these damn applications
We artists constantly apply for grants, shows, residencies, publications, fellowships, festivals.
Is there another problem-solving field where experienced, accomplished professionals put themselves forward to be evaluated and compared dozens of times per year?
I know artists with MacArthur fellowshipsliterally singled out as geniuseswho slog through applications every month.
Already overextended, artists collectively spend millions of hours applying for opportunities we won’t get. To consider the costs of this system, I give you:
four funders and one artist on the application process
funder #1
A foundation wanted to start an artist fellowship and asked me and some other folks to help plan it. (Because using unpaid artist consultants counts as listening to the community.)
I said: Don’t do it. Don’t make a program. Don’t make an application, don’t convene panels. Just go to any one of these fabulous existing fellowships and add $10,000 to each artist’s check.
Those existing fellowships already do applications and outreach and panels. Instead of spending $60,000 in admin to give away $80,000, give the whole $140,000 directly to artists by piggybacking on another fellowship. As a bonus, you won’t reject a hundred artists, and a hundred artists won’t waste time applying.
More dollars! More impact! Less artist time wasted! Less foundation time wasted!
Win win win win!
They didn’t like the idea. They wanted to make an application and write guidelines and convene panels. They wanted to add a staff position. They wanted to spend sixty thousand to give away eighty.
Philanthropists might honk endlessly about maximizing impact and not duplicating existing programs, but that applies to us grantees, not to them.

funder #2
A funder I know received 290 artist applications competing for twenty $1500 grants.
This funder is contributing $30,000 in resource (20 grants x $1500 = $30,000).
What do they extract? Let’s be conservative and say each artist spends eight hours on the application. 290 applications x 8 hours = 2,320 hours.
That’s 2,320 hours of labor—the equivalent of more than a year of full-time work—extracted from an already overtaxed artist community.
If you divide the $30,000 in grants evenly among all the artists, that’s $12.93 per hour 
just to apply. The starting wage at my local Panera is $14.75 an hour.
If your foundation can’t beat Panera’s hourly, you’re not philanthropy, you’re a crap day job we should all quit.

funder #3
On a panel about funding artists, an heir to a family foundation said: “I used to fund in medicine where no one lifts a finger for less than $100,000. But these artists get excited about $5,000 grants, so I'm able have a much bigger footprint in the arts.”
(Footprint, i.e. his foot on our faces.)
For god's sake give artists those $100,000 grants.
Leveraging artist desperation isn't strategy, it's predatory.

funder #4
A funder bragged to me: “Our artist applications were up 20% this year.”
“So did you give more grants?”
“Oh, no. We can’t afford that.”
Huh. Let me get this straight. You’re excited that you now reject 96% of artists instead of 93%. You’re excited that more artists toiled away on your (needlessly complex) application and got nothing in return.
Within the logic of artist funding, this is progress, this is growth.

and one artist
The functional capacity extracted from the artist community by all these applications is staggering. Add to that the stress of applying, the toll of (frequent) rejection, and the distorting mirror of being constantly compared with your colleagues. As fabulous New Orleans artist Ann Glaviano wrote to me recently:
"You talked about building relationships with organizations not as beggars but as partners. But what do you do when the institutional partners insist that you are a beggar; drain your resources through endless email tag and batshit grant processes; infantilize you (grantors are very good at this); and assume they can keep moving pieces around as though you’re not a professional adult with an entire life that is impacted by calendars and artist fee payments?
How do you set boundaries and stay sane while engaging with that culture?
I just got my first national grant. I’m grateful for the support, but I also found the grant-writing season for this funded project profoundly traumatic. My impulse is to run like hell and DIY everything; not sure how to balance, where to compromise.
Am I eating an okay amount of shit or eating shit in what is basically an abusive relationship/abusive system that promises resources but under delivers and takes too much in the process?
The institutional presenting and funding systems put some grotesque burdens on non-salaried artists while positioning themselves as arbiters of quality. We talked a lot about capitalism, but this part of art culture feels worse to me. I can navigate a marketplace. These gatekeepers are something else."

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