The Art of Applying for Art Funding


Applying for Art Grants…

art funding, arts funding, writing arts funding bids, how to write a funding application,
The Art of Writing Art Funding Bids...

Every week, I write a brand new article for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a deep-dive into the art of applying for arts funding. From my past experiences of both applying and reviewing applicants, there are definitely some things that will make your submission stand out a little more than everyone else’s.

Happy Birthday and all that...

Well, this week I turned fifty, and if you are a younger reader, don't let that put you off. I have a heap of wisdom from all of the mistakes I have made and inside, I'm still eighteen. I haven't been annually reminding myself that I am getting older for years but fifty seems like a bit of an accomplishment, a bit of a milestone, and when I think back to some of the close shaves, I’ve had over those years, a bit of a miracle too.


The only reassurance I could find that fifty wasn’t that old, was on the internet. An answer was given to someone on that Reddit thing, who asked if fifty was considered to be old age, and one of many answers, presumably written by other 50-year olds, was that fifty is definitely still within the confines of middle age. What a relief, but how I wish my back could read the memo some mornings. 

I checked on Google and found that I was in good company. J-Lo, Jenn, as in Jennifer Anniston who presumably got on the Instagram thing to follow me, not realising my number is in my profile, Gwen Stefani, Jack Black, Jay-Z, they have all broken through fifty too. Simon Cowell, Hugh Laurie, and Magic Johnson, they have all broken through the sixty barrier, so there is clearly hope.

Another check on Google and this time using analytics platform tells me that I needn't worry too much about young people switching off, I'm in good company, it looks like they already did. Shame really because I got a gift subscription to World of Warcraft so I could be just like them. Anyway, what I wanted to say was a huge thank you to everyone who posted on my timeline, sent me a message on that Messenger thing, and called me. I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of the calls, I only use Messenger on my phone which I had put on charge after partying all night on Tuesday and I honestly missed about twenty calls while I was tapping away on Facebook downstairs on my iPad.

So thank you. I was deeply humbled to find that I have so many great friends. None of which had to stop scrolling through Facebook and breakout for minutes to write me a happy birthday note. I am truly humbled that anyone would even give me a moment especially as I have never met some of my best friends in person. It constantly surprises me at just how many kind and brilliant people there are in this world, something that watching the news channels will never tell you, but there truly are some amazing people out there who I consider to be my real friends despite us never yet meeting. You really are my kind of tribe!

I did ponder taking this week off from publishing but my inability to sleep longer than six-hours prevailed. I am awake at silly-'O'-clock and have the rest of the week off. In fact, I am being whisked away for the weekend to a hotel in the Lake District and a cruise on Lake Windermere. All I need to do is pack at the last minute and make sure I have all my tech-chargers. Just kidding, I will charge my camera up before I make sure I have all my chargers.

So on with this weeks mind dump. Before we do, as is becoming increasingly the case I will be using my own recent paintings to illustrate this post. None of which are remotely relevant to the text within the post but because I am now fifty, I really don't care. I can do things like that and not get stressed about SEO which frankly, I've never stressed about at all. Now I just wish the SEO companies who constantly email me with promises of ranking greatness would read the memo. I don't do this for clicks, I do this for my people. So here's the first totally not-relevant to this post piece of art I created recently, and yes, it is available as they all are, right here.

Adrift, artwork, landscape art, high tide, ocean art, tropical art,
Adrift at High Tide by Mark Taylor


The art of writing art funding applications…

Artists are truly amongst the hardest working people I have ever come across and it’s easy to see why. An art career can be a constant search for representation, validation, and buyers, and not necessarily in that order. It’s a tough gig, and one I chose because I really did want a career where I could legitimately work for a hundred hours a week for me instead of forty for someone else. No matter how many hours we have to put in though, art isn’t just a job, or a career, it is a way of life and often something that you are compelled to do.

