Mission Statements for Artists: What They Are and How to Write One
Mission statements are powerful tools for artists, arts organizations, or any group of people looking to have an impact with the work that they do. In one or two sentences, a mission statement can help you clarify the effect that you want your work to have for yourself, for your audience, and for donors. Missions statements are used to help others understand why you do what you do rather than what exactly it is that you do. Mission statements are about the “why” instead of the “how” or the “what.”
A great mission statement is broad enough to encompass the ways that a project or organization changes over time, but specific enough that someone reading it will know what exactly it is that you want to accomplish.
Mission statements are different from artist statements, which can be confusing for artists figuring out what kinds of statements you need to have written. An artist statement is a longer piece of text that dives in more to your medium, your inspiration, what issues you are interested in engaging with your art. A mission statement shares what impact you want that art to have.
For example, Fractured Atlas’s mission is “to make the journey from inspiration to living practice more accessible and equitable for artists and creatives.” It’s broad enough to encompass the breadth of programs and projects we’ve provided over the years, but with room to change when the needs of our community of artists changes.
Here, we’ll cover why artists need mission statements, how to write one, and what you should do with it once you have it.
Why Artists Need Mission Statements
Practically speaking, the biggest reason that artists need mission statements is because you need them to fundraise. Grants will often ask for your mission statement as part of your application, so it’s best to have it on hand before you start writing about your art to try and get that funding.
Mission statements can also help you communicate about your work in other ways. Going through the process of crafting that statement statement can help you clarify the ways that you talk about your work to collaborators, peers, partners, and your audience in addition to potential donors. Once you have done that big thinking and soul searching about why exactly you feel called to make the work you want to make and what impact you want it to have, it’ll be easier for you to share that information in succinct and meaningful ways, both in-person and in writing.
Finally, writing a mission statement can help you as an artist. It’s easy to get mired in the less glamorous or creative parts of life as an artist. It’s hard to see the big picture when you are updating your contact lists, scheduling social media posts, booking studio space, or building your budget. Creating a mission statement and reminding yourself of it can help you zoom out to the reason you’re making work at all whenever you’re feeling down or frustrated.
It’s also a great way to keep checking in with your bigger goals as you plan different projects. Does a specific project, partnership, or opportunity fit in with the effect you want to have on the world? If so, go for it! If not, perhaps reconsider or reframe it so that it’s in line with your values.
How to Write a Mission Statement
Mission statements are pithy; not more than a sentence or two. There’s a lot to cram into a small space, which is challenging for any writer (myself included!).
To get started writing a mission statement without the pressure of having to come up with the exact right two sentences out of the gate, consider brainstorming out loud with a friend, peer, or collaborator. Try talking with them for a while about what you want to accomplish with your work; what change you want to create. Or, if that’s not your speed, try freewriting. Just start getting some ideas flowing without the expectation that they will come out perfectly formed and ready to use. Some themes will emerge from your brainstorming session that you can then use to craft your mission statement.
Next, pull out those big themes that came up. Which are most important to you? Which are most related to the impact you want to see in the world?
Once you’ve narrowed your focus, start drafting your mission statement in a bunch of different ways. Avoid attempting to get it right on the first try. Instead, try a number of different ways of phrasing and structuring. See which versions feel most natural and clear; what feels right when you say it out loud? Test out a few versions on your friends and peers to get their feedback, especially if they’ve also gone through the process of creating a mission statement.
When crafting your mission statement, go for clarity and accuracy rather than literary flourishes. Don’t worry about sounding fancy, academic, or overly intellectual. Not only will that make it harder for people to easily understand why you do what you do, it might actually be alienating to them. Instead, concentrate on if someone who reads your mission statement will have a clear idea of why you’re creating art.
What To Do With Your Mission Statement
Once you have a mission statement that you’re happy with, you can use it in a few ways.
Firstly, use it in your fundraising efforts. You can include it in your grant applications (often, it will actually be required, so you don’t have much of a choice in this one). You should also include it in other fundraising efforts, including crowdfunding or individual solicitation. If you’re including it in your crowdfunding campaign, it can help situate your work very quickly for an audience who might be coming across you from a friend of a friend of a friend. If you are cold-calling or individually soliciting donations, using your mission statement as a jumping off point for explaining the impact of your work to someone who might end up supporting it.
We know that it’s hard to talk about your art, especially when funding is on the line. That’s why if you’re stuck writing about your art for a grant, we’ve pulled together a number of tips to help you out.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.