A Page from Our Handbook: Writing a Proposal

Image from Matthew Moore's (2008 Visual Arts) Creative Capital Project "Digital Farm Collective"

Time-lapse footage of lettuce growing, from Matthew Moore’s (2008 Visual Arts) Creative Capital Project “Digital Farm Collective”

Every few weeks we post tips straight from the Professional Development Program’s Artist’s Tools Handbook, a 200+ page resource we give to Core Workshop attendeeswritten by PDP Core Leaders Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman. The book covers everything from writing to budgeting, websites to fundraising, elevator pitches to work samples. Similarly, each post is packed with practical ideas to make your life run more smoothly, leaving you even more time for your creative practice. Learn more about our PDP workshops and webinars here.

Proposal Basics
Proposals come in many shapes and sizes: from simple fellowship applications that require a work sample, a brief description and bio, to lengthy project proposals that involve budget spreadsheets, significant writing and other supporting materials. Frequently we are creating proposals for work we have not yet completed. This means we have to find ways to make a panelist or program officer see what does not yet exist. It’s a big challenge, but a worthy one.

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A Page from Our Handbook: Building Relationships With Funders

A still from Mondo' Bizarro's Creative Capital project "Cry You One;" photo by Svetlana Volic with WWNO New Orleans Public Radio

A still from Mondo Bizarro’s Creative Capital project “Cry You One;” photo by Svetlana Volic with WWNO New Orleans Public Radio

Every few weeks we post tips straight from the Professional Development Program’s Artist’s Tools Handbook, a 200+ page resource we give to Core Workshop attendeeswritten by PDP Core Leaders Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman. The book covers everything from writing to budgeting, websites to fundraising, elevator pitches to work samples. Similarly, each post is packed with practical ideas to make your life run more smoothly, leaving you even more time for your creative practice. Learn more about our PDP workshops and webinars here.

The road to success involves more than a single application and a ‘yes’ or ‘no‘ response. With grantmakers and donors of all stripes you’ll need to build relationships, just as you would when working with other partners—venues, galleries or collaborators. Funders and donors talk to each other and change jobs. Similarly, a regular contributor may love your work enough to bring friends and potential contributors to your next show—all you have to do is ask! The great impression you make on one funder may not yield immediate results, but it may help you down the line. Continue reading

A Page From Our Handbook: Intro to Funding for Art Projects

Doheel Lee (2013 Performing Arts), The Mago Project

Doheel Lee (2013 Performing Arts), The Mago Project

Every few weeks, we’ll be posting tips straight from the Professional Development Program’s Artist’s Tools Handbook, a 200+ page resource we give to Core Workshop attendeeswritten by PDP Core Leaders Jackie Battenfield and Aaron Landsman. The book covers everything from writing to budgeting, websites to fundraising, elevator pitches to work samples. Similarly, each post will be packed with practical ideas to make your life run more smoothly, leaving you even more time for your creative practice. Learn more about our PDP workshops and webinars here.

Getting Started: Almost all of your fundraising will be done through partnerships: with venues and presenters, advisory boards, and directly with funders and donors. Creative Capital advocates thorough and clear communications about money betwen funders, venues and artists. The better you articulate what you want, what you do and how much it costs, the better off the entire field will be. Thinking of your funders and donors as partners will help you find more opportunities and will make you easier to work with. You will be ready when a venue says, “We found a commission to apply for your project. We need 250 words and a few images. TODAY!” Conversely, if you find a funding source your partners haven’t reached out to yet, you’ll know how to help them through the necessary steps to bring more funding to your project. Partners will want to work with you again and again because you help them help you.

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Bringing Creative Capital’s Core Workshop to Milwaukee Artists

Workshop Participants outside the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design

When the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN) in Wisconsin first considered hosting a Creative Capital Core Workshop, they knew the biggest hurdle to overcome would be communicating the true value to local funders. While MARN does offer professional development workshops to its 200 or so members, it had never attempted to coordinate a three-day immersive workshop like Creative Capital’s, which came with a higher price tag than MARN’s standard offerings.

“We offer a variety of programs—portfolio review, bookkeeping, some very basic things. But this just took things so much farther,” said Jeanne Olivieri, MARN’s Board Secretary. “Bringing Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program to MARN was a very unusual and very important thing for us. It was also something we had no prior knowledge about how to plan for.”  Continue reading

How to Raise Funds for Your Socially Engaged Project, Part 3: Funding from Other Sources

Stephanie Bleyer presenting at the 2013 Creative Capital Grantee OrientationStephanie Bleyer presenting “Fundraising 101″ at the 2013 Creative Capital Grantee Orientation

Last December I shared my tips for finding foundations and philanthropists to support your socially engaged art projects, and in November I shared tips for writing and submitting the proposal. Today’s post will cover other ways to source funding for your project.

Individual Giving
I’ve yet to meet an artist who is comfortable asking for money. If it makes your skin crawl, here’s an easy alternative: When you meet a potential donor, ask them to invite some friends over and host a gathering for you at their house or office. You can help them organize a salon discussing the issues in your project, you can show a screening of your film in progress or a preview of your next installation. At the event, you do not have to ask their friends for money. Be prepared to stand up and present your project and, more importantly, the issue you hope to affect. This is called a “friendraiser.” Collect cards and follow up with these new “friends” after the event is over.

