There are two major aspects of being any type of creative person, in my experience: the challenge of creating the thing and the challenge of getting it seen. If you’re ready to dedicate more time to your craft and put yourself out there, let’s get started.
1. First Steps
To keep this brief, I am focusing on four key areas that can help you get your work seen, supported, and funded: grants and fellowships, residencies, competitions, and social media. By no means an end-all be-all guide, these tips focus on resources for emerging to mid-career creative people.
Here are some basic things you’ll want to gather:
- Your bio
- Samples of your work (images, audio, writing clips, etc.)
- Project description (if you have a specific project in mind)
- Current mailing address
- Website or online portfolio
- Social media handles
First things first: Compile a couple of different versions of your bio and project descriptions before you start applying. For example, I have one bio that focuses on my creative nonfiction writing and another that focuses on my journalism work. Sometimes I combine the two, which is easier to do if I have them at the ready.
Queer, disabled artist and writer Karolyn Gehrig tells Hyperallergic that she sets a reminder on her phone every three months to update her bio. Your bio is ever-evolving — make sure you don’t forget to include any recent events, accolades, or projects.
Ask fellow creatives, friends, and family to read through your bio to make sure that it adequately represents you (and that it doesn’t have any typos). I like to keep three major questions in mind when writing a bio:
- Does this clearly state what I do?
- Do: I’m a journalist and creative nonfiction writer focusing on arts and culture and memoir.
- Maybe Don’t: I’m a sorceress of wordplay who transports readers to other worlds through my holographic imagination (unless you’re applying to a science fiction fellowship).
- Does it mention my most important work?
- Do: Brag about yourself. Put the most important accomplishments first and don’t look back.
- Don’t: Sell yourself short. “I’m an okay writer who has a blog no one really reads but I’d love this opportunity. One time the Los Angeles Times mentioned my podcast so that was cool, I guess.” This isn’t the place to downsize your accomplishments.
- Does it show the direction of my work, and how this opportunity will help?
- Do: Be clear about your goals. If you’re working on a visual art series or a book, mention it if it applies to the opportunity.
- Don’t: Mention unrelated projects in other mediums or any flights of fancy that you are curious about but might not follow.
2. Grants, Fellowships
Many of us dream about winning the lotto or finding a rich patron who falls out of the sky. Alas, we can’t all turn these fantasies into realities. This is where grants and fellowships come into the picture.
For starters, give yourself a good foundation by reading the application through one time to get generally familiar with what you’ll need. Look for uploading requirements. Are your files (artwork images, film clips, etc.) the right resolution? Is your writing sample the right length?
A quick disclaimer: some of the opportunities mentioned here might change over time, so be sure to research each one to see the latest updates on what they might offer.
Programs like the Andy Warhol Arts Writers Grant open up applications each year. There are also plenty of specialized programs that fight against gatekeeping. The Cape New Writers Fellowship, founded by Leo Chu and Steve Tao, mentors emerging writers in film and television from Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
Don’t forget to look for local opportunities as well. Journalist and artist Sarah Mirk told Hyperallergic that she published her book Year of Zines: In Which Sarah Mirk (That’s Me!) Somewhat Obsessively Tries to Make a Zine a Day for a Year with the help of a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant. Although the grant didn’t cover the entire cost of production, it did help her bring the project to fruition.
California-based artists with disabilities can apply for the National Arts & Disability Center grant — a program of the University of California’s Tarjan Center. The city of Glendale’s Arts and Culture Commission offers grants between $3,000 to $15,000 to individual projects as part of the Art Happens Anywhere initiative. New Music USA’s Project Grants support musicians who are creating new music and help them to obtain recording tools and facilitate community outreach projects. The Frank Huntington Beebe Fund for Musicians provides classical musicians who want to study abroad with a fellowship, transportation, and living arrangements.
You can also search for grants related to more general living expenses and needs:
- CERF+ focuses on offering resources to studio artists through emergency readiness and emergency relief grants and loans.
