Monday, July 30, 2007

Fundraising Advice for Individuals - Alyson Pou

Alyson Pou is an installation and performance artist as well as the Program Services Director for Creative Capital Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization supporting individual artists. She has taught at several colleges and universities and has worked as an arts administrator for more than twenty years. The following is an interview with her that is included in Margaret Lazzari’s book, The Practical Handbook for the Emerging Artist, Second Edition (2002).
What are the most important things for artists to know when applying for grants?
Grants are only one piece of pie for artists. They are
just one part of a whole strategy that you come up
with for yourself.
Before you begin looking anywhere for funding, spend
time to find your own objective. Always stick to it.
That's the first step. Artists sometimes make the
mistake of wanting to mold themselves to what they
think the needs of the grantor are. But it's actually
just the reverse! You need to know your objective
The second step is doing research and identifying
resources that match your objective. Sometimes,
grants are the answers to that and sometimes they're
The third key step is follow-up. In some cases, you
may have to ask over and over again for funding.
One piece of advice I give artists is not to take
rejection personally. You cannot ever really know
what people's motivations are for supporting a
certain project. They have their own reasons. And
sometimes it's really not about you at all.
What should artists ask for?
Identify your objective. Then figure out what your
needs are and how to ask someone so that they can
give you a "yes." Or so that they can give you a "yes"
or "no" to let you move on to your next step. The
corporate world knows how to do this. But in a lot of
art-related conversations, artists talk about the
subject. Potential supporters might come to the table
wanting to help you, but they get confused because
they don't know what you're saying to them or what
you're asking.
So the delivery just isn't there.
Yes. Maybe because art sometimes seems to have
so little value in the eyes of the culture that we are
most apologetic.
Should artists look at both grants and other funding sources if they have a project they want to fund?
Yes. Not every successful artist is going to get a
grant. If you look at just our statistics, Creative
Capital received almost three thousand applications
this year, and we're maybe going to give fifty grants.
That's less than two percent. Artists need to look at
things like corporate giving programs and in-kind
donations as sources of funding, too.
Nevertheless, I say it's always worth it to write a
grant application if it fits your objectives.


Because it helps you hone your objectives and your
writing skills. I might complain about having to write
an application, but once I've done it, I am usually
several steps forward in my own thinking about my

While we're on the topic of writing about your work,
I think that every artist needs to learn to do this —
even if they feel it's hard and even if they can afford
to hire someone else! Grant panelists can immediately
recognize something that a second party has written,
or a grant writer who knows "grantese" has written,
or whether it's really coming from the heart of the
artist. So, I always emphasize to artists that it is to
their advantage to write about their work. It's not a
waste of time.