It’s a tough gig but it can be the most rewarding gig too. You get to meet so many people from all walks of life and you get to be creative in ways that a regular nine to five will never afford you. But there are times when it can be tough to fund your next idea or complete your next project or take your art to the next level. This is why many artists turn to arts grants and awards.

Arts funding isn’t just about the money. Sure, it can guarantee that you will be able to complete your next project, it can even in some cases provide you with a route into a full-time art career, but often, arts funding can be a way to expose your art to new markets who would have never have found your work otherwise. The problem is that funding can often be a lottery.

Arts funding is notorious for being difficult to obtain. It is a highly competitive area and if you have never applied for arts funding before, it can be a long-drawn-out process that is never guaranteed to bring you results, or funding. So why would anyone who is uninitiated in the art of filling in grant applications even try?

The answer is simple, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. When you do ask though, you have to be more than prepared to put in the work. Because arts funding is so competitive, the chances of being successful every time you apply are slim. It is rarely the quality of your art that lets you down with these things, but the quality of the submission and the vision you have for any award that you might receive.

My advice from experience is to carefully think everything through before applying for an arts grant. They take a lot of time, often require a seemingly endless supply of ink to fill in all of the forms, and you have to know exactly how you will use the grant before you even put pen to paper. So often, I have seen artists go on a fishing trip filling in every application in the hope that at least one of them will bring home the prize. I have seen a lot of grant applications over the years and not just for the arts, and I can hand on heart say that a lot of them were nowhere near ready to be submitted.

The first question that you should always ask yourself before you spend any time filling in the forms is, are you really ready? Often, just a little more preparatory work or waiting until an idea is more developed will provide you with much better odds of being in a position to claim the award. There are other questions that you should be asking yourself long before spending any time on the paperwork like, how will this award benefit my career as an artist, what is involved in the application process and am I prepared to make the time available to make the application count, and more important than anything else, does this grant or award have a fit with me, my art, and my plans and, am I eligible?

You would be surprised how many people get that last bit completely wrong. I have known artists go on the fishing trip to catch any specimen of the award only to find out that the award was for something entirely different. Awards and grants are never free money, they’re not ways to fund poor past life choices and they’re not a means to sustain anything that doesn’t appear on the application form. With most of the grants and awards, there is always, always, a heap of work that has to be done to the letter of the agreement if any award is made.  If you do get the award and then fail to meet any of the inherently dozens of conditions that usually accompany such things, then you will most likely have to repay the award and it could also, spell the end of a career, or certainly any future hopes of winning another award.

After you have answered those questions, you then have to set some expectations of getting anywhere with the application. Because so many other artists will all be going for the same award, the competition is not just about their vision being or not being better, it is also about how closely they match what the grants panel is looking for, and to an extent, how well other bids have been written. If you have had zero experience of writing bids and applications then you need to learn everything you can about bid writing before you even contemplate filling in the paperwork.

Knowing that some grants and awards can take months for the panel to come to a decision on, others might take days or even hours but setting yourself realistic expectations from the off are key. I once applied for an award and it was almost three-years later when I found out that I had been successful, and there have been other times when I have found out either way within a few days and even hours.

There are different types of grants and awards, some will be for individuals, some for community-based projects, others that will only ever be given to organisations, and some awards are offered for very specific projects. You have to make sure before anything else that you are eligible to claim the award in the first place because this is usually the first obstacle that will come along and trip you up.

Before you make any final submission, never rely on making assumptions about anything. If there is ever any doubt about meeting the criteria or your eligibility, or indeed anything else, never leave it to chance. Grant funders would much rather receive applications that meet the criteria and if they get some sense that you are absolutely confident of your eligibility to make an application because you have asked the questions that clear up any assumptions, they will welcome the application with open arms. That still doesn’t guarantee that you will get the award, but at least the funders will have a sense that you aren’t going into this application with a blindfold on. The number one rule when it comes to writing applications for arts awards is to never second guess or assume anything.

