Processing (part deux)

I didn't get the grant.

Having worked in the arts for twenty years, I've gotten used to rejection in various forms. Smaller audiences than expected. Fewer donations than required. Submissions ignored or turned down. And as a staff member for multiple organizations over the years, I have written - and have been turned down for - too many grants to count. That said, I've also had what I would call moderate success - on behalf of organizations and as an individual - with granting bodies at all three levels of government and with some private foundations.

However - despite my thorough understanding of the granting process - its competitive nature, that there are no guarantees, that there are always applications more compelling or more qualified than my own - this most recent result stung. In fact, my reaction to the result surprised me. This was a national competition, in one of the most competitive portfolios, and let's face it - there are many musicians across this country working harder at music-making than I am. But still - I felt it was a good application; plus, to do the project properly and pay everyone fairly would take far more cash than I have on hand - which means without grant support, the project is unlikely to happen. I found myself going down what I suspect is a common slippery slope: if this granting body didn't think it was worth funding, will any? Is it actually a good project? Should I be spending time and energy on it at all?

Ultimately, time (and chocolate and wine) has helped me come to relative peace with the result. There are other results still to come in, so there is still potential that the project will proceed, even if in a slightly altered format. And it's good to be forced in some way to look at a project from a variety of angles to ensure it's actually viable (artistically, financially, and more).

Grants play an important role in supporting arts and culture across Canada. Without them, so much incredible art would not get made. At the jazz festival, we're grateful for support from three levels of government and a few private foundations. But, just as with various other sources of funding, there are no guarantees; no project's implementation, whether on an individual or organizational level, can rely solely on the possibility of a positive result from a granting agency. And that can be incredibly frustrating - trying to figure out why one grant was approved while another was not can be a demoralizing game. Here at the festival, we've scratched our heads many times about the result of one application or another; but we've sought feedback, aimed to learn from each experience and moved on.

The real cost of making art is difficult for an artist or an organization to convey. We can demonstrate the cost of the venue rental and materials and marketing, but the time and effort put into the art's creation is much less concrete. And even then - with the numbers all crunched and the values all assessed, the actual cost of the art typically far exceeds the ticket price (or sticker price). I had a conversation with a colleague recently who suggested that one particular show, without additional funding, would have required tickets priced at $400 each to cover all of the costs of the show.

So a-grant-writing we shall go. I've said in the past I have tremendous respect for the time and effort professional artists must put into their craft, which necessarily includes applying for grants. I'll now extend that respect, in the context of this post, to all those arts administrators who devote time and energy to grant writing. Here's wishing for only positive results while knowing, with relative frequency, we'll all be facing results which will take some processing.


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