How can artists build on the grants they have received? You mentioned corporate giving programs and in-kind donations before.
People will often be interested in a project if they
see that someone else is already signed on and has
put the money on the line for it. If you receive a
grant, you can use that to approach other grant
agencies for more funding. If you don't need to
raise more money, you can still use that as
leverage for your career.
But I think that most artists don't focus enough
attention on donations of in-kind goods and services.
For example, if you're doing a big public art project
at the local school, you can ask the local scaffolding
company to donate the scaffolding you need. This is
where you can really get creative in your thinking as
an individual artist and also build a constituency
and audience for yourself. There are a lot of
businesses and individuals out there who would really
love to have contact with artists and what they're
I met an incredible husband and wife theatrical team,
whose productions were related to specific issues, like
women aging, and they were booked solid all year
round touring their pieces. They would target a
particular region or constituency as the audience of
this piece, and then they would methodically get in
touch with all the organizations that were associated
with that topic. It goes back to the objective. They set
their objective and found the resources for it—totally
outside of the art community. They reach their
audience so that they don't have this false removal
from the public.
Every commission, every residency, every
exhibition is based on relationships. Someone, a real
human being, wanted to help you. So, a lot of it
is about how you build relationships with people.
You've talked a lot about setting objectives. How do artists do that?
Artists need to do strategic planning. It makes a
huge difference, but it's not something that we're
ever trained to do. You can hire someone to help
you make a strategic plan.
What would be in it?
We all know the standard preparatory questions:
What do you want to accomplish in one year? Name
one or two goals in relationship to a project. What
do you want to accomplish in five years? These
questions begin the process of very specific time
management and financial planning.
We have been doing strategic planning with our
funded artists, and it's just unbelievable what it's
doing in their lives. It gets them out of the
negative realm ("I can't do this" or "Everything is
impossible") and into the realm of concrete
actionable steps—"I have a plan here." You can
continuously change and modify the plan, but you're
working with a structure.
I guess strategic planning could really change an artist's career.
You don't lose your creativity. You're gaining
perspective and gaining ways of getting help. It really
makes people get focused and bring all the parts of
their lives into the picture.
Some artists live by crisis management. Like, "OK,
I just got this commission to do this project. Now
I'm going to throw everything I have into it. I'll put
everything I have into it. I'll put whatever I need to
on my credit card; I'll stay up until three o'clock in
the morning, just to have this happen." You can
survive that way. But you can't project out a whole
life of that and see yourself moving from point A to
B to C with any control.
It also helps artists to recognize where they are,
too. In the United States, we live in a market
economy that is driven by the conventions of
capitalism. If you want to enter the gallery system,
then you have to acknowledge that it's based on
producing and selling products. It has its limitations
and advantages. Do they match your objectives?
Base your decision on that. But if you're the kind of
artist who has a strong social conscience or doesn't
want their works in the marketplace or wants total
control, then don't even enter the gallery system.
It's a waste of your time to say the system is a
mess, or the system abuses me, or I don't get what
I want out of the system. The system is just what it
is. You're either going to choose to function in it or
you're going to choose to be outside of it and do
something else.
And planning can also influence the course of a single project?
We funded one artist this year who had an
incredible, interesting, community based project.
She was gung-ho to finish it within four months.
But we could see that if she gave it a couple more
years to develop, she could have this project go on
to a much bigger scale than she ever considered!
By working with us on strategic planning, she
extended the project two or three more years, got
more contacts in the community to fundraise for it,
found a good producer, got the backing it deserved.
It was a great retraining, reeducation process for her.
What are some other Creative Capital programs?
We are really trying to think creatively about money.
One arm of the organization is the traditional grant-
giving arm. We accept and process proposals, a panel
reviews them, and we award money.
After this process, the funded artists work with the
Artist Services arm of the organization. They meet
with the Creative Capital staff to talk and strategize
about their project. Where are they with the project?
Do they need fundraising or PR assistance? How can
we help them find the help that they need? We have
an annual retreat for all funded artists, with
workshops on such topics as fundraising, strategic
planning, and legal issues for the artists. Additionally,
we invite arts professionals to act as consultants.
This helps to open doors of communication and
opportunity for our funded artists. After the initial
grant and meetings, artists can apply for
supplemental support, up to $5,000 for strategic
needs related to the project such as purchasing
equipment, hiring consultants, or developing
promotional materials. The positive effect of this
targeted money has been exponential.
And finally, funded artists can come back and
request up to $20,000 related to their project.
This time, the key word is impact. If you get this
money, what kind of impact will this money have,
not just on the project but on the community at large?
Your agency really provides some great opportunities and services!
Yes. We have very hands-on contact with our
artists. They have a lot of access to us as a resource.
NOTE: Unfortunately the deadline has passed for the 2007 grant cycle for which Visual Arts (including painting, sculpture, works on paper, installation, photo-based work, contemporary crafts, public art, and interdisciplinary projects) is a primary focus. The 2008 grant cycle will focus on Emerging Fields, Innovative Literature and Performing Arts. However, you can sign-up
to receive e-mail notification of future grant rounds
The primary web address for Creative Capital is:

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