Courtesy of Summit AIR in Eden, Utah.
For years, Katrina Neumann, Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria, and Kira Simon-Kennedy have been dedicated to helping artists find opportunities to support their practices. As they launch Rivet, an online search engine for creative opportunities, we share their guide to navigating the application process.
This guide was designed to help you tackle the daunting process of applying for artist residencies, grants, fellowships, incubators, awards, labs, prizes, and programs of all kinds that provide time, space, and support for creative people to develop their work. The goal is to provide you with the skills and knowledge to grow and thrive, and most importantly, to help you make the work you’re passionate about.
1. Do your research
The best place to start isn’t a search engine; it’s actually with people who inspire you.
Reverse engineer a list of opportunities by going to the website of someone you admire and finding their CV, resume, or bio. What was the first thing they did? If they’re a visual artist, what galleries or spaces showed their work first? If they’re a filmmaker or writer, what festivals featured their work? Then, find their peers, and do the same. Keep going down rabbit holes, tracing the paths of the people you look up to.
For a broader search, check out listing sites and opportunity networks. There are too many niche platforms to list, but here’s a spreadsheet to get started. Be warned, many of these platforms can be overwhelming, difficult to search through, and may be infrequently updated (which is why we’re building Rivet!).
2. Make sure you can do it
Once you’ve made a list of things you’d like to apply for, and before diving into an application, make sure you’re qualified.
Sometimes opportunities are limited to people with certain passports, of a certain age or career stage, languages, or any number of other criteria. If you’re not quite sure if you qualify, it is always best to read the application thoroughly, and then email or call and ask any lingering questions before applying.
Then, gauge if this opportunity is feasible for you. Some may require a part-time or full-time commitment that can’t always be balanced with other responsibilities. And unfortunately, not all opportunities are affordable. Some have application or submission fees, participation fees, and many don’t cover living expenses, travel, food, housing, or materials. Sometimes, it’s possible to apply for other funding or find other ways to subsidize costs, but it’s important to take into consideration the additional effort.
Johann Diedrick helps his students build their mobile listening kits at Social Kitchen in Kyoto, Japan.
3. Make sure it’s worth it
Beyond costs, there are plenty of other reasons an opportunity may not be worth it. Some might not provide the kind of support, resources, network, exposure, or space to experiment that you what you need at this particular moment. Some might surround you with too many (or not enough) people or distractions. The best way to learn is by looking up past participants and try to find interviews where they speak about their time at the residency, check reviews on Rate My Artist Residency, or get in touch with them directly.
Ask yourself questions like, how would you like to spend your time? What would you need, in terms of equipment, language skills, or project assistance? Would it suit your lifestyle?
Think about your level of comfort. Can you rough it? Opportunities vary from farm houses with intermittent electricity to luxury hotels with continental breakfasts. Check a map and use Google Street View to get a sense of the environment.
Also consider the social environment. If you’re looking for solitude, find a place that works with less than three people at any given time to avoid constantly turning down invitations to group activities.
4. Don’t miss the deadline
When you find the perfect opportunity, set up a calendar reminder a week before the deadline, and another one the day before. Don’t forget that time zones matter!
5. Make sure that your work looks good
Does this application ask you to submit a link to your website, a portfolio of images, or your social media profiles? Now is a good time to make updates, take new photographs of your work, and make sure all your online identities are presenting you the way you’d like to be seen.
6. Read the application closely
Before you start filling out answers, read every single question on the application carefully. Copy and paste all the questions into a document that auto-saves (like a Google Doc or an email draft).
It’s good to cast a wide net, but if you’re applying to several things at once, make sure you don’t use the exact same application for everything. Tailor each proposal to address the organization’s mission.
Courtesy of Crosstown Arts in Memphis, Tennessee.
7. Be concise, clear, sharp, and interesting
Every time you apply, you are asking someone to read what you wrote. Be kind to your readers. They might be looking at hundreds, or thousands of proposals, so go easy on the artspeak and jargon and get right to the point. And remember, you don’t have reach the word limit for every question. Try to convey your ideas with fewer words, avoid repeating yourself, and don’t be vague.
8. Draft, get feedback, revise, review, and then submit!
Once your draft feels close to complete, send it to a trusted friend or two to edit. They’ll be able to point out where you can clarify, refine, or re-write to best represent your ideas in a way that will make sense to the strangers who will be reviewing applications. After getting feedback, do one final pass, double check for typos and run-on sentences, then send it in.
Your proposal will now be considered by a person or group of people who care deeply and probably started from where you are now. While you wait to hear back, carry on with life as usual, but keep an eye on your inbox and voicemails.
9. Don’t get discouraged by rejection
If you receive an acceptance letter, congrats! Plan ahead if that’s your style, research who you’d like to meet, where you’d like to go, and lay out a work plan for your project. You did good, keep at it!
If you get a rejection letter (sorry, they suck, they really do), the first thing is to ask if you can know specifically what you could have done better. You can also ask if the decision-makers can recommend other opportunities for you to apply for that might be better suited. And always ask if you should apply again next year.
Look closely at who they did select, and run the reverse-engineering search on them. And then keep trying! Often, success begets success — try for small, local grants from young organizations and grow with them.
And remember, you can always start your own thing. Collectives can pool resources to support informal residencies and there’s a wide world of opportunities beyond what you can officially apply for! For more information, visit Rivet’s Guide to Applying for Things.