The Application Process
Most awards will require several images of your work, as well as a written artist statement to provide some context. With higher-stakes prizes, artists may be asked to submit recommendation letters from peers or professionals.
A somewhat obvious, though easily botched, element of the application process is following directions. “You have to be careful not to get lazy with how you submit, as it may lead to you being disqualified, which is just a waste of your time,” McIntyre explains. Be sure to read the fine print and adhere to all particulars regarding preparing, labeling, and submitting application materials.
Organizations administering prizes will allow artists to submit several—typically three to eight—images. They are generally interested in seeing recent work, created over the past two or three years. Some prizes may specify that artists create a new, original work to submit. Artists should be sure to send high-quality photographs; if resources allow, hire a photographer (or recruit a qualified friend) to have works shot professionally.
For those artists who work across mediums—perhaps printmaking one day, performance the next—know that it might not be advisable to try to include the full breadth of your practice in a single application. “Try to hone in on a single idea, or a couple of ideas,” says artist
, who won the BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Artisan Series in 2013, and has also served as a juror for other awards. “I’ve been on the other side of this a number of times, and when you’re reviewing applications it’s confusing and not helpful to have an artist submitting sculpture, painting, and
a video piece. Focus on one aspect of your work.”
In addition to images, a written artist’s statement that explains and contextualizes the artist’s work is important, too. Artists should get in the habit of updating their statements regularly, adapting their texts to accurately reflect their current practices. Artist
, who won an Artadia Award in New York in 2015, notes that she rewrites or edits her artist statement every two years.
For certain awards, artists may need to be able to speak about their work with jurors in person. If this is the case, be prepared to take full advantage of the opportunity. Baras notes that for Artadia, the panel of jurors visited her studio; she was careful to delve deeper into elements of her work that don’t come across through two-dimensional images or her online application. For the Meurice Prize for contemporary art, artists must give an oral presentation of their work. “While we don’t judge the artist on their ability to conduct a perfect verbal presentation of the work, we are of course interested to hear the artist speak of their work in a very intimate way, and that can actually be the decisive sector,” says Jennifer Flay, director of the art fair FIAC, and a juror for the Meurice Prize.
While it’s free to apply for some awards, it’s not uncommon to pay a fee in the range of $20 to $75—which can make a difference for artists looking to apply to multiple opportunites. Belka notes that if the stakes are high, an application fee may be worth it, but he advises that artists do their research before submitting said fees to avoid scams.
McIntyre recalls that she once applied to a competition that promised winners a show in Venice. “I was accepted, but they asked for an outrageous artist fee of €500,” she says. Later she learned that fellow artists had fallen for the scam and lost their money—and the works they had submitted. “Have discretion and awareness that your money may amount to nothing,” she counsels.
Set Expectations and Be Persistent
No one wins every award; there’s often a trail of rejections on the way to any prize. Baras, who landed the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant in 2014 and the Artadia Award thereafter, notes that there’s been plenty of failure mixed in with those successes. (She estimates that she submits around 10 award or grant applications per year.)
“Assume that for nine out of every 10 applications that you send in, it’s not going to be the work they’re looking for,” Podesta says. “Younger artists, especially, shouldn’t get daunted. Remember that the work just isn’t resonating with the [specific] people reviewing it.”
It helps to go into the application process with an open mind, and reasonable hopes. “I went into it not expecting it to make my career, but rather for it to be an addition to it,” says
, who won the BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Artisan Series in 2014. Artists, she adds, should simply stay true to their craft, and keep working away.
Remember that rejection, while disappointing, can be a learning experience. “Without this kind of risk, you can’t really put yourself out there,” Baras says. “Most applications, for many amazing awards, just take a few days. It’s a way to see a new community, to seek new eyes, and I think that’s a necessary and healthy risk for an artist to take.”
Lee advises fellow artists to cast a wide net and apply to as many opportunities as possible, developing a thick skin as they do. “If you get rejected one year, apply again the next,” she says, simply. “It’s about being persistent and not taking anything personally.”