- The Rauschenberg Emergency Grants offer visual and media artists and choreographers grants for medical emergencies.
- The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant gives grants based on both artistic merit and financial need.
Gehrig recommends you research the jury or committee before you apply. “There are some people who are just not going to be receptive to you,” she said. “It sucks but it’s not the worst thing… sometimes it’s just not the right fit.”
Check the websites and CVs of local artists to find opportunities near you; creatives often list the grants they’ve received.
Residencies can give you a unique opportunity to momentarily step away from the everyday things that make your life busy and take up precious time which you could be using to work on your creative projects.
I found my first-ever residency, Idyllwild Writers Week, via the website Submittable. You can search by keywords and follow organizations — and it includes opportunities for all kinds of disciplines, from printmaking to screenwriting to translation. Other sites focus on specific genres, like Call for Entry, a resource for visual artists.
I asked them what they wish they knew before applying to residencies, and here are some of the tips they gave me:
- Research other artists who have attended the residency — this can tell you a lot about if your work is a good fit!
- Research if the residency has been helpful in connecting artists with exhibitions, other residencies, collectors, etc.
- Ask questions about what’s involved: is there a stipend? Is there a show involved? Is it process- or project-based?
- Figure out what you want to get out of it. Do you want to work with a small group? Do you want to start a new project or continue an existing one?
- Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations (not in terms of lodging) for financial need, travel costs, space, extensions to the residency, and technical help in the studio.
Pick up the latest issue of your favorite art mag or visit your usual online sites for opportunities that might come up in their ads or sponsored posts. If you’re into the idea, see if brands have residencies. Don’t forget to search locally: Look into universities near you to see if they might offer opportunities.
Some residency programs bring together creatives from across various disciplines. The Marble House Project in Vermont, for instance, prides itself on creating a multi-disciplinary experience. The organization also offers a culinary residence and family-friendly residence.
If you’re a person with disabilities, see if you can get in contact with the organizers of the residency to make sure it’s accessible. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done in this area, but spaces like the Santa Fe Art Institute are making an effort; the organization’s facility is ADA compliant and they feature two accessible rooms. Gehrig explains that, sadly, discrimination happens when it comes to applying for artistic opportunities as a disabled person.
“If you want to apply to a program like that — that says that they are dedicated to diversity — the best thing to do is to try and find people who have participated in it, in the past, and ask them your questions,” said Gehrig.
Some of these residencies require you to pay for your own travel and lodging, while others might furnish you with resources like a sound studio, film recording studio, and musical instruments for the duration of your residency stay.
I’m a big proponent of creating your own residency, too. See if anyone needs some house sitting (or pet sitting) or look for a cheap short-term rental (if you feel comfortable) and spend the weekend there.
Competitions offer things like money, publication, and exhibition opportunities as their prizes. And there are, thankfully, opportunities that focus on underrepresented groups specifically. Awards like the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award focus specifically on helping women of color writers.
Make sure you check the requirements for entry to see whether you need to submit a new project or if you can submit an existing one. Some competitions and programs focus on a specific medium. The Museum of Arts and Design’s Burke Prize was created for artists working “with a foundation in glass, fiber, clay, metal, or wood.”
Other competitions, however, require nominations. In 2018, the San Francisco-based artist Katherine Vetne, whom I went to grad school with, was selected to participate in an exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Art’s (NMWA). Her work was chosen thanks to national and international committees that work with the museum on everything from supporting women artists to increasing museum membership.
“For any opportunity like this where you have to get chosen, the best way to do it is just to be a good, involved member of the community,” Vetne told Hyperallergic. Her work was nominated after a curator involved in a committee saw her work at a small San Francisco show (it was literally an apartment gallery, Vetne says).
She suggests that artists find out whether there’s a committee in their area (there’s a Northern California NMWA committee, for example). If there is, see if you can find out who belongs to one and reach out to them to introduce yourself and your work. Once you start getting nominated for opportunities like these, especially within the same city, it gets easier to get nominated for others.
