The Inside Story of Grants for Artists & Writers with Gigi Rosenberg
Every artist I talk to says "yes!" when I ask if they could use a little more cash. If you have the time to do the research and submit the forms, grants might be a way for you to get start-up money for your next art project.
Gigi Rosenberg won her first unofficial grant as a fourteen year old when she convinced her parents to fork over the cash to buy five rolls of Super 8 Kodachrome to shoot her first film. Today, she works as a writer, keynote speaker, and presentation coach for artists and entrepreneurs. She wrote The Artist's Guide to Grant Writing to teach artists and writers how to win grants, fundraise creatively, and ensure that every second they spend writing a proposal pushes their art further into the world. She's been published by Seal Press, The Oregonian, Jewish Review, Parenting, and broadcast on Oregon Public Radio.
A.C.T.: What is your company mission? Please tell us about the journey from founding until now.
Gigi: I grew up with parents who were professional artists so I've been making art since day one. It always seemed very normal to me that somebody would choose to be an artist for a career.
Because most members of my family are visual artists, I had to become a writer - to do something different. Over the years, I started applying for and winning grants to support my own writing projects. Then, when I was asked to sit on a panel judging grants, and I was on the other side of the table, I realized how many artists did not know how to present their work to an audience. I love to teach, so my workshops in grant writing were born. When I teach and speak at conferences, my mission is to empower artists so that they can take action, speak up and make a thriving career in the arts.
A.C.T.: What services do you offer? What kinds of "creatives" do you work with and how do these artists benefit from your services?
Gigi: I work with all kinds of artists and business people who want to speak and act with more clarity and ease. I lead workshops for literary, visual and performing artists as well as business people and entrepreneurs on grant writing and how to make a great presentation. I deliver keynote addresses at arts and writing conferences. I also coach artists and entrepreneurs one-on-one if they need a career kick-start or need to wow their next audience with a presentation.
A.C.T.: Does the artist's career stage matter for them to benefit? What kinds of issues do they seem to wrestle with most?
Gigi: Emerging artists seem to wrestle most with believing in themselves - but I've also seen artists at mid and late career who need validation. Mid career artists can also become stalled along the way. As with any kind of growth, there are times when the direction is clear and other times when you need to practice discernment about where to head next.
With grant writing - it's always a challenge to write about an idea that doesn't exist yet. No matter how many times you've done grant proposals, the next project is still unborn and hard to describe. It helps to go back to square one and describe the who, what, where and when of what you want to do. So, I see the challenges as being very similar no matter what the artist's career stage.
With making a presentation - the artists who know that they need to rehearse are way ahead. You can't just get up there and talk off the top of your head, except on rare occasions when that works. It leaves too much to chance.
A.C.T.: What prompted you to write your book?
Gigi: I'd been teaching workshops all over the country - New York City, Chicago, D.C., Seattle and throughout Oregon and I realized that one workshop is never enough. You just can't cover it all. I wanted a thorough, practical and inspiring guide for participants who wanted to continue to thrive - so I wrote the book.
I'd applied for grants, won some and got a thousand rejections, as well as being on both sides of the grant. I felt I really had something to offer.
A.C.T.: What are the most common mistakes artists make in grant writing? What solutions do you propose to these problems?
Gigi: The most common mistake, believe it or not, is not being able to adequately describe your project so that someone who doesn't know you or your work can understand and really see what you're planning to do. Imagine the project done and then describe it.
Sometimes artists think that articulating the project will limit their freedom - which is not true. A fuzzy description only begets more fuzziness.
As I said earlier, it's very challenging to describe something that doesn't yet exist. As artists, we chafe against having to articulate our vision - it feels too limiting. We don't want to commit, fearing that the commitment will inhibit us. Usually, the opposite is true! A framework and a plan can offer immense freedom and inspire creativity within its constraints.
Other top mistakes include not applying for the right opportunity that fits you. I don't recommend that artists try to fit their project into someone else's format. For this reason, first I encourage my clients to hone that vision so it's clear and concise. Then I work with artists to find the language to express what it is they envision. I always say you should apply for a grant for something that is a perfect fit for where your career is already going.
Follow the rules! They are there for a reason and you may be disqualified right away if you don't.
A.C.T.: Which basic creative skills and tools should artists have in place before they look for grants and in which order should they proceed?
Gigi: Some grant opportunities are for emerging artists so you don't have to be fully established to apply for a grant. However, you need to be a professional artist who has been working long enough that you have a body of work to show.
You need some basic organizational skills and to be able to write or at least engage a writer/editor to work with you as you create your grant proposal. In fact, you need a team of people to help with all the different aspects. Sometimes it helps to have an outside view on what you submit. You need to be willing to make mistakes, ask questions, stay organized and practice tenacity!
Give yourself lots of time so that you don't write under pressure.
A.C.T.: What does it take to do what you do? Please describe a typical day, and a typical month so readers can understand how you manage your time, money and energy.
