will limit you? Fear not. If you are fortunate enough to be granted the funds you apply for, the specificity won’t hurt you. You will be held accountable for the core you’ve outlined, but certainly not limited to it. If your process introduces aspects you did not foresee, follow the inspiration and find what serves the project. (If you end up WAY off the beaten path you outlined, you can demonstrate in your report what you learned and how the unexpected turns helped you grow. Growth and development of artists is generally a high value for them).

5. Mirror their language.

It may feel silly but once you find the words that seem most important in a grants guidelines, use them in your application!

If they ask about “community”, tell them about “community.” If they prioritize “developing skills,” outline the “skills the artist will develop.” If they mention “inclusion” specifically, describe your plan to create an “inclusive space for any participants.”

It’s not cheating. It helps lighten the load for panels that are processing vast numbers of applications and makes your attention to detail clear.

6. Update your Artist CV.

It can be tempting to upload the same version of your CV/resume you used for your last application. But don’t!

Give it a once-over to see if you are missing any recent work and if your phrasing still holds up.

Don’t have an Artist CV? Does yours need freshening up? Check out this blog on Creating Your Artist CV.

7. References and Letters of Recommendation.

If you are an emerging artist that won’t be widely familiar to the panel, they will likely ask for a letter of appraisal from an established artist who is familiar with you and your work.

Don’t leave this step to the last minute! It can take time. Give yourself a lot of buffer to contact your reference(s), ask them if they are open to recommending you, and then wait for a letter to actually be submitted. Anything can happen and the more you can give space for the unanticipated, the more you will thank yourself.

Letters of recommendation are another great topic to ask your program coordinator about. They can help identify the most relevant characteristics of a quality reference: length of time they’ve worked with you, whether they’ve mentored you in a professional setting, their own prominence, etc.

8. Only tell ONE person that you applied.

By all means, tell someone!! You’ve accomplished something significant. It is a LOT of work to apply for a grant and it can be VERY vulnerable to put yourself out there. Celebrate what you accomplished!

If for some reason you are not granted the funds, you will be VERY grateful that there is only one person following up. Having a dozen different people excitedly asking about your grant application after you’ve already learned it was declined is serious salt in the wound.

So save the big announcement for when you have an application approved!

9. Keep applying!

When you are declined, don’t take it personally. It happens to everyone.

Reach out to the program coordinator and ask if there is anything you can improve in your application for next time. Ask if there was a theme in what the panel was particularly looking for this time. Your project may not have been the type this particular group of panelist was seeking.

Keep an eye on when the next deadlines are and prepare to apply again. Better yet, find other grants and apply for them while you wait. It may be even easier to ride out the disappointment of one declined application if you have another one pending.

10. Reporting: Keep in Good Standing.

When you do have an application approved, congratulations! As you dive headlong into your project, set a reminder for your reporting deadlines.

To remain eligible for future funding, you must submit your reporting as outlined. They pay attention to who is good about reporting and who is not!

Investing in Community and Culture

Grants are about you and the community you are rooted in. The funding bodies that offer them do so because they believe in independent artists and they way you can enrich the culture where you live.

So engage with grants with confidence! You are a worthwhile investment.

And when you are granted funds for a project you have, take the responsibility seriously. Find ways to share what you have and do with your community.


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