A Discussion with Sonja Cendak, GBCA Grants Manager, on how to make your proposal a success by Cara Ober

Creative problem solving is an area where artists excel. Regardless of environmental, structural, or logistical barriers, artists are adept at bringing their ideas to fruition when more logical thinkers simply give up. It stands to reason that even a small investment into the cultural landscape in Baltimore will yield exponential results. The brand new Artists Project Grants, also known as the Rubys, available through the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, are an extension of this type of forward thinking. They were established to support the region’s ‘gems’ – hence the name. In 2014, the GBCA will award up to twelve $10,000 grants for artists to “execute long-dreamed of or newly inspired creative projects.”

Here are the basics:

* The grants will be available across artistic disciplines, including media, visual, literary, and performing arts to arts practitioners living in Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties (Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, and Howard).

* The first round of grants will open December 1 and close February 2, 2014. The first round applies only to Performing Arts and Media Arts, with a second round opening for Visual and Literary Arts on May 1, 2014.

After an initial announcement of the program on November 19, 2013, the news has spread like wildfire through the community. In order to clarify the message, I spoke with Sonja Cendak, the Grants Manager of this new program at GBCA. We discussed the purpose of the grants and strategies for creating a successful application.

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Grants Manager Sonja Cendak

Cara Ober: Sonja, what would you like artists to know about the new grants?

Sonja Cendak: First of all, artists may begin submitting applications on December 1, 2013. Until then, artists should start thinking about their proposals, and putting ideas and materials together.

While the grants are open to different artistic disciplines, the first round will be open only to Performing and Media artists. The second round will be for Visual and Literary artists. I want artists to know that it behooves them to apply for a grant in this inaugural year of the program. The artists who apply in these first grant rounds will determine the caliber and scope of what we will expect to see in future.

This is a brand new initiative and I am new to GBCA. This is my third week on the job. It’s all very exciting!

CO: What should an artist include in their application? What do you suggest they leave out?

SC: We are looking for artists to tell us what they can do with ten thousand dollars, rather than asking us what they should do with the money. This is an unprecedented opportunity for artists to propose a project that has been percolating in their idea bank for years, or propose a project they have worked on in the past that needs a kick-start to go to the next level. What the artist needs to articulate clearly in their application is how this funding will raise the level of their artistic practice and catalyze the next phase of their career. We are excited to read about what amazing things artists will be able to accomplish with this money.

That said, we do want folks to be thoughtful about the project they propose. We don’t want artists to make up an idea just to get money. This funding exists to feed a dream, and the project should connect deeply to who they are as artists and to their artistic practice. We must take feasibility into account.

CO: What types of things would make an artist’s proposal less successful?

SC: Aside from the eligibility requirements which are available at GBCA’s website, the grants are not designed for ongoing work or to fund routine expenses such as rent. A proportion of these costs can be part of your budget, but we are primarily looking for a strong, innovative project that is clearly articulated and which has a final “product” or culminating experience.

CO: What if artists are already funded or partially funded? Can they apply for additional funding to complete a project?

SC: Yes. We do not have to be the sole source of funding for the project. The grant may be use to match existing or complementary support. Also, some artists may have projects larger in scope that require a budget of more that $10,000. In such cases, the artist should show in their budget what portion or phase of the project does the Artist Project Grant fund.

Also, please note that artists can apply for up to $10,000, but there is no minimum. If your project can realistically be completed with $6,000, then apply as such. It is more important to apply with a specific grant amount that makes sense to your project, rather than puffing up to the maximum amount. I encourage artists to be thoughtful about what their needs are in fulfilling their dream project.

CO: Will there be opportunities for artists to find out more about this process?

SC: Absolutely. In early January we will have at least two information sessions. One will be during the day and one in the evening. We are still setting those details, so check the GBCA web page and we will announce session details when the location and time is confirmed. Also, at the GBCA website, you can sign up to receive grant update emails, so that we can let you know directly when new information becomes available.

CO: What about interdisciplinary projects? What should an artist do if their work combines performing and visual arts, for example? I think a lot of artists in Baltimore fit in overlapping categories.

