Marketing Mondays: Grants

Today's MM was spurred by this recent email from a friend: "Here's a juicy topic for you: artists who are famous, show at blue chip galleries, get museum shows, and are generally successful in every way imaginable who still apply for and receive grants. I'm not talking about life achievement grants like a Guggenheim or a Joan Mitchell, which are conferred, but the small state-supported grants that help supplement artists and open some doors for future advancement."

So subtitle this post The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat, But Mostly the Annoyance at Seeing Famous Names Receive the Small-Potatoes Grants Other Artists Really Need.

Let me say that I'm not a sour grapes-er. I rarely apply for grants. I don't like the odds or the hoops, and I particularly don't like having to ask people to write reference letters for me. (Disclaimer: Last year I did apply, unsuccessfully, for a Creative Capitol/Warhol grant for this blog, one of the readers I ask my readers to help me support it.)

But when the friend who sent the email noted some of the the names of artists listed as recipients for need-based grants, I did a little looking. It is surprising to see tenured professors and big-name artists on the lists of recipients for state-sponsored grants. For artists in academia, I suspect the grant getting is like the publish-or-perish mandate; it's something they have to do to get tenure and maintain faculty respect. And it doesn't hurt that they can use office hours to polish the application. For studio artists, I suspect that even the newly well-to-do retain the "povery mindset." When you've been indigent for so long, poverty becomes part of your persona.

I notice that academics seem to be habituated to applying for grants for everything--travel, conferences, additional study, exhibitions. Power to them if it's a professional development grant through their institution; that's what those grants are for. But I have heard $80,000-a-year, benefits-package, summers-off artists tell me, "I can't afford to participate if I don't get a grant." Everything's relative, I guess.

I don't have any answers here. But I do have questions:
. Do you have any qualms applying for need-based grants if you're not actually indigent?
. And what is indigent, anyway? Is it Qualifies-for-Welfare-indigent? Is it Working-Poor indigent? Is it I-Own-My-Own-Home-But-I'd-Like-A-Residency-In-Italy indigent? Is it I'm-Doing-OK-But-I'm-Not-As-Rich-As-Damien indigent?)

Use the Comments section to reply or vent.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Joanne for this posting. Those artists who have had the good fortune to be creating their works, having them shown and sold in blue chip galleries and having major museum exhibitions of their work -
What drives these people to compete with artists who have not had the opportunity to be part of that microcosm? As for the panels who make these selections, they know full well whose images they are viewing when those images are widely publicized and/or are their friends. It would be gratifying to see some self regulation regarding this issue. Not sure what can be done, but shame on those who abuse the system.

Tamar said...

It has been many, many, many years since I last applied for a grant. The few times I did apply, primarily because I found myself on shaky ground economically, I found the process arduous, extremely time consuming and never saw results. Perhaps I wasn't savvy about how to phrase my request or the letters of recommendation weren't sufficiently laudatory. Who knows. I simply wasn't schooled in how to go about it and came to the conclusion that it wasn't an effective way to use my time. As far as whether or not it is ethical for artists who have secure financial situations to apply for need based grants--let the artist's conscience serve as a guide.

Unknown said...

Right now, I'm at "qualifies for welfare" indigent...and I do believe that a problem a lot of artist in my position have is not knowing about the kinds of need-based grants you mention.

Even the well-to-do artist has bills, student loans, etc., I guess.

Anonymous said...

How are you defining "need based grants"? Seems to me that the grantor specifies the criteria for application. Then, it's perfectly appropriate for anyone to apply, so long as they do so honestly.

Roberta Warshaw said...

You bring up some interesting points. I guess I never really thought about it before. One reason I love your blog! You always bring up good food for thought.

I have been a painter since the early 70's and have never applied for a grant though. I probably should have. Just too lazy I guess..........

Anonymous said...

I think it stinks, actually. I see winners of our state arts grants and I usually see the professors I used to study under. Sure, they are artists but they have greater name recognition by the panels. These grants aren't huge, usually about $5,000 but the professors make a lot more than that and the artists, as a rule, are usually waitressing and bar-tending to support their art. Very unfair.

On the other hand, I do know quite a few non-academic people who have won the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant. I think they may actually look at *need* and also the ability to help an individual artist. I don't think the full-time professors have as much dominance here.

What's the solution? I haven't a clue but greed exists in all creative disciplines. When does someone "step-aside"? Probably never.


Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, everyone, for commenting.

Anon 2:29,I particularly want to respond to yours. When I had my day job in publishing I never applied for grants because I felt that if I received one I would be taking money away from someone who really needed it. Very noble of me, right?

But here's the problem: Because I never applied, I never built up any "grant cred." So when my publishing job ended, and I had to support myself, my art and my studio on a much smaller income--painting sales and freelance work--I was at a huge disadvantage. I'm doing OK now, but I don't think I ever recovered in the "grant cred" department. So I don't apply--a shame for me, since I think I am grant-worthy.

I mention this because nothing is all black or all white. There's a lot of interesting gray out there.

hydeordie said...

I think it's also worth noting that some of these bigger name artists/professors have assistants or interns who will jump through the hoops for them. It's easy when you don't have to fill out all the paperwork and get together everything for the application. Or even their galleries could be helping out with this as well. More resources are more resources, for anyone.

hydeordie said...

