Earlier this week, I joined visual artists Sheila Wyne and Hal Gage, both multiple-time Rasmuson grant awardees, and Rasmuson Program Officer Jayson Smart in a one-hour live broadcast (now archived at YouTube) about how to apply for a Rasmuson Individual Artist Award. The deadline for literary artists is March 1, and the project award and fellowship award amounts have been revised upward, to $7,500 for the project award, and to $18,000 for the fellowship. (Yes, we live in a great state, and are extremely fortunate to have so much great arts support from the Rasmuson Foundation.) Note that the Rasmuson website has many helpful features, including the ability to search other past awards to see who has received the awards in the past, and for what kinds of projects.
Sheila and Hal both shared some helpful thoughts during our discussion. One, that it takes about a month to cobble together an application, so start now--and just take it one piece at a time. Two, that it can be helpful to have a friend or colleague review your artist statement or work sample, for example. (Why not challenge a buddy and make a shared commitment to master the application process together?) Three, that this is one time to put modesty aside. Be bold, trumpet your accomplishments and goals, and also dump the qualifying statements ("If I...I might...I hope to accomplish...," "If I succeed the reader will..."). Be clear and concise, show a logical unity to your plan, including your timeline and budget, and put maximum time into polishing your writing sample, since that is the single most important piece of the application. That's really all there is to it. You have nothing to lose by applying.
But wait, you're thinking. How do I know if I'm ready for Rasmuson grant? Am I far enough along in my "career" to apply? Will my project be the kind they recognize as worth funding? The truth is, you just won't know. You might be worrying whether your needs are specific or lofty enough -- the need to take a month off from freelancing, or to afford more daycare so that you get a break from parenting. But be assured: Rasmuson takes these practical issues seriously. Yes, using money to "buy time" (in addition to materials, project-related travel, and more) is allowed. No, they don't want you to ask for less money--in fact, they have clearly expressed that they want applicants to apply for the maximum amount for each award type.
But what if you don't get the grant? Will you regret the time wasted?
You shouldn't. The process itself can be a major step forward, helping you commit to a larger project, create a timeline and budget, and articulate your own philosophy as an artist. A grant application helps you focus, commit, schedule, visualize, and get better at meeting deadlines. Those are the same skills you need to get published or sell more books.
A few more tips that I've recycled from past blogposts about the Rasmuson application process.
- If you applied in the past, you certainly should apply again. The competition may be different this time around, the judges may have changed (Rasmuson uses a panel that includes out-of-state readers, not always the same ones), or perhaps your most recent writing sample polish will give you an edge this time.
- If you don't get the grant, don't despair. The current acceptance rate is 10%. I applied for one Rasmuson award that I did not receive, but that didn't stop me from applying another time-- and the following time was the charm.
- It's not just about the money. For me, the psychological boost and communal validation of getting a Rasmuson award was the most important part of the prize. It made me feel accepted and hopeful. I was able to write more as a result. Consider this if you're thinking of applying for a different grant that doesn't pay out very much, or entering a writing contest that rewards you in some honorary fashion. It's still worth it to get that pat on the back.
- Don't be shy about asking questions. The approachable people at Rasmuson are more than willing to take phone calls if there is something about the application process that puzzles you. Their goal is to get more Alaskans applying for these grants, not fewer.
And how about the envy that arises when someone else gets a grant or an opportunity that you wanted? (We've all been there. It's the oldest emotion around.) Consider it a healthy indicator of your desire. When the envy really burns, it tells you that you're on the right track. You've been given a glimpse of the person you want to be, or the life that you want, and it's up to you -- not anyone else -- whether or not you achieve your heart's desire. Lose the bitterness, but keep the fire. Good luck! (And feel free to share your own plans or tips here.)