The Art of (a Grant Making) Style

Hello everyone!

My name is Anne Schruth and I have the pleasure of working directly with individual foreign-born artists as they design and implement cultural events and exhibitions in the Vilcek Foundation’s gallery space. I am thrilled for this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you about this one-on-one approach and how it is just one example of that thing we are all on the look out for – the most effective grant making style.

And let’s face it – finding the best grant making style for your organization is, more often than not, a challenge. You need just the right fit.

Figuring out where your organization falls within the wide spectrum of approaches to grant making means an honest assessment of your resources and strengths, as well as your limitations, in order to best serve the needs of the grantee and meet your core mission goal.

Take the Telluride Council for the Arts and Humanities, for instance. Through their Small Grants and Fellowships program, the council awards grants of up to $2,000 to individual artists living in San Miguel County to develop, complete or present work, which must be presented and/or made public to the surrounding community. With this program, to achieve their mission goal, the council need not provide comprehensive grants to a few individual artists. Instead, the council harnesses a limited pool of funds to cast the net as widely as possible, providing modest support for a larger group of artists with the purpose of enriching the cultural landscape of San Miguel County.

On the other end of the gamut is the one-on-one approach to supporting artists. However, when working with an artist so closely – from that first flash of inspiration to the closing reception, and everything in between– it is key to balance the needs and expectations of the artist against one’s own resources. And in navigating this artist-organization collaboration, setting the terms of the project at the start is crucial. Whether you use a standardized grantee agreement or one custom-built around specific outcomes and deliverables, everyone needs to be on the same page. When will the artwork be completed? How much will the materials cost? And so on. In building this framework for a future collaboration, I have found an invaluable resource in the services of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA), a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing affordable legal services for the arts community.

Once the logistics of the project are squared away, the rewards of working side by side with individual artists come into focus. Being an operating foundation that does not accept unsolicited project proposals for our gallery space, we have the opportunity to shape our exhibitions and cultural events from within, focusing our time and resources on one or two artists per year for fully developed and publicized artistic projects, start to finish. In our efforts to spotlight the contributions of immigrant artists and scientists to U.S. society, we have also found that the work produced by the artists is only a piece of the story. It is, in part, the personal experiences of the featured foreign-born individuals that leave a lasting impression on the audience. For this reason, our one-on-one approach to supporting artists suits our goals – engaging the personal experiences of one artist at a time over the course of a long-term collaboration in order to tell a wider story about the benefits of cultural diversity. This insight also prompts us to keep a close eye on diversity. In coordinating the events and exhibitions for the Vilcek Foundation Gallery, I am ever watchful of the diversity of our programs, both in the medium of work and also the ethnic heritage of the artist, ensuring that our resources, over time, provide a platform for as broad a community of individuals as possible.

So, stepping back and scanning this array of possibilities, the big question for your organization is – whether you are seasoned or start-up – focusing on immigration or environmentalism – what lessons have you learned from shaping and/or managing your own nuanced grant making style?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

Anne Schruth
Events and Programs Assistant