I think it's also worth noting that some of these bigger name artists/professors have assistants or interns who will jump through the hoops for them. It's easy when you don't have to fill out all the paperwork and get together everything for the application. Or even their galleries could be helping out with this as well. More resources are more resources, for anyone.

Anonymous said...

Ashbery’s first book, Some Trees (1956) won the Yale Younger Poets Prize. The competition was judged by W.H. Auden, who famously confessed later that he hadn’t understood a word of the winning manuscript. Auden had received the applicants and was not impressed by any of them. He set the task aside and went to Europe. The committeee asked what was happening to the award and Auden suggested that perhaps they should not award it that year. The committee then asked if he could select the award if Frank O'Hara or John Ashbery were to apply. Auden who knew them both, said absolutely. The committee asked both to apply and Auden offered the award to Ashbery.

This is why your connections and network are so important in the arts.

CMC said...

I've never applied for a grant thinking that they are looking for people with art school and this sort of well as need. Although I don't have a lot of money,I thought they were for real need... or awards for great work. I see names of people receiving these grants that seem to have more than I do. Shame on me for never learning more about grant-writing.

Anonymous said...

I learned much too late from a professor friend that those that have received grants in the past will receive them again. I always worked some kind of job to support myself while making art so I didn't apply for grants. For me this falls into that - it's always something - category.

Anonymous said...

I'm not terribly well-off by the 1% standard, or even the 10% standard! But I am comfortable compared to many around the world.
I have been awarded grants, prizes, exhibitions, and other forms of professional recognition. My studio practice is my sole income and has been for many, many years.
Most art professors I know work 30+ hours a week teaching for about $50K a year. That means they are not working those hours in their studios. That is their trade-off and none of our business.
I do know a few (very few) well-to-do artists who have made considerable income from their work as artists. Some of them have received funding from foundations. It is their business if they apply and win. It is nothing more than a reflection on the recognition their work probably deserves.
If I apply again (and I probably will) for a grant while earning an income from the sale of my work, is that a terrible thing? Money goes away, for everyone (except the 1%ers). Recognition stays, for most. And that is why I apply. It doesn't have anything to do with other artists. If you win, good for you.
Stop the divisive talk. Don't we have enough of it already?

Joanne Mattera said...


It's easy to be assertive and say "Stop the divisive talk" while hiding behind your curtain of anonymity, isn't it?

Reread my comments and you'll see that I acknowledge the shades of gray. Finances are relative. But I can tell you that the artist who wrote the question which incited this post was looking at a now blue-chip artist who had received a relatively small state grant that would have gone way toward helping a poor artist financially rather than massaging the ego of the artist who really didn't need those few thousand dolalrs.

Note to Nashay:

Do you know about the website Art Heals ( Go to "Artist Support." On the drop-down menu you;ll see "Art Grants." Click on it. There are numerous listings, all live linked to the grant provider. Good luck!

Kay said...

One comment - if I made 50K a year I would be rich (by my own standards). As an adjunct, I make about $15-20. I know, without a doubt, I work more hours than the 50K professors yet we have the same credentials.

It's a matter of perspective.

Anonymous said...

I learned so much from this - especially your 2:57 comments.

Sounds like grants are just another pain in the somewhere.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon 9:31--

Famous artists and professors aside for the moment, for the studio artists who receive grants regularly, they are not a pain in the "somewhere." They help provide a living to those who are doing difficult, perhaps commercially unsalable work. Though Mr. Romney suggests we should "ask our parents" for a loan, for many artists that is not remotely possible (and for some mid-career artists, the opposite is true).

So grants can be a lifeline. Artists who are regular recipients have figured out:
1)exactly how to "customize" each grant application in terms of what the organization is looking for--i.e. the type and scope of project
2) the language to use in the application
3) the kinds of images to send
4) completing the package efficiently and precisely

If you do not deliver in that way, you are not likely to get a grant.

Beyond that, the folks who receive grants continue to receive them. The reason is simple: institutions want to know their money will be put to good use. Previous grant recipients offer a good bet that the money will further a career.

But make no mistake, grants are not "free money." It's a job to apply, and unlike a wage-paying job, there is no guarantee that your time will be rewarded. For some artists the chance is one worth taking.

Eva said...

For years I thought that applying for grants was a pain-in-the-etc and also, that only the artists who got on "the list" were the ones who got them.
Years past and I kept making work and building the resume. Then last year someone egged me on to apply for something and I did it and I got it. You saw the show, Joanne - the grants funded Judd Women Targets at frosch & portmann. And it made all the difference because the works were framed, the shipping and scans and all the rest was paid for - and I had never had anything like that before.

So I am a believer now. I do think it helps though to a real resume built up and a good project to pitch.

Anonymous said...

I have not applied for grants because I can support myself.

I'm an oddity for a painter and a Democrat because I don't believe in art grants for the reasons stated here and the following reason:

Note: I am posting Anonomous because I want to report this on going situation without reprisal.

I know of a well known artist, currently, who is coasting these days on her previously made art .....not making art very much nor working to get art out there ( others do that for her). She is applying for a grant because she sees it as easy money for which she does not have to work and she is betting on her reputation to it.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to vent about this post. It reinforces all of the divisiveness that existed in NY in the 1980s and is small thinking, and I am so disappointed to see the stereotypes reinforced--as if being an artist necessitates poverty: this is pernicious and outdated thinking. There are so many artists who do have resources who do so much for others, ie in Bushwick, etc.; do we really need to rehash whether it's fair certain artists get grants or not? I think not.