Time to take a quick pause. Below is another totally irrelevant to this post, photo of our Kevin. Kevin is a Bearded Dragon who joined the family not too long ago and I am warming to him. My daughter who is a brilliant photographer and a walking animal encyclopedia of veterinary science took the photo. She says I should start painting portraits of Beardies, but we also have a Leopard Geko, two dogs and thirty fish so if anyone needs an exotic reference photo, let me know and I will ask my daughter to snap a few epic shots. 

bearded dragon, exotic reptiles, beardie, Mark Taylor, Beechhouse Media,
Mady also thinks that Kevin needs an Insta...


What you also need to consider…

If you are confident that you will meet any criteria set by the funders and you are also confident that you can make a great application, you can proceed but one word of caution still remains and that is that whilst a majority of grant and award applications are not there to trip you up, most are designed to filter out the applicants who are less likely to go on to win the award.

You need to take notice of everything the application form asks, even the small details. What you should never do is to add significantly more than is being asked for, and you should always check the smallest of details in the application, especially things like the final submission date.

There are generally no such things as flexible submission dates, if you need an application to be submitted by 5pm on Tuesday, then anything that comes into the funders at 5:01pm will get thrown out. That’s not because funders want to be pedantic, but they will never want to be put in a position where someone who submitted their bid within the formal time frame could ever challenge them if they didn’t then go on to win the grant or the award because someone who came in late pipped them at the post.

Depending on the size of the funding organisation or the resources of any individual offering the award, it is very unlikely that you will hear anything back at all if you have made any mistakes or omitted to say anything in your application. At best, you might get some feedback, sometimes you might be invited to clarify something, but more likely you will find that you never hear very much if anything back at all. If application forms are filled with spelling mistakes and inconsistencies, most of these will be filed away or maybe in some cases, thrown away.

You also need to consider costs. If you are claiming an award or grant that only covers part of the costs of completing the project you have in mind, then there is a risk that if you can’t find the rest of the funding the project will fail and this is definitely something that any responsible funder wouldn’t want to see. Applying for funding in the hope that more funding will come in the future to take you past the end goal is usually a really bad idea.  You do have to make sure that if you do apply for funding that you are able to complete the project.

Funding might not be available at all despite you meeting the eligibility criteria but you also have to consider what the funders can and cannot provide funding for. Some funders will have rules in place that say for example, that you can only ever use local materials, or you have to meet certain standards or even hold certain qualifications. Some will have rules in place about any other organisations you are working with, which is something I have seen a few times. They might not be able to make an award if you are in receipt of another award from the same or another organisation. Over the years I have seen grants where the award is made in return for exclusivity, and things like this can really trip you up if you fail to read the small print.

My experience of sitting on grants and award panels over the years tells me that it is a fair bet to say that they are all looking to make awards for projects which they believe stand the best chance of succeeding. One thing that has always surprised me when looking through grants, is just how little funding some people ask for. I think this stems from the myth that if you ask for less you are more likely to win and a mentality that any amount is better than nothing at all. The reality is that most funders will want to give you the best chance of succeeding and claiming the full amount is often a sign that you have thought carefully about the project and what will be needed to complete it along with any contingencies.

When it comes to working out the costs, you need to work out everything. That includes any time you will be spending on the project, any overheads you might incur, often including things like travel and accommodation costs, and this becomes even more important if the award is based on match funding. Match funding varies but it is a model where the funder will fund say half of the project, and the funding needs to be matched, either financially or in some other way. Not everything is able to be recognised as match funding, sometimes you might find that everyday incidentals such as providing a location to work on the project falls outside of what can be matched, but often you will find that your time can be taken into account. It is a good model for funders and can be a real motivation for artists as they have to become even more invested in the project.

