I see so many great artists, designers, creative entrepreneurs who apply for funding, and after going through the ringer, get denied. It seems that it you don’t fit into a certain stereotype — or aren’t already known — the traditional route of seeking business loans, grants from foundations and various non-profits is almost futile. This is especially true if what you are doing is something new, different, or in an industry/genre that these people aren’t familiar with.
Let’s face it, many people who sit of boards or head up foundations are living in a bubble going for the same kinds of projects time after time. In fact, how many artists or writers get grants or funding consistently? Quite a few! It’s almost as if they’ve proven they got funding from one reputable source, then it’s okay to give the green light because it looks good for the foundation to be in the know, not to mention an opportunity for press. Again, most board members and judges don’t go out of their comfort zone (ask any of them if they know about new art movements, and they don’t), and many really don’t care but are partaking for social cache. Then there are the ones who grant to former colleagues (cough*cough* NEA grants cough*), former students, or as in the case of a Rome Prize juror — their girlfriend. It really is like winning the lottery sometimes and not just based on reputation or quality of what you do. This isn’t to say everyone who gets awarded isn’t deserving, but it can be very spotty at best.
More than a few friends have also applied for “yay small businesses!” grants that are supposed to help the local economy or contribute to culture, but because the industry wasn’t a familiar one, got denied. It’s also hilarious when this happens with the last resort: bank loans. How many programs are there for small businesses, women-owned, minority, arts related? How many of them actually hand you down a loan for something creative that isn’t a total raw deal? Sure it’s good PR for the bank to have these programs, but they are so muddled with bureaucracy that you’d be amazed how many deserving recipients get denied. On the flipside I’ve seen hucksters who claim to be a non-profit, but in fact are a for-profit business, and yet they’ll get awarded funding thanks to friends or grant writers who know how to spin it.
I’ll admit I was incredibly disappointed when I filed for an emergency funds grant for artists. I have my medical bills, and pretty much lost a year of taking care of business, even having to turn down teaching gigs because I was either undergoing radiation or couldn’t walk. This foundation in New York came recommended, not to mention I saw some of their past recipients and thought I had higher quality work, but the grant wasn’t based on the work itself. Or so they claimed. I gave them everything they asked for, they still wanted more. They wanted 3 references — they called them all, and yet still then wanted another 3. After 4 months and a financial paperwork enema, they broke their own rule and wanted to see my work. Oddly they only wanted 2001-2004 (?) and I was flatly denied. This was supposed to be a grant based on medical expenses and lost income, not if you liked my art, if I was part of a certain clique, or if you “got it”. After demanding so much from me to prove I was worthy, they never even responded to my query as to why I got denied. Way to treat artists you supposedly are supporting. I had been denied grants before — no one can seem to decide if I am fine art or illustration — but this was the one that pissed me off the most, because I was still hardly able to move and hadn’t even been able to get to my studio except for one event. They couldn’t even dignify me with a reason. The experience has put me off ever applying for a grant with any non-profit from now on.
Now here’s the funny part: everyone I know who has been denied grant or bank loans went to the internet and got funding. In fact, many got over-funded! Thanks to websites like Kickstarter, funding isn’t based on a small group of old ladies who don’t like nudes in art or a guy in a bad suit looking at your credit score. These are contributions from people who actually get what you are doing, or are just interested and want to be involved. No politics, no bullshit, and if one person isn’t into what you are doing, you don’t get outright denied. An arts foundation that wouldn’t give one friend the time of day? She was able to raise over $10,000 to do her art project. Another friend who was denied all the “yay entrepreneurs!” grants AND a bank loan? She raised over $12,000 to start her business. Yep, they got more from the internet than from the organizations who exist for the purposes of funding.
In the digital age, and with all the things it is rendering obsolete, is “crowdfunding” going to replace these organizations in the long-term?
Please share your stories, because I’m very curious to see where this is all going.