By Nina Berman on June 29th, 2020
What are Artist Grants? An Introduction for First-Time Applicants
At Fractured Atlas, it’s an understatement to say that we deal with grants a lot.
Through our fiscal sponsorship program, we help artists apply for the grants that you need to create your work and realize it to its fullest potential. And as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, one of the ways that we receive funding is by applying and receiving grants from other nonprofits or foundations.
So it makes sense that we share quite a bit of information about grants for our community of artists. We highlight grant opportunities every month, host webinars, and offer support for our members as you apply for grants through our Programs team.
Fractured Atlas works with artists at all stages of your careers, from fledgling creatives to well-established, full-time arts professionals. And we’re here to help all of you support your work.
If you aren’t already involved in the world of grants, foundations, nonprofits, and arts administration, it can be confusing to know exactly what a grant is, who funds them, what you can use them for, where to find them, and how to get them. If you find yourself confused about what exactly grants are and why they are important for artists, we’ve got you covered.
What Are Grants?
Grants are sums of money awarded by nonprofits, personal and corporate philanthropies, and institutions like museums and universities to applicants to support their work. For artists, this means that grants can help you attend a residency, rent a theater, furnish supplies for a sculpture, hire audio engineers, and more. Grants can be awarded to individuals or to groups or organizations.
To receive grant funding, you need to apply and then be selected by the judging committee.
Grants can be for small amounts of money or large sums. They can be for specific projects or for general operations. Grants might be for set amounts of money and for a set number of applicants, or they could be portions of a larger overall grant budget, awarded as the committee overseeing applications sees fit. All of this will depend on the institution or organization that is offering the grant.
What Can Artists Use Grant Money For?
What you can use grant money for as an artist will depend on the grant. There are two broad categories for ways that grants will let you use money; general support and project-specific or restricted grants.
A general support grant lets you use funding to keep the lights on, so to speak. This means that you can use the money you receive through a grant to manage recurring expenses required to support your art. For example, you could use money to pay rent on a studio space, purchase supplies, or keep people on your payroll.
Project-specific or restricted grants are designed to support artists as you bring a particular vision to life. That means that you can only use the funds you receive to accomplish a concrete goal that you set out in your application. For example, you might receive a grant that is specifically meant to support you as you take your solo show on a cross-country tour. You could use that grant to cover expenses like transportation related to the tour, but perhaps not your regular expenses like studio space in your hometown.
Most grants will ask you to complete a budget proposal in which you break down how much money you will need and how you will use the money. In the end, you might find that the way you actually spend money is slightly different from the way you intended to in your application. There are often unseen expenses, changing circumstances, or shifting priorities that might mean that your proposed budget and your actual budget are slightly different.
For their own reporting purposes, institutions that provide grants need to be able to demonstrate that the money they are granting out is being used responsibly. Most institutions understand that there will be a bit of wiggle room in what you will actually spend your grant money on. But that isn’t to say that you have a free pass to spend grant money however you like. If you allocate $500 in your grant application to hire a graphic designer, you might end up using that money to pay another contractor or purchase supplies. You can’t use it to pay for drinks.
How Are Grants for Artists Different from Donations?
The most important way that grants are different from other ways that artists receive funding, like donations or crowdfunding campaigns, is that you have to apply for grants. No matter how you are soliciting funds, you have to make the case that your art is compelling enough to support. But with a grant, you have to formalize that pitch in an application.
When you solicit donations or run a crowdfunding campaign, you are asking for individuals or groups to support you at whatever level they can afford and feel comfortable with. With a grant, you are putting together a concrete application for a specific sum of money from an institution.
Grants are limited. When you solicit donations through crowdfunding or other fundraising, your pool is as big as your extended network. And donors can give as much or as little as they like, depending on their financial ability and interest in your work. They don’t need permission or approval to do so. Grants, however, can be limited by annual budgets and institutional oversight.
Grants can also be limited in terms of who can apply. Some grants are only available to artists in certain geographic locations, working in certain creative disciplines, or who hold certain identities. For example, a nonprofit might decide to offer grants to Latinx filmmakers in and around the Los Angeles area. Some grants are open to any individual or art collective, others are only available to 501(c)(3) nonprofits or projects that are fiscally sponsored. Fiscal sponsorship lets individuals and groups receive some benefits of 501(c)(3) status, one of which is being able to apply to a wider pool of grants.
Another feature of grants that distinguish them from other kinds of funding is that grant recipients often are required to report back to the institution providing the grant. It’s always nice to tell donors how you’ve spent the money that they gave you, but grants will require you to keep records of how you are spending money.
Finally, grants can offer the receiving artist or arts organization prestige. Receiving a grant, especially from a well-known or well-respected institution confers weight to your work, because it is being deemed important by people with power. Receiving a grant might make it easier for you to receive more, because you’ve already been “vetted” by the first grant you receive. It’s a sad fact of the art world that grants can provide credibility or gravity to artists.
Who Funds Grants for Artists?
Artists can receive grants from a variety of different institutions. Nonprofits, museums, universities, family-run philanthropies, and corporate philanthropies are some of the institutions that provide grants to artists.
Different kinds of institutions will have different requirements for any grant application. For example, a museum or university grant might require that an applicant have a community education aspect to their work. A nonprofit might require that a grant recipient’s work fit in with their broader mission, whatever that may be.
When you are thinking about which grants to apply to, and who you want to build partnerships with, make sure to know your values before you fundraise.
Who Can Apply For Artist Grants?
The criteria required to apply for a grant will usually be unique to the grant itself. Grants will detail what kinds of individuals or groups they are looking to fund, so before you apply, make sure that you fit into the requested categories. Some factors to be on the lookout for before applying to a grant are location, creative discipline, 501(c)(3) status or fiscal sponsorship, and identity.
Oftentimes grantors will also require that you have already raised a certain threshold of money before you apply for a grant. For them, this ensures that you already have some kind of backing before they financially back you as well. At Fractured Atlas, we require that fiscally sponsored projects fundraise at least $1,000 before applying to grants.
If you fit the criteria that a grant is looking for and believe that you have a strong case to make for yourself, we encourage you to apply. You don’t need to be a full-time professional artist or an art school graduate to receive grants. We understand that the process can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t been a part of arts institutions like universities, museums, or arts nonprofits before. Nevertheless, if you fit within the scope of a grant offered and want to apply, you should!
How Do I Get a Grant as an Artist?
To get a grant as an artist, you have to find the right grants for you, apply for them, and then win them. It can take a lot of time to research and apply for grants and talk about your art in a clear and compelling way. We share monthly roundups of upcoming grant deadlines to help you stay on top of new opportunities and have even compiled an ultimate guide to fundraising for artists.
Grants are competitive to win, so it’s likely that you’ll apply for a lot of them before you are awarded any. But there are things you can do to increase your chances of getting funding through grants. One tool that can give you access to a wider range of grants to apply to is fiscal sponsorship.
By using a fiscal sponsor like Fractured Atlas, you receive some benefits of being a 501(c)(3) nonprofit without having to go through the process of incorporating as one. One of those benefits is being able to apply to grants that are only available to 501(c)(3)s or fiscally sponsored projects.
Learn more about how fiscal sponsorship can help you take your creative practice to the next level.
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.