SC: We have thought about this deeply. My suggestion is to download the project guidelines to get a fuller picture of each cycle of grants, so that the artist understands what subcategories fall under Performing Arts, Visual Arts, etc.

For an interdisciplinary artist, my suggestion is to look outside of their practice and focus on the nature of the specific project they are proposing. That should help them to choose the category that is most appropriate. If the project seems to fall outside of who you are as an artist, consider this deeply and decide which category is most dominant for the project. Artists are welcome to call me and we can talk it out to see what makes sense. I am here as a resource, and my goal is to assist and guide artists through the grant process.

CO: Many artist grants seem to favor projects that incorporate social justice and a public, altruistic intent while other grants favor projects that focus solely on an individual artist creating their work. Is there a preference in this context?

SC: No, both approaches are welcome. Artists should think in terms of something that can be considered a unique, discreet project. We are not interested in projects that support ongoing artistic production. For example, a proposal for an artist to make 24 paintings in one year that they were going to make regardless is not the right fit for this grant. However, if the proposal is a series of works, rooted in a specific theme that culminate in an installation or show – it has a clear beginning, middle, and end – that type of project is preferable. We do ask artists to think about and include in their proposal some type of public component through which to share the work created, whether it is an exhibit, a screening, workshop, or talk. Ultimately, the creative projects catalyzed with this grant are meant to contribute to the larger Baltimore area community. Once selected, GBCA will work with artists to maximize the impact of the public exposure.

CO: So artists should not feel pressure to change their work to make it socially relevant to a particular cause?

SC: We want the artists to be true to their work. The grant does not require that the project has a social justice component, or be created purely art for arts sake. However, the project should have a public component, so that there is a way for the public to interact with the artwork as well as with the artist. This is not a ‘drop and run’ grant. GBCA wants to work with artists and create an ongoing relationship between selected artists with the community at-large and among grantees.

CO: What if an artist knows what they want to do, but doesn’t have a location lined up yet?

SC: If you don’t know the where, when, and what of a public component, then use the grant application as an exercise to think of how your project could have a culminating event. Do not ignore this component in your application! Artists should definitely include some suggestions and ideas of where their project could be publically displayed and have its moment in the Baltimore community. Please know, there is a lot of openness in figuring out this portion of the proposal and, again, GBCA is here as a resource to assist in the process.

CO: What do you see as the most important aspects of a successful proposal?

SC: We will be looking at innovation and creativity. We also want to see a budget that is relevant and realistic. We want to see thoughtful justification in the grant narrative: What makes this project the right next step for you creatively and professionally? Why now? We pose questions in the grant guidelines to assist in writing the narrative proposal, so pay attention to those. Also, know it is okay if now is not the right time for a grant. We have guaranteed funding for several years, and there will be opportunities for artists in every discipline to apply each year. I don’t want to discourage people to apply, but we want artists to put their best foot forward and that includes being thoughtful about timing.

CO: How many do you think you will award?

SC: In each grant cycle we are expecting to give three to five grants in each discipline category. If your proposal is not chosen one year, artists can always apply again.

CO: How will the judging be conducted?

SC: We will be convening a panel of experts in each artistic discipline. Panels will have four to five people–half local and half from outside the area. Therefore, some panelists may be familiar with the work and artists, and others will be looking at the work with new eyes. Panels will meet as a group in Baltimore for review and discussion.

CO: Is there anything else potential applicants should know?

SJ: GBCA is having its first info session about all of our artist-services program next Tuesday, December 3. We have been invited by the Design Conversation to present at their next meet up, which is December 3 at 6:30pm at the Wind-Up Space. I will speak about the Artist Project Grants, David London will talk about the Baker Award opportunities, and David Mitchell will speak about opportunities with Artist U and the Urban Arts Leadership Initiative. There will be time for q&a, and all artists are invited to attend.

As more details are formalized, look for updates at the GBCA web page and join the mailing list. To find out more about these new opportunities for artists, click here and at the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance Website.

CO: Thanks for explaining this. I really appreciate it!

SJ: My pleasure.

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