Saturday, October 6, 2018

Somebody’s Deciding Your Art Future, And It May Not Be You

Chances are that if you apply regularly for opportunities, whether grants and residencies or juried exhibitions, you get turned down regularly. Jackie Battenfield, who wrote The Artist’s Career Guide, puts it succinctly: “If you’re not getting rejected, you’re not putting yourself out there enough.”

Still, it would be nice to know why. "I wish we could hear something from people who sit on these review boards. As with juried shows, we rarely get any feedback about what was good or not so good about an application," mused Cheryl McClure in a recent online conversation with members of our ProWax group. Turns out there are a few among us who can lift the veil on that process.

Leslie Sobel: “I've sat on my state's art council grant review boards a few times now, and reading a lot of other people's proposals really improved my own success rate.” 
Some takeaways in Leslie’s own words:
. A proposal for a grant or a residency is a selling document. You need to tell a compelling story and slavishly follow the guidelines for the specific proposal
. Knowing the biases and competitiveness of the specific program helps, although like any jury it changes somewhat each time
. I've seen proposals lacking a budget, going way over the page limit, written in pencil, ignoring required forms. This process is so competitive that you need to do everything right just to be considered
. If your practice would benefit from funding/residencies, getting onto a review board at some point is helpful
. It’s always worth requesting scores or comments afterward, especially if you get turned down. I should add that my experiences have been with bigger non-profits or state/federal entities where there was a professional staff handling that request. I would not burden the panelists; in fact, I've never been told the names of panel members [when I have applied]. On the other side, even revealing that I was on a panel can be considered iffy
. Sometimes making your own residency is a better way to go. It depends on whether you want a specific program or venue, or simply time to work.

And Leslie’s own success rate? “I’m not sure of my overall success ratio on these things, but on state arts grants I'm now two proposals funded out of three attempts.”

Laura Moriarty: “I serve on panels for individual artists and organizations, and have also served on residency selection committees. The reason you do not hear from panelists has to do with ethics and confidentiality. Like any jury, we don't talk about our deliberations out of respect for the applicants, as well as other panelists whose opinions we may not share. But a well-run selection process will require panelists to give a clear reason why they think an application should not move forward, which usually relates to a set of criteria that each proposal is weighed against. It never hurts to ask for comments because there is usually an administrator in the room, but it is up to the sponsoring organization to decide whether or not to share those comments with applicants. Some argue and contest the decision, so it can be like opening a can of worms. That is why many organizations offer info seminars in advance of the deadline.”

Joanne Mattera: I have not served on a grant-giving jury, but I have juried and curated exhibitions, and in my editorial capacity have reviewed countless requests from artists to include their work in my projects. Leslie Sobel’s suggestion to 'slavishly follow the guidelines' is spot on. My takeaways:
. Your images must be the requisite size in terms of dpi and pixel size. I have received both postage-stamp-size images that don’t provide enough visual information and, conversely, files so large they crash my email. If that happens when I’m busy (which is always) I’m deleting your stuff
. Send only the number of images requested. Not everyone wants to open zip files. And don’t send anything in Dropbox that requires a password you don’t provide
. Make sure the requested information is in the format requested. If someone asks for an image list (formerly called a slide list) make one. It’s most convenient to see image and info on one sheet. If you are asked for a 150-word bio, provide it. For one exhibition I was curating, I asked each potential artist to send me a one-paragraph bio. One artist emailed me the text of an article-length interview saying, “Take what you want. I’m too busy to cut it.” Guess who didn’t make it into the final round?
. While I love the idea of requesting feedback, I must point out that many review board participants are paid for a day’s work and then leave; they’re not in a position to respond to inquiries. Also, most artists and independent curators make little or no money on their projects, so as much as they might like to, they’re not likely to have the time to give you feedback. 

Deborah Kapoor lays it out: “Rejection is part of being a practicing artist. When I have not gotten something I wanted, I give myself a little time to be sad and get away from my application, but then revisit the document to see how I could tweak or strengthen it. Sometimes review committees will give you feedback for ideas there. I have found that more than anything else, decisions are very subjective, and really a matter of right timing—your work being in front of the eyes of the right person—where there is resonance, a connection. It’s hard to have a formula for that. I think the best bet is to get back in the saddle as you are ready, and earnestly seek out what interests you.”  

What advice would you offer about the selection process? 

If you've been in a decision-making position, please share your insights and advice. If you've been successful in receiving grants or residencies, getting into juried shows, or winning art commissions,  what's the thing that seems to swing deciders in your favor?    

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