When it comes to the paperwork, there will be parts of the application process that you really need to pay attention to. Finance is always an area that is looked at with as much interest as the overall project. You might have a great idea for an installation artwork that is crying out to be funded but if the numbers don’t stack up, that project will never see the light of day. You have to present any budgetary information with sufficient detail so that it provides the funder with the confidence that you have thought it all through, and they have to feel comfortable that what you are asking for works for both the funder and the project.

Another area that most funders will pay attention to is around any wider benefits the project will bring. If there are positives for the community or for the wider arts community, these will usually be seen as major positive indicators and if you can leverage more benefits from a project, this is the time to make them known. Funding, in my experience, is always about getting the most bang for the funders buck but often many of the wider benefits of a project are missed entirely off the application.

adrift under a glowing sky, artwork by mark Taylor, Pixels, ocean art,
Adrift Under A Glowing Sky

What are funders looking for in a project?

There is no way to ever know for sure what the funders will be looking for other than whatever they have made you aware of in the call for applications, in the rules of engagement, or through any press releases they may have sent out. Generally, the only assumption you can ever make with funding and awards are that the funder will be looking for projects that excite and can draw positive press or develop the artist and/or a combination of all of those things.

This is when you need to carry out lots of research and look to see if other projects have been funded through the same funder. If you do this then you should be able to see what projects the funders are more likely to support, and you will get some idea of how you stack up against everyone who has been successful before. Just as the funders will be carrying out their due diligence, you should be carrying out your own due diligence too.

This is also a good time to work out what the funders definitely aren’t looking out for in a project too. Just because you have an epic idea for your project doesn’t mean that the funders will think so. There might be something very specific that they are looking for and because art is generally so subjective anyway, not every great project will resonate with everyone. My advice is to run your ideas past as many people as you can and who you can rely on to give you an honest view. If a project idea needs refining, refine it and delay the search for funding if you need to, you only have one opportunity so you have to make sure that your chances of success are as good as you can make them.

adrift on shallow waters, ocean paintings, sunset paintings, artwork, Mark Taylor,
Adrift on Shallow Waters by Mark Taylor

Is it worth applying?

Never think that the process to apply for a grant or award is never worth it. If nothing else you will gain experience in the application process every time you make an application. If funding is being offered and you meet the criteria, someone will be successful and it could very well be you, but it is always worth considering other options too. Dreams of this epic project you have in mind shouldn’t be dependent solely on winning or losing a funding application, if the project is worth doing at all then you have to find alternative ways of funding it too.

Often, funders will ask if you have already explored other options other than receiving a grant or award to fund your project. By saying no, what you are really saying is that this grant seemed an easier way to get the funding. That might not be the case at all, but you have to convince a panel of your peers that you really do believe in whatever idea you have. If you have looked elsewhere, provide the evidence that you have done your homework before applying for the grant but be prepared that any sensible funding panel will ask you for the reasons why others didn’t make the investment. Never be tempted at that point to say that previous funders clearly hadn’t get the vision or anything else that’s detrimental because the funders in front of you will know that you will be talking about them in the same way to the next funding panel you meet. You need to be mindful that if future funding becomes available, you might not be invited to reapply.

You might want to also consider other options to make your project come to fruition, skills exchanges with other artists, or by asking for corporate sponsorship. I am a huge fan of collaboration if the collaboration isn’t one-sided, and often a collaboration of artists can add even more to a project than any grant or award ever can.

As I indicated earlier, there is always competition for art grants, and the quality of submissions is often very high. Some artists have managed to make entire careers out of grant and award funding, and some will be better at filling in the paperwork than others. In my other life, I am often asked to look through bids for contracts and to look at them objectively and only using what is written and provided in the bid itself as a basis to make a decision on. Sometimes, this is how grants and award applications are looked at too. On one hand it makes it a level playing field, you can’t as an evaluator take into account any previous knowledge about the individual or organisation, but on another hand, if you are good at application and bid writing, the game really is yours to win.

