Grant Barriers: How to Tackle Your Creative Hurdles in Writing

Grant Barriers: How to Tackle Your Creative Hurdles in Writing

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. Happy reading!

For barriers, the basic concept of getting a grant is that you need more time and more money to complete project X. Based on grants I have read through and reviewed this past fall, the strong grants did not use time and money as barriers. Time and money is a barrier every artist faces and it is 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 now that you get those with the grant, 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 etc. do you need that the grant will provide?

It’s a tough question but I will try to demonstrate through my two barriers that I had in grants I have 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 the Bloomington Theatre and Art Center. I mentioned my background in installing art through internships and my press and promotional skills through my blog and a few other examples. I identified that as 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 lack of a solo exhibition (not time or money). Many 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.

The grant I have written and I am submitting this winter is with my Naughty Neighborhood series. I am doing a similar approach. My work is consistently using themes from pop culture and media. Although the images are twisted in to my style and are used as a parody for social commentary. I have taken precautions to help combat any legal issues such as forming an LLC, getting a lawyer and not spreading my images everywhere or overexposing them. I am proposing to have an in-studio exhibition where the grant will provide a safe space for my work. Then I will be opening up my studio during AAW in a building that is not very popular for tours to help increase the scope of arts in the Northeast Arts District.

So, 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 using Tax money for creative purposes). Prove to the panel that you are working hard and towards the goals and working to tackle the barriers you outline in the grant already (even if they are very large barriers). A great section of the grant to help show this is in the background section. Try to show that even if you don’t get funded that what you are proposing, you would do your project regardless.

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 MRAC office or MN State Arts Board 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. rs.
  • MRAC has Arts Training workshops from Sept – May which have a variety of business topics. 
  • MN Council of Non-Profits has a grant writing series of workshops too. These cost money and tend to be focused towards non-profits, but the basics are still there and still valuable.
  • Certain grants allow you to sit in during your review. Those 8 minutes of feedback are so important. Go to them. You will learn everything strong and weak in your proposal including the barriers section.
  • If the grant has an application info session I would go and listen to the entire presentation, even if you have applied to the grant in previous years. Small details change annually. (For example this year, Artist Initiative Applicants can no longer travel outside of MN to complete their project). Listen to them talk about the barriers section, and go ahead and ask them to elaborate on it. I think the barriers section is skimmed over a lot.


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