DIY grant-writing advice for your next project
Grant writing can be both intimidating and empowering, tiresome and exhilarating, especially if you are new to the process. I found this true when I started my first grant proposal 15 years ago for Richmond-based Ground Zero Dance, and it’s still true for me today. Yet grants are a key to financial support for your organization, as well as professional validation. In crafting a well-written proposal, you produce not just a clear case for funding, but a detailed road map for the realization of your project.
Dream, In Detail
Your idea should drive your grant seeking—not the other way around. You may end up tailoring your project to better fit a grant’s requirements, but you shouldn’t alter it beyond recognition. Lay out the idea clearly before you begin looking for grantors whose interests intersect with yours. Are you focusing on a particular population or issue? Use those keywords (i.e., “gender,” “youth”) in your search for grantors. Maria Bauman, former associate artistic director of Urban Bush Women who now runs her own dance company, has written many successful proposals and served on grant-review panels. “Start as local as possible,” she says. “You’ll have a better chance with a regional opportunity than competing for national attention.”
Above: Maria Bauman suggests inviting a grantor to see your work. Photo by David B. Smith, Courtesy Bauman.
Read up on the mission and programs of any granting organization that looks promising. Does your mission fit with theirs? What other projects have they funded and how do those compare with yours? What size grants are typically offered?
Most grant applications request some combination of the following: your mission and brief history of your organization, detailed project description (often called the “narrative”), project budget, biographies of key personnel and work samples. Generally, the narrative and budget make up the bulk of a proposal.
Once you’ve completed a draft, ask several colleagues—particularly any with grant-writing experience—to offer feedback. Proofread carefully, and be attentive to length and formatting requirements. After submitting your proposal, be patient: Most grantors give a time frame for responses, and following up will not help your chances.
If your proposal is successful, use your narrative and budget as key parts of your implementation plan. At the end, look at your actual expenses and revenue and compare them to the initial budget. Did things cost more or less than you thought? Note any reporting requirements to complete at the end of the project, and send thank-you notes to staff and directors of the granting agency. If your project is not funded, contact the grantor to ask for feedback. Some will provide the reviewer’s comments in the rejection letter, giving you more information for the next proposal.
Get Real: The Budget
I’ve heard grant review panelists confess that the first thing they read in any proposal is the budget, since it’s a clear guide for translating the project idea into reality. A few things to keep in mind:
Be realistic. Look up what things cost—materials, supplies, postage—don’t just guess. Over-budgeting can erode a grantor’s trust when you file a final report and haven’t spent all the funds you requested. Under-budgeting can impact the success of your project.
Be specific, within reason. Don’t just list “Personnel” with one big number; add dancers, lighting designer, technical director, etc., with each associated fee. Under “Hospitality,” however, just list “post-performance reception” with an amount, rather than a detailed menu of hors d’oeuvres.
Pay yourself. Include a budget line in “Personnel” for yourself as grant writer or administrator. Even a modest fee shows you respect the work put in by yourself and others.
List diverse income sources. Most grantors don’t want to fund an entire project. What will your other sources of revenue be? Ticket sales? A Kickstarter campaign? Private donations?
▪ Use positive language, like “will” instead of “would.” You want to convey dedication to the project’s ultimate success.
▪ Contact the organization with questions. “Applying cold can work,” says Bauman, “but is less likely than if you’ve gotten a little more information, or a staff person from the organization knows your work.”
▪ Don’t mention partners or collaborators if you haven’t talked with them yet. You need to have at least broached the idea with anyone you’re including in your proposal.
▪ “Have someone read what you wrote and make sure they can understand the project,” says Bauman. “You can see what parts you illustrated clearly and what you might want to be more explicit about.”
Dance/USA Keeps an updated list of current funding opportunities (local to national), with deadlines and many other resources: danceusa.org/opportunitiesforfunding
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Provides a directory of state and regional arts agencies with contact information: nasaa-arts.org
U.S. Regional Arts Organizations Lists regional funders, such as Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, with descriptions and web addresses: usregionalarts.org/funding.htm
Foundation Center Offers free or paid search of a substantial database of foundations with areas of funding interest, in addition to resources on national trends, grant writing and more: foundationcenter.org
From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.