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Individual Artist Grants and Self-Funding

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

During the Covid-Pandemic, between playing Animal Crossing and making whipped coffee, I had multiple friends and colleagues ask me about grants. Suddenly, there were grants popping up everywhere, and artists were (understandably) scrambling to receive as much funding as possible. As a singer myself, I had started working with a small opera company in NYC to have an outlet for my writing. Very quickly, this is what I noticed:

  1. Grants are essential in our industry.

  2. Artists leave school with little to no grant writing education.

Before you throw your phone across the room, I went to a conservatory too! My grant education came from my social sciences degree, but that shouldn’t be the only way. Last season, I balanced my solopreneur business with a year-long Young Artist Program. Once I returned to NYC, I knew that I couldn’t do it alone. This past summer I expanded my business into an agency focused on creatives.

So, if you’re looking to fund your next project without literally breaking the bank, Individual Artist Grants may be the answer. Many people think of grants as being impossible to obtain, but with a little preparation and a solid project, you too can be on your way to finding and securing grant funding for your artistic endeavors.

Grants are simply financial awards given from one organization, business, or foundation to another entity, such as an individual. In order to figure out what type of grant you are looking for, you first need to decide if you’re looking for operational funding or programmatic funding. Here’s the difference:

  1. Operational funding refers to grant awards that can be used for a wide variety of purposes, such as application fees, travel, lessons, recording costs, housing/food, etc.

  2. Programmatic funding can also be called project-based funding. This refers to a project or specific event you want to host. Whether it is a public performance of an opera or symphony, arias in the park, or a recording of your favorite German Lieder, programmatic support is the most commonly found.

(NOTE: Eligible costs are different for every funder! Double-check to be sure!)

Other less common types may include research or education. For example, if you’re looking to go to Europe for language and music study or you’re wanting to do research on vocal science or the evolution of the bassoon, research or education grants may be what you’re looking for. Keep in mind that these grants have stricter terms of use, and you’ll need to have a much more in-depth report when it’s all said and done.

After you know what type of grant you’re looking for, you’ll need to get familiar with some of the types of funders. Here are some of the most common:

  1. Federal Funding - Includes funding from the federal government directly. These can include the National Endowment for the Arts or similar organizations.

  2. State Funding - Includes funding from your specific state of residence that is being redistributed from federal government funds. This can include both state-wide and city-wide grants. Check your local state Council on the Arts website, or the Department of Cultural Affairs. You can also look for funding within your city council’s discretionary fund.

  3. Foundation Funding - Includes funding from public or private foundations that set aside funds each year to distribute to aligned causes for the purpose of fulfilling their mission statement. Examples include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Gerda Lissner Foundation, and the Richard Tucker Foundation.

  4. Private Funding - Includes funding from private entities and often ties into a specific population. For example, grants for women, or BIPOC-related projects or individuals. Sometimes these grants are named after individuals who have donated their trust.

  5. Corporate Funding - Includes funding from larger corporations that have corporate sponsorships or a foundation within the corporation.

  6. Financial Institutions - Includes funding provided directly from banks or other financial institutions. Check with your local bank or credit union to see if they have a grants program.

How do I find grants?

This can be challenging sometimes, because you have to know exactly what you are looking for. Here are some ideas:

  1. Grant search engines/online subscriptions - There are some web-based subscription-only databases that you can use. The most common are Instrumentl, GrantWatch, Candid, Grants.Gov, etc. If a site requires a subscription, sometimes they will give a 7-14 day trial. I’d suggest making an afternoon out of it and getting as much as you can, since some of these services can cost upwards of $1,000 per year!

  2. YAPTracker for all of the singers!! This is surprising, but they do come up!

  3. Google - I know, revolutionary. In all honesty, Google is amazing, but you have to know what to search. I would suggest searching your state + individual artist grants, or your city + individual artist grants. You can also use the list at the beginning of this article to think of other potential searches, such as finding your city council or your state's Council on the Arts.

  4. Use your network! Friends and colleagues might have some great ideas about how to find grants. See if they can pass any along that you might have missed.

What do I need to apply?

This varies, but here are a few things that are commonly requested:

For individual funding:

  • A budget/breakdown of how you plan to use or allocate the funds.

  • A narrative describing your artistic and personal history, why the funder should choose you, and how receiving this grant would benefit your career. Include your future goals and how receiving funding would help you achieve these goals.

  • Resume/Work Samples

  • Sometimes a formal letter is required, but not always.

For project-based funding:

  • Describe the project, including the title, a brief description, an artistic statement written by a designated project member describing the style, vision, and theme to be expressed.

  • Provide a detailed budget with a budget narrative (if applicable.)

  • List of previous projects that are related; describe each work sample and connect these former projects to the upcoming project.

  • List and describe how your previous experience will help you in this specific project. Draw upon specific style or technical connections. How are your past projects directly related? If they aren’t, what connections can you make that will show your abilities? Perhaps a team member may have experience to help you out here!

  • Describe how you plan to market or advertise the project, if it is an event. Will it be open to the public, ticketed, or something else?

  • One-page resumes (and sometimes bios) for all of your project team members.

  • Work Samples; you can use the ones you described above, but make sure you have them as a URL on YouTube, Vimeo, or something similar.

How do I get paid?

Once you receive a notification that you have been approved for a grant and have thoroughly read (!) and submitted the required contract, you should be able to either select direct deposit or a check from the funder. After that, you will be good to go!

(PRO TIP: Put your grant funds in a separate bank account!! It’s super important to make sure that you are able to see where and when funds were used for reporting purposes.)

What are my responsibilities?

As mentioned above, you will need to provide documentation listing how you used the funds given to you. Most of the time, this is via a budget, some requested documentation, and a narrative statement. Usually this narrative includes how this money was impactful, how you handled any challenges along the way, etc. It’s a good place to leave a good relationship with the funder and thank them for their support.

(NOTE: If you do not use all of the funds, by the way, you may have to give them back! Keep that in mind.)

Creating a competitive grant application is incredibly important. Be sure to read about the funder before you apply, and draw comparisons between the funder’s interests and your project or life. It’s important to make sure that the funder feels a sense of connection with you, because they will be more inclined to say yes!

Additionally, make sure you are clear and concise about why what you’re doing is important and why it is imperative for you to receive funding to do it. Your narrative should make sense to people who may or may not know about the performing arts. Have multiple people look it over before you submit… and proofread it all!! Make sure that you do not have any careless mistakes hanging around.

When you’re writing your application, you may also want to look for the contact information of administrative or development staff. These individuals may be able to help you with your application and answer any questions about the process. This can be beneficial not only from a logistics standpoint, but it’s great to form an internal relationship prior to submitting an application. Since most people are now working virtually, take advantage! They can also help you determine your qualification status.

Whether this is your first grant application or your fiftieth, I hope that you found this helpful. Grants do not need to be overwhelming, despite the process being tedious at times. You know the saying, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step? I hate to be cliche, but it’s true! Take advantage of what is out there and get the funding you deserve!


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