Insights from the National Endowment for the Arts Director of State and Regional Partnerships, Laura Scanlan
On Wednesday, June 6, Laura Scanlan briefly visited Phoenix to conduct an NEA Grants workshop. After the workshop, Laura was joined by Jim Ballinger, Director of the Phoenix Art Museum, and Jaime Dempsey, Deputy Director of the Arts Commission. Bob Booker, Executive Director of the Arts Commission, facilitated a discussion about successful (and unsuccessful) applications to the NEA and Arizona Commission on the Arts (ACA). Attendees of the workshop also weighed in.
Dempsey said in the workshop, “A compelling application is clear and concise. Applicants should not assume that a review panel knows anything about their organization and furthermore, should not assume that a review panel automatically agrees with their premise, which is usually that their work is the highest quality and most necessary work in a community. Successful applicants answer the questions they’ve been asked, and make a convincing case for investment.” She went on to say that when applications are unsuccessful, it is most often because applicants simply did not follow directions.
Workshop attendees agreed with Scanlan and Dempsey that one of the best ways to learn what makes an application successful is to volunteer to serve on a review panel for a local or state arts agency.
If you want to serve on the review panel for the National Endowment for the Arts, Scanlan says, “Get to know the discipline director in your area, and get in the database of panelists.” The same goes for the Arts Commission. Express your interest in serving as a review panelist by submitting a panelist nomination form. You can access the panelist nomination form for the ACA, here. If you are interested in serving on a more local level, contact your local arts agency to express your interest.
Director of Alliance for Audience, Matt Lehrman, suggests that when you craft your application, consider that “you are writing for people like you, but they may not know what you’re talking about. Be clear, and ask someone from outside your office or organization – maybe more than one person – to read your grant application. See if they understand your objectives.”
Scanlan and Dempsey agreed that some of the largest mistakes made in applications are either in the area of budget or work samples. They advise that it is best to describe any discrepancies in your budget, and to ensure that work samples submitted with an application directly relate to proposed project.
Scanlan offered that first-time applicants (organizations) to the National Endowment for the Arts should consider applying to the Challenge America category, because the application process is generally less time-consuming and grant announcements are made much closer to the application deadline than in other categories. Instead of being reviewed by an in-person panel process, grant applications in the Challenge America category are sent to readers across the US. Scanlan also noted that only one application is accepted per organization, with the exception of media arts organizations, which can submit in more than one category.
In NEA’s current fiscal year, 17 direct grants have been made in Arizona, for a total investment of $435,000. Additional information regarding the NEA’s grant programs can be found here.
The Arts Commission would like to extend a special thank you to the Phoenix Art Museum for agreeing to host the event at the last minute.