The Envelope, Please!

….wherein I end my year as an Artist Fellow with some thoughts about winning grants, applying for grants and  why it’s true that just being nominated (or applying) makes you a winner.

This time last year, I spent many minutes watching for my mailman. End of December is when the Delaware Division of the Arts, and many of its counterparts in other US states, sends out notifications about artist grants awarded for the upcoming year.

In Delaware, individual artist grants come in three sizes–Emerging, Established and Master–and in five disciplines–Visual, Performing, Media, Folk and Literature. Back in August, I  completed the easy (really, it is!) online application and then did what writers are advised to do about submissions:  Hit SEND (or shove the envelope in the slot) and forget about it.

Until Christmas. Because mixed in with gift boxes and holiday cards would be The Envelope.

This is one of those times when size is important. An over-sized manila envelope means you have to fill out various forms and follow certain instructions because, yes, you were awarded a grant! A slim white business envelope means thank-you-for-trying–better-luck-next-time-please-try-again.

I’ve been on both sides of the envelope, as it were. Last year, happily, my envelope was a fattie.

Ten Delaware artists received fellowships in 2009.  Here are my fellow Fellows.

So, what does it mean to be an Artist Fellow?

In practical terms, it means that you are awarded a sum of money (thank you, taxpayers of Delaware!) that allows you to set aside time and resources to focus on a particular project.

In outreach terms, it means your work is showcased in a couple of ways. The Artist Pages noted above is a new venture put up by the DDOA, with narratives written by local writer Christopher Yasiejko

Also, in July, an exhibit of works by Fellowship winners opened at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover and ran through September.

In performance terms, it means you give a public reading. This is the fun part. I was very fortunate to know two other Artist Fellows, and it was extra fortunate that our awards happened to cover the three literary disciplines: Robert Hambling Davis in Creative Non-Fiction; Abby Millager in Poetry; and yours truly in Fiction.

We combined our literary forces and chose to have our public event at the historic Deer Park Tavern (historic because it was cursed by Edgar Allan Poe.) Bob read excerpts from his memoir about growing up in rural Delaware. Abby read a selection of poems both amusing and moving. I read from a short story based on my French Catholic family in Louisiana.  Then we hosted an open mic, and enjoyed the work of other artists brave enough to stand before a crowd and read. Which, if you have ever done it, is no small thing, to share your work live and see/feel/hear the reaction.

Those are the concrete ways a grant helps an artist, but there is also the less  tangible. Receiving a grant is different from being published. Seeing your work in print is a great thing; it means you’ve met the standards and your work has been found worthy of sharing with the public. Sometimes there is even a paycheck involved, but pay or no pay, your name in print is a good, good thing.

A grant is a different type of affirmation, because it’s awarding support before the work is done. It tells you that your idea or project has artistic merit; it also tells you that, in this case, the state of Delaware believes in art and artists and shows that by supporting YOU and your fellow Fellows for the year.

Which brings me back to my “wherein” statement posted at the top. Everyone, in every state, should apply for a grant. First, because it supports the grant system and the organizations that function to assist and promote artists. Second, because the process itself is a boon to you, the artist. How?

1. You will have to focus on a project (a good thing) that you vow to work on for a year.

2..You will have to write a biographical statement (another good thing) that highlights your study or achievements in your field.

3. You will have to develop an Artist Statement (a really good thing) that expresses in writing how this particular project will help you to grow and learn as an Artist.

So, even if the envelope may be small this time, the fact that there’s one in the mail means you helped yourself by applying. Like they say on the Red Carpet, it’s an honor just to be nominated. In this case, it benefits an Artist to give a grant a try.

4 thoughts on “The Envelope, Please!

  1. Wow! I would never have thought of writers as qualifying for artists grants. I’ll have to look into grants in my state. Thank you for posting about this.


    1. Helen, you should investigate! Most states’ arts division or council have grant programs. If your work is historical or has local or regional significance, you can also try humanities and/or historical societies.

      I’ll be posting about residencies and artist colonies in the future. Stay tuned!


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