A creative colleague of mine recently emailed me and asked for some advice about the “barriers” section of grants. The barriers section is the part of the grant where you describe what you are struggling with that the grant will help you with. I did my best to answer her question and thought I would share my response below.
Based on grants I have read through and reviewed in the past, strong grants did not use time and money as barriers. Time and money is a barrier every artist faces. These barriers, although real and relevant, are usually the two barriers that artists list in their proposal narrative. To have a strong grant proposal, think about what other barriers that you are facing as an artist besides time and money. Yup time and money helps, but what else are you going to face as a barrier?
It may help to reframe this section or word. Maybe think of the word barrier as “challenge.” What challenges do you face or what challenges does your work/project/proposal face? And then ask what abilities do you need artistically, financially, experimentally, spatially, do you need that the grant will provide?
It’s a tough question but I will try to demonstrate through my barriers that I had in a grant I had written.
I proposed a solo exhibition of my series of works Beauties Behaving Badly. I demonstrated that I had a lot of business skills by teaching and developing the Solo Exhibitions Program at Altered Esthetics and teaching classes at Artistry. I mentioned my background in installing art through internships and my press and promotional skills through my blog. I identified that as a young entrepreneur and professional artist, I had all of these great skills, but that I had not had the opportunity for a solo exhibition. My barrier was the lack of a solo exhibition (not time or money).
Many exhibit-based proposals are proposing a show but don’t focus on why the show is a challenge/barrier or why the exhibition or event is significant for where you are at in your career.
With your barrier, you want to prove you are already working towards combating the issue/barrier. Grant review panelists like artists who seem responsible (who seem like they will be responsible for using state tax money issued for creative purposes). Prove to the panel that you are working hard to tackle the barriers you outline in the grant already (even if they are very large barriers and you have only taken a few steps forward).
Here are a few more tips for learning more about polishing up your barriers section of a grant proposal:
- Grants and recipients are public record. You can walk into the Arts Board offices and some organizations and look at all of the grant proposals. It really helps to read other proposals. You quickly begin to learn what a strong proposal means and what you need to include and exclude in the proposal to help yourself be a great candidate.
- Some grants workshops and information sessions where you can letter learn how to fill out the application and narrative or ask questions.
- Certain grants allow you to sit in and listen during your review. Those 5-10 minutes of feedback are so important. Go to them. You will learn everything strong and weak in your proposal including the barriers section.