One thing you should never be when it comes to making an application is, put off. Someone has to get the funding and if you have prepared, written an application that stands alongside all of the others, there is a possibility that yours will be picked. There are some things that can really add to an application that are often left out by others, you need to know what those somethings are though. In my experience, panels are looking for applications that are to the point and which leave them in no doubt that you are the right choice. You have to be succinct, and never be tempted to write war and peace when you could describe your project more easily with just a paragraph or two. Grant panels might get hundreds of responses and they will often be short on time to evaluate them all, so make their job easier from the off and that might be enough to spark their interest and get you through. Less is more, often much more!

Provide sufficient detail so that the panel can make informed decisions and try your best to never leave anything open to the wrong interpretation. If writing and filling in forms isn’t something that you feel confident in doing, it’s worth asking a friend to help you out. There is always the option of using a professional bid writer but in my experience, most experienced grant and award panels can tell the difference between the raw passion that an artist will bring to an application and someone who has been paid to write down the most likely to win formula.

Other things you need to remember to include in your applications are often more subtle. For instance, using specific language to describe things. Active verbs and an active voice are the two mainstays of any bid. Using passive language and communication only serves to provide wooliness, what you need are specificity and clarity. You almost need to paint a picture of your project using words but never say how wonderful or beautiful your project will be, that’s for the panel to decide. In short, the maybe’s have to be replaced with, will be’s.

Make sure that any evidence you use to support your application can be checked and verified. Often there is a period of time after the application has been submitted where the best applicants are narrowed down. Part of this process is usually the start of any due diligence that the funder will be carrying out, and handing over unverifiable evidence will only serve to frustrate the efforts of the panel in reaching a decision.

adrift under the northern lights, mark taylor artist, ocean art, landscape paintings,
Adrift Under The Northern Lights by Mark Taylor

Standing out…

The only other tips I could give you are really about making your application stand out. Grant and award panels aren’t usually on the lookout for applications that have been sprinkled with glitter and pretty paper bows, but they always appreciate something that is different to every other application they will have read that day. I know from the ones that I have read through that it is refreshing to come across one where you know the applicant has gone the extra few yards to make it stand out.

Your opening on the application usually determines how much longer the application will be looked at. Any opening statements, or statements of need, have to be succinct and have to express whatever needs you have. Avoid anything that is too long, usually, a short paragraph or two is more than sufficient. Use confident language, strong verbs instead of weak nouns, and make sure that whatever you write is relateable.

You might have to submit a portfolio of work and if this is the case, you need to do everything you can to make that portfolio relevant to whatever you are applying for. I covered portfolios not too long ago and if you missed the article, you can catch up with it right here

adrift at eventide, art by Mark Taylor, Ocean art, landscape paintings, sunset paintings,
Adrift at Eventide by Mark Taylor


Once you are happy and confident that you have a good application it is time to go through it again and turn it into a great application. That might mean going back to make sure that you have everything in the right place. The how, what, why, and when, the how much, the benefits, the pitfalls if there are any, the contingencies to deal with them, and if you are submitting images of your existing work, absolutely make sure those images are presented in their best light. No badly cropped photos, no reflections that make it hard to view, and make sure that any formats that have been requested by the funder are respected. If they have asked for JPEG images, don’t send in a GIF.

If you have run over the required character counts, strip out any needless words, rephrase sentences, and bring it all in under the character count. After all, if you can’t be trusted not to go over a character count, how can you be trusted to not go over budget? That ten-minute mini-film is not going to get viewed if the limit was 3-5 minutes, which in reality translates to what we really mean is four minutes.

Some of the best advice I ever received before I started to ever write articles for this website was from a friend who is a writer. He’s a successful one, so successful that today he has staff who do the writing for him. But he does know how to get words that don’t yet exist in your mind onto a page.