Vetne also advises that if you discover a new opportunity but the deadline has already passed, set a reminder on your calendar for next year to check the call for submissions again. Sign up for any newsletters associated with the organization, too.
5. Social Media
Building a digital platform seems like a really annoying thing to worry about when you mostly want to spend your time making art. It’s not a one-fits-all formula either.
Some literary agents want you to have an existing social following, others don’t make it as much of a priority. But if you do want to use the platforms to leverage your visibility and get more opportunities, it’s worth spending some time on.
Writer and illustrator Ludmila Leiva told Hyperallergic that she has connected with brands and art directors through social media. Even a quick DM or mutual follow, she says, can turn into an opportunity.
Look for accounts that highlight people in your practice — as well as in your communities. Leiva says an art director reached out after seeing her work on the account Women Who Draw. She also recommends finding platforms like Working Not Working, an online talent network, and Creative Mornings, a city-specific event for creative people. Search for these geographically, too, so you can network with people near you.
And don’t forget to follow your favorite publications, museums, production companies, you name it. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, for example, has a Tumblr that showcases artist submissions every Friday; the museum also posts some of the accepted submissions on its Instagram account.
Post about your work, your process, your inspirations. Social media can be a great way to get all of these out there, and connect with fellow creators and your future fans. Arts and culture reporter Monica Castillo tells Hyperallergic that Twitter became an important tool for her work, particularly in connecting with editors.
“I’ve had different editors come and ask me [if] I know about this thing because I was tweeting it,” said Castillo. “They also see what kind of work I am promoting out there — not just my own, but also other clips from friends. That might be one way they find new writers as well.”
Editor S.B. Smith asked Ameen if she might have something to submit; Ameen decided to send a piece she wrote during her PhD program that wasn’t intended to be published at first. And now it’s out in the world — proof you never know when the things you’re working on might reach others.
Here are some tools I recommend:
- Later: This scheduling program lets you lay out your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest posts through a monthly or weekly view. The site’s blog also contains some great insights into best practices, too.
- LinkTree: You can have your Instagram and Twitter bio include more than one URL with this service.
- Hootsuite: Another great scheduling tool.
- Lightroom: Easily edit photos on this program.
- SCRL: This tool lets you easily layer images and create carousel graphics.
- Splice: Edit video on your phone and add text and music.
Writer Keah Brown, author of The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love With Me, tells Hyperallergic that you shouldn’t forget to support other creatives on social media, too.
“Nobody just wants to see you posting about your stuff all the time without fostering a community,” said Brown. “A community is the thing that gets people to read your work. It’s a community that gets people to buy books and to support events that you’re doing.”
But it’s also important to talk about the inherent stress, pressure, and unrelenting hustle mentality of social media.
“It’s about finding what works for you, but also giving yourself permission to not have to be on social [media] all the time,” said Leiva. “For all the good it can bring into your creative career, it is notoriously bad for your mental health, so balance is important.”
6. Go forth and apply!
I like to repeat this phrase to myself often: the worst they can say is no.
Applying is hard work. And it requires a level of stubbornness that gets easier as time goes on. The more prestigious awards out there, like the Guggenheim Fellowship, can take years of waiting. Writer Ada Limón received a fellowship in 2020 and tweeted that it was her 13th year of applying. Yup, you read that correctly.
This isn’t to discourage you — it’s to remind you that even the most accomplished artists still get rejected.
“When you’re starting out, sometimes it feels like nothing’s happening or you feel like nothing’s happening for you, but it’s happening for other people.” Vetne said. “[But] just because you don’t get that one opportunity or you don’t get opportunities for a couple years — or however long — doesn’t mean you’re not creating the foundation for something.”
Ameen says it’s important that you invest your time in opportunities you’re truly aligned with. This goes for writing for publications, but also opportunities in general.
“Go where you think your piece would be the strongest, and read different publications,” said Ameen. “Don’t just submit and not read them.”
I’m rooting for you. Go forth and apply. And remember, the most important thing is that you’re creating what you love. I can’t wait to see it.