Katy says: The following has been edited from an article I wrote, originally published on RAW Artists' I AM INDIE blog. Fun fact: the basic premise and content, however, was generated to share as a resource for a women artists advocacy group (started by theatre artist Maryanne Olsen) when I still lived in the San Francisco community.
Prospect Research: The Roadmap
By Katy Hilton
One of the things I hear most from close friends and artists, if we get around to talking about this whole “grants and grantwriting” thing (which happens pretty often, since I have a background in grantwriting and I manage two local grants programs for individual artists, and uh, I talk A LOT about my work because I love what I do!), is that it makes them feel like an outsider—unless it’s an area of expertise for them, which I find to be pretty rare, especially among emerging artists. It can be an overwhelming and frustrating topic to discuss for lots of reasons, so I’ll narrow my comments here to some brief thoughts on what I think is one of the most important first steps and possibly biggest roadblocks for an artist interested in learning about grantwriting: Prospect Research.
So, what in the blazes do I mean by prospect research? Well, prospect research just means putting together a list of potential grants (and possibly other sources of support) for you and your project. I like to tell people that starting on fundraising for a project is kind of like moving to a new city. Different areas seem entirely disconnected, you waste time getting lost…you don’t know where to go yet for the best fish tacos or great happy hour drinks. Think of prospect research as your public transit system: it is step number one to getting to know your city, understanding where things are and how to get around on your lonesome. And like public transit in any city: prospect research is sprawling, overlapping, and sometimes totally inefficient.
A few tips for getting on the right bus:
Don’t try to sell your violin concerto to someone who wants to fund at risk youth:
You won’t get funded and then the foundation will make jokes about you at their staff meeting. Seriously though, this is a trap that lots of artists fall into—we’re creative and think of all kinds of ways to make our work “fit” into a funder’s guidelines.
Example: When I was looking for funding to support a play I was writing a few years back, I remember seeing hundreds of thousands of dollars going towards awards/grants/commissions for plays that incorporated science and technology—I would often have this moment of “Hot damn! I got to write me a science play this year!” But this temptation was folly. If I had done that, I would have wasted hard-won time to work on my art, trying to create a project that was not at the core of my interests. Absolutely, if I had become inspired by an idea that fit—I would go for those dollars, but in the meantime I was better off keeping an eye out for people interested in funding the work I was most passionate about already.
Do let the core issues/primary interest for you as the artist drive your search:
This means you have to know what they are! Eeek! Can you identify similar projects or artists whose work is in the same ballpark as yours? Well then, what grants have they received? Start with researching those—cheat sheet! Also, think creatively about who might care/share an interest in your subject matter. Are there funders and institutions outside your own artistic field that might have an authentic interest/stake in your project?
Example: I met this woman who was researching support for a film project that involved the subject of the impact of divorce on children. She found herself with quite the empty dance card of interested funders at the outset. So she started researching what other kinds of organizations were interested in this subject matter and came across charitable organizations centered around divorce law practice, folks I certainly never would have thought to look at for funding a film project.
Don’t wait until three months before your exhibition opening to hit the pavement:
Grant cycles do not work this way. You really need to start a year out (six months at the very latest). Put this on your timeline for the project! When you get that first inkling that THIS seed of an idea will be what you do next—start thinking then. Start your research then.
Don’t waste your time:
Be smart about how you spend your time. It’s tremendously valuable. Take advantage of the resources available. Don’t be that actor who spends all her time looking for the perfect monologue instead of preparing for the audition.
Do forward your research to other artists:
This may be one of the most important things you can do to invest in your art, in my opinion. When you come across an opportunity, share it with your network. They will absolutely return the favor! Be a champion for your own art community. It feels really good.
Katy Hilton has worked in the nonprofit arts sector as an arts administrator, development professional and theatre artist since moving to California in 2003. She became grants manager for the Center for Cultural Innovation in 2010, where she manages the state-wide Investing in Artists grants program and the Los Angeles County-based ARC (Artists’ Resource for Completion) grants program.
The views represented in this Chatterbox Art & Opinion post are those of the individual author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Theatre Bay Area or its staff.