If you’re on the festival circuit or you’re touring a show, take advantage of each city you’re visiting and find someone to host a gathering while you’re in town. I prioritize getting my clients into festivals in second-home communities like Palm Springs, Fire Island, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, the Hamptons and the Berkshires. Once we’re in, we work our network to find someone to host an intimate gathering for the filmmaker. If you want to be even more focused, target second-home communities that will be most interested in your issue. For example: if the project is about the Chinese-LGBT community, I’ll try to set up parties in the most popular second-home communities for Chinese-LGBT. This may seem a no-brainer, but over and again folks I work with are missing this opportunity. Continue reading

How to Raise Funds for Your Socially Engaged Project, Part 2: Writing the Proposal


Still from the film American Promise, which will premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January. The author, Stephanie Bleyer, is producing a transmedia engagement campaign for the film.

Last month, I shared my tips for finding foundations and philanthropists to support your socially engaged art projects. This month’s post will cover writing and submitting the proposal, and what to do after you get the grant (we know you will).

Writing The Proposal
Here are just a few generalities to keep in mind when you start writing:

  1. Don’t say it’s urgent. It’s probably not. Unless you’re a few dollars away from curing cancer, no need to use the “now or never” card.
  2. For the most part, don’t write in first-person singular. Exceptions include individual fellowship applications.
  3. Don’t say that all you want to do is raise awareness. If that’s your goal, don’t ask for engagement funding.
  4. Save the art-speak for your next book. If your proposal is so muddled with art-speak that the funder can’t understand what you actually propose to do, you’re not going to get funded.
  5. Personalize the proposal. Don’t submit a template. Show them you’ve done your homework and that you know exactly what they fund and why you are a perfect fit for them.
  6. If you have to fill out an online form, copy and paste all of the questions from the form into a Word document so you can work off-line and not risk losing your master draft. Continue reading

In Focus: “The Yes Men Are Revolting”

The Yes Men (2000 Film/Video) are an anti-corporate activist duo known for their outrageous satirical interventions at business events, on the internet and television, and in the streets. The team uses pranks that expose and publicize vital issues at critical times. Creative Capital funded The Yes Men in our very first grant round (2000) for their first documentary, for which they posed as spokespeople for the World Trade Organization, acting out comedic vigilante justice against the elite. In their second documentary, The Yes Men Fix the World (2009), they delivered hard-hitting (and hilarious) stunts that challenge the U.S.’s “corporations first” system, showing what’s in store if this system doesn’t change. They are currently at work on a new project, The Yes Men Are Revolting, which they promise “will be even more jam-packed with screwball comedy, nail-biting suspense, nasty stings and informative documentary.” The Yes Men are raising funds on Kickstarter to finish and distribute the film, with an ambitious goal of $200,000. You can learn more about it and pitch in here. Continue reading

How to Raise Funds For Your Socially Engaged Project, Part I: Finding Foundations & Philanthropists


The author, Stephanie Bleyer, is working with Creative Capital grantee Matthew Moore (2008 Visual Arts) to plan and fundraise for his Digital Farm Collective project.

I support artists across disciplines creating social advocacy artwork. What ties them all together is that they are trying to use their creativity to affect change. I have raised millions of dollars for my clients’ production budgets and engagement campaigns––without the help of crowdfunding, which from my experience, can take over your life. In this three-part blog post, I will tell you how I do it.

A Note About Fiscal Sponsorship
If you don’t have 501c(3) status, you’ll need a fiscal sponsor to receive most grants. If you are unclear whether a sponsor is necessary, call the foundation. I once won a $400k grant for a client, which I applied for through a fiscal sponsor. I later found out that fiscal sponsorship was unnecessary for this grant.  As a result, I lost three percent of the grant to the fiscal sponsor.

In general, be prepared to turn over three to eight percent of each grant to your fiscal sponsor. Having said that, you can (and should) negotiate their percentage. Some will serve as simple pass-throughs; others will do your taxes, manage your books, review your contracts and provide backend support. My absolute favorite fiscal sponsor is Sustainable Markets Foundation. Fractured Atlas is also a good one.

Note: Some government grants will not fund a fiscally sponsored project. Continue reading

Crowdfunding Tips from Jennifer Fox

Earlier this year, Jennifer Fox (2005 Film/Video grantee) raised over $150,000 on Kickstarter for her new film My Reincarnation, making hers one of the most successful film campaigns in Kickstarter’s history. Even more impressive is the fact that Jennifer achieved this level of success on her first foray into the world of online fundraising. She learned a lot through the process of this crash-course and offers her Top 10 Crowdfunding Tips:

1. Reach Out to Family and Friends
Unlike what many will tell you, I must say that for me family (and friends) are more about getting emotional support than money. It is very dicey to ask people you know and love to give you their hard earned funds. I had some friends tell me that they felt offended that I was emailing them about our campaign. Discussing this with them led to some very interesting insights about why I feel this is a democratic and legitimate way to support the arts. But I am not here to proselytize. I immediately backed off. In a way what they are saying is true: they don’t ask me to fund their passion, why should I ask them to fund mine? However, that’s not exactly how I see it: I believe that the film project, My Reincarnation, has a greater good for humanity and is a contribution to people’s lives. Hence, it must be seen and is worth funding.  

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