PhotoPlus Seminar: How to Land a Grant

In order to win a grant, you need to do your homework and find the a grant whose mission and goals match the subject of your photography project. Panelists at the PhotoPlus Expo seminar, Grant Writing 101, moderated by PDN executive editor David Walker, noted that researching the many art, photography and documentary grants out there can be overwhelming.

Ellen Liberatori, professor at New York University and author of Guide to Getting Arts Grants, recommended photographers use the database at the Foundation Center, which lists many types of grants.

Photographer Justine Reyes recommended using NYFA’s Deadlines & Headlines list and enrolling in free grant writing workshops that are offered in your town or city. Reyes recently awarded a workspace residency from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) and  is a visiting scholar at New York University.

Liebratori suggested attending forums and information sessions provided by the grant foundations, in order to learn more details about applying for the grants from the grant officers themselves. This gives you the opportunity to meet decision makers who evaluate proposals. When researching grants,  Liberatori advised the audience to look at statements of past award winners to know if your project is applicable for that specific grant. Figure out where your story fits, the essence of your work and how you frame it.

Many photographers need to apply for grants year after year because there are many factors that change, like the judges, timeliness of your topic and your competition. Brenda Ann Kenneally, photographer and past winner of the W. Eugene Smith Grant, said she applied for the Getty Editorial Grant six times before winning.  Yamagata noted, “If you reapply please show that you’re committed to developing your work into something new each time that you submit your application.” Grant officers want to see that your project is progressing.

Yamagata also offered a clear and concise time line for applying for an OSI grant:

Phase 1- Outreach – The Program Officer begins spreading the word about the grant. This happens up to 1 year before the deadline, and offers photographers a chance to get in touch directly with the Program Coordinator, Program Associate & Program Assistant. When you contact them, do not ask questions that are already answered in the Guidelines!  Email a 2-3 sentence brief about your project to ask if it is in fact an appropriate fit. This saves you and the Programs officers time, in the end.
Phase 2 – Deadline/Processing Applications – make a checklist of required materials and begin gathering your material in advance to make your deadline.
Phase 3 – 1st Cut-   The staff goes through all of the applications, very quickly, eliminating anything that  does not fit with the organizations grant mission. Be brief, clear and straightforward in your first paragraph. Also, like your proposal, your portfolio should begin and end on very strong note.
Phase 4 -Vetting & Evaluation –  Your written proposals should appeal to a range of tastes/people. Open Society is particularly interested in how the photographers communicate and articulate their projects.
Phase 5-  Final Selection/Notification – Selections are based on quality & relevance to the program. Try to create a balance on targeted geographic regions; another reason to reapply year after year. In the selection process they consider how different applicants look comparatively. Wait until a few weeks after the deadline to ask for feedback on your application. It’s in your best interest to develop a relationship with the program staff officers.

Yamagata also explained, after you’ve won a grant, how to be a good grantee:
Submit your reports on timely basis;  document your work/expenditures; notify your grant program officer if there are any changes in your project; and alert the grant organization of your upcoming events or exhibitions.

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