That advice was to pick any subject, preferably one you know something about, and then just keep writing anything about it for ten minutes. In the case of applications, take the question, and write down anything at all for ten minutes. There are some weeks when I absolutely know what I want to say in an article but haven’t got the first idea about how to say it. What usually happens is that I write anything I can think of down and within a few minutes something seems to switch the rest of my brain on, and words start to flow more easily. Okay, so some people might think that some of the words I write down are remnants from the exercise, but the important thing is that the writing process began.  

Another idea I use frequently is to create a voice recording of the article before I have written anything down at all. Often, it’s easier to have a conversation than to write down the exact same words. I use an app on my iPhone called Anchor which you can find right here, which is designed for creating podcasts. It works on iOS and Android, and whilst podcasts are still a possibility for this site in the future (let me know if you want them) I use the software to record snippets of my articles while I am out and about. It’s not unusual to see me talking to myself when I’m taking the dogs for a walk, I’m not, I am talking to my phone and figuring out an article.

This is something that you could do with applications, especially when you need to write down a bio or to describe a project and your vision in more detail. It is almost always way easier to express your vision verbally than using typed words so dictating it and then creating a transcript of what you have said means that you can hopefully carry through that passion onto the page.

By now, you should have a much stronger application. You can keep on refining it until the deadline, you could ask a few more friends to take a look, or you could just submit it and hope for the best. My advice is to use every available minute until you absolutely need to submit, but make sure that there is still sufficient time to send it to the funders and don’t do as I did many years ago and literally scrape the submission in at the very last minute. That’s the kind of stress you don’t need so plan your time and take into account just how long things can and will take.

Having a pre-prepared artist bio, access to a couple of portfolios that speak to different audiences, making sure that your CV is up to date, these are all things that don’t have to wait until the last minute. A list of your achievements and past exhibitions, any previous residencies or awards, these are things you can work on in advance of making the application. You can prepare these at any time even if there are no funding routes right now and that will save both time and stress when opportunities arise or when opportunities arise at the last minute as they sometimes inevitably do.

Finally, and before you submit, give the application the once over again. Does it engage you, does it say what you need it to say, does your enthusiasm shine through or is it hiding away. Could it be clearer, are there any typos, and most importantly, does it answer every question, are you still eligible to apply, and is this route the best one to take. If everything is ticked, then it is time to submit.  

If there is anything that’s missing at the point of submission you have to make a choice as to whether you submit at all or wait for another opportunity to come along. Even if you don’t submit the application now, there will be a heap of learning that you will have got from going through the process and there will be a heap of content that you now have in place for the next time you make a submission.

adrift at the golden hour, ocean art, Mark Taylor, Beechhouse Media, landscape paintings,
Adrift at the Golden Hour by Mark Taylor


Good Luck…

Applying for arts funding can be stressful, it can be a heap of hard work, and the results are never guaranteed. But winning an award or grant can pay dividends, it can expose you to markets you would never otherwise be able to reach, and it could turn a creative idea into reality.

If an arts grant is right for you and your art, there is no question that you have to make the application. These things do get easier the more frequently you do them and it is surprising how little difference there is between some applications. That means that the bulk of the work will only have to be done once or a couple of times, and then refined to meet the requirements of other grants and awards and even if you get nowhere with one application, others will come along.

Finding out what grants are available is really easy today. A simple search for art grants will throw up lots of results, but it is worth checking with local community groups and public services too. In the UK there is the Arts Council which you can find right here, and in the US, it is worth taking a look at websites such as National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) which you can find here, and globally there are many arts organisations who support various local initiatives.

If you have never thought about applying for arts funding it can be a massively positive career step. If you have a good idea and believe in it enough, someone, somewhere will feel the same way and funding might be available, but you have to take affirmative action and do it, because if you don’t, someone else will!

As always, if you have a burning question, leave a comment and I will try my best to help and if I can't answer we can ask others in our Facebook groups. Together we will most likely have an answer. So, until next time, thank you for being you, best wishes, and have a brilliantly creative week. Now, where did I put my chargers?

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contribute to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

You can also follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here

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