If you’re keen to impact more people through your music, and perhaps increase your earnings, too, then grant funding and partnerships with non-profit organizations can make both possible.
If you have experience with professional grants, my article, Resources for Grantseekers, can immediately help you discover funders and write effective proposals.
But if the grants ecosystem is new to you – for instance if you’re an emerging professional musician or a startup arts organization – many websites will describe the grant cycle in a manner that could hamper your potential to generate grant-worthy projects.
Below, I explain the problematic feature of the conventional grant cycle model and offer an alternative that I conceived through my work as a music entrepreneurship educator and consultant.
After absorbing the information here, even if you’re a novice, you’ll be better prepared to devise and fund arts projects.
The Standard Grant Cycle Model
Conventional representations of the grant cycle generally advise grantseekers to, in the initial stage, develop project ideas. The next stage involves seeking funders.
For emerging artists and organizations, that’s largely backward.
Young professionals first need to understand funder missions, guidelines, and priorities. Lacking that information, they’re far less likely to come up with fundable project ideas.
So, to help grantseekers succeed, I coined The “Funding-First” Grant Cycle.
The Funding-First Grant Cycle
My Funding-First Grant Cycle asks grantseekers to first identify and study funders suited to their disciplines and locations. That is, grantseekers begin by discovering potential funding sources before they hammer out project ideas and plans.
It’s a rigorous process, requiring many hours, oftentimes days, of intensive research.
And it normally turns up plenty of dead ends before it results in discoveries of funders who consistently support specific types of artists and arts organizations.
In time, after grantseekers uncover potential funders and fully grasp their guidelines and grantmaking priorities, grantseekers can then use those constraints to inform the second stage in the funding-first grant cycle: developing project ideas.
The project-development process is typically even more demanding than the funder-identification stage. But, by assimilating funder priorities, grantseekers become empowered to hatch projects that harmonize their own missions with those of their chosen funders, as shown in the following example.
The “Funding-First” Model in Action
Let’s say that a budding classical music organization – a non-profit that supports a string quartet – aspires to launch multiple string quartet concert series in different towns within a single U.S. state. Their aim is to feature their quartet in every concert.
Using the “funding-first” model, they discover potential statewide and local funders, and their research reveals that the funders prioritize arts proposals that feature both diverse performers and inclusive repertoire.
That information would then equip them to come up with proposed concert programs that could involve partnerships with diverse musicians and composers, incorporate world music, be built around social justice themes, and so forth. By applying the funder priorities, the organization creates programs that are more creative, exciting for the performers, and attractive to audiences and funders.
In contrast, if they didn’t study grantmaker priorities first, they might have devoted weeks to mapping out programs that solely consisted of music by the standard European composers that the quartet members studied during their conservatory training; then, after examining grantmaker guidelines, they’d either submit grant proposals with little chance of funding or they’d have to start over to come up with new project ideas.
The Complete “Funding-First” Grant Cycle
Here’s how I depict the complete Funding-First Grant Cycle (click the image to view it larger in a new tab).
Note that, in this article, I only discuss stages one and two of the cycle:
The Constraints of Funder Guidelines Fuel Creativity
Needless to say, formulating projects within the bounds of funder constraints increases our ability to win grants. More remarkably, it also heightens our creativity.
Constraints accelerate creativity because they function like containers and soil in which our creativity can grow.
It’s akin to the ways in which composers are commissioned to write for particular ensembles, and the limits of instrumentation and duration constrain their compositional possibilities yet also propel their music into being.
Likewise, poets may write in restrictive forms and visual artists paint within canvas dimensions, and those boundaries ignite their creative output.
- For more about the creativity-boosting effect of constraints, see the article, “Need to Create? Get a Constraint“, by Jonah Lehrer (Wired, 13 Nov. 2011).
Next Steps for Grant Seekers & Explorers
With the “Funding-First” model in mind, if you’d like to learn more about grants, whether you’re ready to pursue funding or you’re just exploring the grants ecosystem, my article, Partnering with Non-Profits, provides two case examples of ways in which grants can support music performance and education projects.
After absorbing that information, you’ll be armed to dive into the grant education and discovery tools compiled in my post, Resources for Grantseekers. By following the links in that article, you can learn grant-writing techniques and more; you might also zero in on some funders in your region, find ones that support arts, and understand their missions.
With that groundwork completed, I hope that you’ll feel inspired to begin jotting down ideas for attainable arts projects that match your interests and funder priorities.
If you come up with an idea that excites you and aligns with a grantmaker’s guidelines, before applying for any grant, consult a mentor and then a funder representative to refine your project ideas and go over your plans for the entire grant cycle.
- Tip for students: Students are seldom eligible to receive professional grants, but universities and conservatories in the U.S. commonly offer grant programs for students. Such grants may fund student professional development, campus performances, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and community engagement events. If you’re a student, research the grant resources available at your school, and then seek out one or more mentors for help with the inclusive grant cycle.
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Successfully executing the complete grant cycle entails hard work. But the steps you take realizing grant-worthy projects could make lasting impacts on you and your communities.
And because funders are flush with resources and eager to partner with innovative artists and arts organizations, there has never been a more opportune time to generate, fund, and carry out meaningful arts projects.
© 2021 Gerald Klickstein
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