Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Grant/Fellowship Application Review Process

In 2005 I successfully applied to the Mississippi Arts Commission for an Artist Fellowship. With this agency, the application review process is an open one and artists are notified of the approximate time their work will be judged. Artists are given the option to observe the panel review process for as long or as short a period as they choose. Or, of course they can choose to observe not at all.

I decided to attend the full day’s proceeding and was there from 8:30 am in the morning when it started until they finished at 2:30 pm that afternoon. This was an eye-opening experience. Following are the things I observed and learned – but remember, things may vary depending on the grantor agency.


  1. There were 3 panelists. All were from out of state to minimize any chance of “favoritism” based on familiarity with the work or acquaintance with the artists.

  2. There was absolutely no interaction allowed between observers and panelists.

  3. Panelists were supported by several Commission staff that operated the slide projector and LED projector, took copious notes about their comments, turned the lights on and off, collected the score sheets and generally took care of any needs they had.

  4. Out of 31 applications submitted, only 2 other artists chose to attend the review session, and I was the only applicant who was there for the entire day.

  5. The disciplines reviewed were clay, photography, sculpture, painting, mixed media, printmaking, fiber.

  6. Two weeks prior to the review session, panelists received: copies of the artist narratives; descriptions of the processes used to create the work; and a CD of the slides. The panelists therefore had enough lead time to seriously consider the work of each artist prior to the review session – they did not have to make snap judgments.

  7. The review session started exactly on time. Were I to do this again, however, I would arrive 15 minutes earlier to hear the introductions of the panelists as well as to hear all of the instructions to the panel. Nonetheless, over the course of the day I was able to learn that one of the panelists was an art professor and painter, one was the owner of a fine art gallery, and one was a professional craftsperson (clay).


This will vary from organization to organization, but it is probably a pretty standardized process

  1. A document was provided listing the time scheduled for the review, the grant # (no names), the medium/discipline to be reviewed, and which panelist was assigned to be the 1st and 2nd reader (there was a rotation set up in terms of who would comment first and second for each application – the 1st reader was the person identified as having the most expertise in the specific medium being reviewed).

  2. All of the slides for the artist who work was under review was shown without comment in approximately 5 second intervals.

  3. Once the last slide was shown, the 1st and 2nd reader made their comments. The 3rd panelist then added his or hers.

  4. The panelists were allowed to look again at any or all of the slides if they wished.

  5. The awards were to be based on artistic excellence defined as being comprised of three components: originality, vision, technical mastery of the medium.

  6. A Commission staff person served as a scribe writing many notes about the strengths, weaknesses and suggestions for improvement as they were made – these were to be provided to each applicant along with the award or non-award letter.

  7. Panelists were not restricted in terms of having to make awards across the spectrum of disciplines, but were to focus on excellence – they were told that it “would be nice” to have awards made to artists working in different mediums, but if all of the best applications were from one medium, e.g., sculptors, then that is to whom the fellowships should be awarded.


  1. Follow the instructions – an application may not be considered if instructions are not followed – e.g., don’t submit a five page narrative when the limit is two; don’t submit 7 slides when the limit is 6.

  2. consistency, Consistency, CONSISTENCY! – Over, and over, and over again, the presence or absence of this element in the work submitted was commented upon. It was a major factor in the panelists’ judgment. From their point of view, they were looking to see ”…a unified body of work”. When they were not able to perceive this as they reviewed an artist’s slides, it was a very strong negative in terms of how they commented about and evaluated the work.

    It was clear that many applicants thought they should show a broad range of capability. For example, one painter submitted a couple of landscapes (one was oil, the other was a watercolor), a couple of portraits (done in radically different styles), an abstract and a still life. A sculptor submitted work that ranged from a loosely handled clay process to polymer to stone. This was a major mistake! Let me repeat, this was a major mistake!

    The panelists were not interested in the “breadth” of the artists’ work, but in the extent of its depth, mastery of the medium, and cohesiveness of concept.

    NOTE: This may or may not be important for the jurying process of quilt-only or fiber-only shows

  3. Quality of slides is critical! Some of the slides were horrid.

  4. The order in which you arrange your slides may be important – if possible, arrange them in some type of order that shows some sort or progression or cohesiveness in the execution of your vision or concept.

  5. If allowed, send slides instead of putting the work onto a CD – for this grant, artists were allowed the choice of submitting the work on slides or in CD format. However, when the CDs were shown with the LDC projector, the colors on the screen were not the same as the colors on the computer. In fact, they were so far off in some cases that the panel had to huddle around the laptop screen.

  6. Vision! “Work has to transcend the medium to make it meaningful…” – The panel wanted to see the artist’s vision.

    Following are a few of the comments made:

    Photography applicant: “These are just standard cliché images about the south.”

    Painting applicant: “It all seems to be mimicking a lot of other work – Warhol, for example.”

    Mixed Media applicant: “Quality of the pieces is extraordinary. The leather is transparent and has been scraped very thin…each character scene is complex and rich.”

    Painting applicant: “Pieces all seem to be like investigations…”

    Photography applicant: “There is a lot of strength in the understatement of the composition…this is a new perspective on the subject…has taken technology to the next level and made it into an art form…the conceptual imagery is very strong.”

    Painting applicant: “These don’t seem to be finished works but are more like assignments done for a class.”

    Printmaking applicant: “The work is technically strong, the presentation well done and the exploration of images is very appealing but the artist’s use of text draws your attention away from the art…we should be able to understand the concept by looking at the piece…the words detract from the art.”

    Sculpture applicant: “Very clever idea but it’s very academic and ultimately leaves you cold…work is not layered – there is no richness in terms of meaning, it is what it is. There is no soul – where is the relevance? It looks like something done as a MFA candidate. The message is discussed in the narrative but what the artist is trying to portray doesn’t come through in the work.

    Sculpture applicant: “Very well crafted and a high degree of mastery. There is evidence of risk-taking and a strong sense of precision but I don’t find the work to be conceptually challenging.”


  1. In the narrative, define clearly anything that is different or exceptional about your process. For example, in one body of work classified as “experimental”, the artist painted in watercolor around some coffee splotches. Apparently there was nothing in the narrative to explain it, and the jurors stated that they “…don’t see a correlation between the style of the work and the process used.”

    In one artist’s sculpture, there were some pieces that looked much cruder than others – since there was no explanation, the panel didn’t understand the artist’s intent.

    Also, if the process is unusual, panelists will be concerned about the longevity of the work – this concern was expressed about some clay sculpture that incorporated glass. There was another concern about some painting that was a combination of oil and acrylic paint. One of the judges explained that if the oil was the base and acrylic was painted over it, there would be no problem, but if it were oil over acrylic, it would be – the artist had not specified what he/she had done in the narrative.

  2. You can’t assume that your review will be held at its scheduled time. Depending on a variety of factors, it may occur earlier or later than expected.

  3. If allowed to do so, it is definitely worth your while to attend a review session, because even if you have no immediate plans to submit an application you will probably learn a lot that will help you whenever you do.


Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for taking the time to document this process. I've considered applying for a grant but had no idea where to start. This is invaluable for me, even if it may not all apply to whomever reviews MY grant!~~Jillian from North Dakota

Clairan said...


This was fascinating and vital information, and I appreciate your taking the time to document your experience as well as to share this and the other important information on this site.

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