Gigi: I have three parts to my business: I'm a writer, I'm a workshop leader/keynote speaker, and I coach one-on-one. On a perfect day, I write for the first 2 hours before checking email or doing any other business. The rest of the day is divided between marketing - including research, follow-up calls, writing proposals for speeches or workshops, and then actually preparing to deliver the speech or the workshop.
Some days I meet with clients and other days I'm actually leading the workshop or giving the speech. On those days, I might not be able to write in the morning. I try to at least "visit" my creative projects once a day even if it's not for two hours. I find if I neglect a project for too long it becomes a "monster in a box" as Spalding Gray once said.
A.C.T.: What peak moments big and small - have you had through grant writing?
Gigi: My favorite moments with grant writing for my own projects are when I've just submitted the application. I love all that possibility and I always feel like I'm going to win. But the greatest moment, is when I get the letter that I was awarded the grant!
I've done a lot of performance work so I really love teaching and giving keynote speeches. My peak moments are when I'm really connecting with an audience and I sense that they'll leave with renewed energy for the art they're creating. Being an artist is hard work - the rejection can be very tough to take. I strive to be the antidote to that feeling of hardship.
A.C.T.: How do you define success and how do you celebrate it?
Gigi: Success is doing what only you can do, love to do, what you're very good at, what you enjoy giving, getting acknowledgement and earning a living from it.
The celebration is a bit of a challenge - sometimes I feel like I'm bragging.
A.C.T.: What obstacles have you encountered in your business and how have you handled them?
Gigi: The biggest obstacle I faced is that I work alone and I'm an extrovert. I was not well-suited to working at a home office. So, I rented an office space in downtown Portland and now I take the bus to work every morning. I love the structure and the clear definition of work/home space. I'm much happier and more productive.
Not everything is urgent. Push the pause button so you can be prepared and professional.
A.C.T.: What opportunities has a professional approach to your career brought you that you might otherwise not have had?
Gigi: Being professional has brought me all the opportunities that have come my way. I think it all boils down to being a clear communicator, very well organized and knowing how and when to follow-up. Those are the attributes that I label professional.
A.C.T.: Who are your role models and mentors? What was the best advice they gave you?
Gigi: I've had too many to name! The best advice includes: trust your gut, no matter what others might be saying, remember the unique value you bring to the party, and remember, don't take it all personally! (Sadly, it's rarely personal!) Oh, and one more: Don't quit, no matter what.
What I've realized over the years, however, is that sometimes you do need to abandon a project - some are best left on the cocktail napkin. And that's okay too. "Don't quit" doesn't meet pursue every idea you have - that's impossible. It means: be true to your vision and inner integrity- no matter what!
A.C.T.: What is your marketing strategy? What promotional materials and actions do you use most often?
Gigi: I try to do at least one marketing thing a day - but remember - as an extrovert, I enjoy the social aspect of marketing - so it's not drudgery.
My marketing includes regular email mailings, a two-minute video promo, a Facebook fan page, meeting with people for lunch, and having parties and events.
A.C.T.: How do you use social media and how have sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn changed art marketing? What has not changed?
Gigi: What hasn't changed is that it's still about your ability to build a relationship and be a clear communicator - no matter the format. You still have to be an authentic, real person. Send out your messages with care and check that they add value.
What's harder now is that everyone is bombarded. When I check my email, it's with one finger on the "delete" key - all I want to do is clear my inbox. So your email has to say in one second why a reader might be interested. The challenge is: How do you stand out? How do you make your unique offer clear and concise?
A.C.T.: What advice would you pass on to artists who want to succeed in any economy?
Gigi: It's essential to have "multiple income streams" so that you're not relying on one place for your income. It's extremely challenging to be a solo artist on so many levels. Keep a lot of eggs in a lot of different baskets, so that when one source of income is down, another is up. Have some steady gigs going so you are not just trying to get the next sale.
The two most important things are to be financially viable and to have a support network in place so that, throughout the week, your spirits are buoyed by nourishing people, places and experiences.
A.C.T.: How do you feel artists can benefit from the types of programs, services and products we offer at Artist Career Training and The Art Business Library?
Gigi: One of the biggest challenges inherent in being an artist is the isolation and constant rejection. You need a support system that includes both artist friends and non-artist friends and both structured and informal communities. Just as important, you need smart experts who can help you navigate the business side of making a career. Aletta's coaching services are vital to any artist wanting to succeed as a professional. We're all pressed for time these days. What I'm offering to you is a way to save years of work trying to figure things out. This is a rare opportunity for you to learn from me and Eric Armusik in person. He's an artist that has gone above and beyond the traditional methods of selling art. He doubled his income through direct sales in 2011. Let us help you with yours. It is a must for any artist looking to explode your success.
FTC Disclosure: When we find people like Gigi who have deep, proven experience in a topic that will help you make a better living making art, we put them front and center. When these fine folks offer services and products that are first class, we like to promote them. We do not earn any cash from this particular relationship, except maybe your appreciation and a way to pay it forward to our dedicated readers.