Arts Funding Demystified: An Overview of the Grants Process and How to Avoid Common Pitfalls

Artists and arts administrators often find that the world of grants and other funding opportunities can seem daunting and enigmatic. The Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville hosted their first seminar of the New Year, “Funding Creativity: Understanding Grants, Grant Writing, and Other Opportunities,” aiming to demystify arts funding.

This sold-out class led by Laurel Fisher, grants manager for Metro Arts, Nashville’s Office of Arts + Culture, explored grant-writing tips, best practices for partnering with nonprofits on creative projects, benefits and limitations of grant funding, and guidelines for grant applications and management. Laurel also shared that other funding opportunities such as fellowships, residencies, and fiscal sponsorship may fit an artist’s needs better than a traditional grant. With a topic of such high value and demand, we couldn’t keep Laurel’s tips and tricks to ourselves. Here are some of the main takeaways from the “Funding Creativity” workshop:

What is a Grant?
Contrary to the surface-level definition, grant funding is not about the money. Laurel urges artists and arts administrators to re-frame their thinking of grants as a call to action to create positive change.

  • From the funder perspective, a grant is an investment in positive progress.
  • From the nonprofit perspective, a grant is a tool used to address key concerns within their communities.

The Grantsmanship Center offers a more holistic definition that highlights the partnership between a funder and recipient to achieve a common goal. More information on defining grants here.

Before You Apply
Before applying for grants or other funding opportunities, do your research.

Before You Submit
Before you hit the submit button, put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes. Have someone else read your application to ensure that you have avoided the things that drive reviewers crazy such as:

  • Grammatical errors
  • Inaccurate/misuse of data
  • Unexplained acronyms
  • Lengthy attachments or “fluff” writing

The Grants Process
After your grant application is received, it goes through a scoring criteria and grants review process.

  • Scoring criteria can vary among organizations but often focus on community impact, the artistic project, and the organization. Laurel walked through the specific Metro Arts grants review process which consists of volunteer citizen panelists/peer reviewers reading and scoring applications, a panel review public meeting, and rankings and allocations.

Now What?
If you are one of the lucky few to receive a grant here is how to stay out of trouble:

  • Read all of the paperwork very carefully.
  • Keep a detailed record of how you are spending the funds.
  • Track project data along the way.

Although there is no magic recipe for successful grant writing hopefully these guidelines bring you value and clarity in your funding endeavors! Always remember the value that your art brings to communities and the importance of the creative economy.

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