How to Have a Slightly Better Chance at Getting a MAP Grant
This essay was originally published on the ArtistsU blog.
As someone who applied to the MAP Fund many times in the past (and sometimes got it), I learned a lot by sitting on the dance panel panel this year, and I want to share it. Cause I want you all to write the strongest possible proposals and git that money.
The reason I called this “How to Have a Slightly Better Chance” is that the numbers are brutal: 900 LOIs for 39 grants. Only 22% of LOIs even make it to a panel.
Here are my thoughts on making a stronger MAP Fund application:
Knowing how your work is discussed by thought leaders in your field is power. This is gigantically gigantic: there is a conversation about your work. You can learn about that conversation, affect it, and address it in your writing. If you understand how your work is actually seen in your field, you will be much, much better at writing applications and getting resources. So get panel feedback whenever possible. It can hurt, but it’s gold. It allows you to write to the concerns and questions that a panel has. Years ago, the NEA dance director told me the two worst arguments she’d ever witnessed on the NEA dance panel were about my company’s work. The argument was: is this really dance? Hearing that hurt a lot. But I got over it, and I wrote to that question in my NEA applications, talking about movement invention and refinement and choreographic structure. And that question never came up on the panel again.
Have candid conversations about your work with presenters, funders, thinkers, and artists. Ask people who get what you are doing and have some perspective on the national conversation. Again, this is intense, and maybe not for everyone. But knowing where your work actually lives, how it is actually received, will help you write better and get more resource.
Get thought leaders to see your work. As you can imagine, it was hugely helpful if someone on the panel had seen an artist’s work live. There is not a conspiracy in the art world, but there is a group of thought leaders who serve on a lot of panels (I’m not really one of them, more like a Guest Artist). I strongly recommend making a gentle, ongoing plan to get prominent artists, presenters, and leaders to see your work live. In Headlong, the company I worked with for 20 years, there were maybe five important curators/programmers/funders who advocated strongly for our work. More than half of our gigs and opportunities came from these five champions. This doesn’t require cheesy, schmoozy careerism; just give people a chance to see your work. And if they connect with it, give them chances to get close to it.
Invite people to your work. Ask people who are already supporters: who else might be interested? If you’re not in New York City and not performing in New York, you might make special efforts to connect with national leaders. Look for convenings (DanceUSA, NPN, Alternate Roots, TCG). When you hear someone is going to be in town, consider having a showing. Sometimes a presenter or funder will help invite people or even buy a plane ticket if asked.
Today’s emerging leaders will be on the panel in five years. Build relationships with younger folks, people starting out, and they will champion your work as they move up.
You don’t have to do APAP. Some artists’ work thrives in that environment. Ours didn’t.
Yes votes mean more than No votes. Some people won’t champion your work, or even like it. Doesn’t matter too much. A champion or two, a few supporters, makes a huge difference and has more impact than detractors. I find that to be true in general and definitely on the MAP panel: champions outweighed detractors.
Mean it. This is part of Knowing Thyself. Address the guidelines, of course, but don’t reverse-engineer the application (“What do these MAP people want to hear?”). Too many applications were general, not self-aware and specific, writing to some imagined consensus that doesn’t exist. So mean it. Applications that said plainly what matters to the artist were refreshing.
Have people look at your work samples. Work samples make or break most applications. We can’t see our own work. Several times, I said things like, “I’ve seen this artist’s work, and it’s stronger and more interesting than this work sample.” Have people look at your work samples, and where you choose to cue. It’s especially good to have someone who has sat on panels look at them, because those folks will cut through whatever you assume about your work and how it conveys on video.
There is no longer any excuse for low quality videos. Twenty years ago, it was cumbersome and expensive to document work well. It’s not anymore. Build documentation into your budget and your schedule. Low-quality work samples don’t convey the strength of your work and suggest carelessness and lack of follow-through, not things you want associated with your application.
Don’t send highlight reels. MAP sort of allows for edited videos, but I strongly recommend against it. In my experience on panels, we are looking for two things: is something real and vivid happening? And then, does it change? Videos that jump around in time can give me the first, but not the second.
Include extra video, if it’s strong and supports your case. MAP tells you how many minutes panelists will definitely watch, but there were many applications where I watched longer because I wanted to know more. If it’s strong work, consider uploading a 10-minute excerpt, knowing the panel will definitely watch the first five minutes, and maybe longer.
If there’s one theme here, it’s: don’t do it alone. Connect with artists and presenters, have honest conversations, and share proposals and work samples with people before you submit them. Panels are social, a microcosm of the larger community of inquiry in our field. If your craft your proposal in isolation, without dialogue and debate, it won’t move as fluidly and articulately when it reaches a panel.