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Straight Talk on Funding for Queer Art

Straight Talk on Funding for Queer Art
Terence Diamond

Moving to Europe so that you can use rainbow money is not the only solution to get funded as a queer artist.

Queer artists face particular challenges when looking for funding for their work. Artists who aren’t already part of a network of the wealthy and powerful may find it difficult to secure grant funding. Below are some tough facts to get you started, and then we’ll cover a 6-step how-to guide for breaking through the noise and getting the grant of your dreams.

Tough Fact #1: There are No Quick Fixes.

Getting grant funding for your work is a long-term commitment. This comes as a surprise to a lot of young artists, some of whom are under the impression that there are people sitting at desks whose job it is to praise them and shower them with cash. If you are a recent graduate of a BFA or MFA program, while you were in school, you were most likely advised to take a practicum on the business of art. In the class, you learned about seeking grants to support your work. You may have been seduced by the great opportunities at the Pollack Foundation and the Guggenheim Fellowships, The Arch Brown Foundation, The Princess Grace Foundation, and so forth. You may have left the class with a sense of determination to win that first grant. You may have applied to all the foundations you heard about in  class. Even with a pristine proposal, you still probably got turned down. It’s easy to say to yourself, “Well, that was a waste of time.” and pack up your proposal materials under your bed and get a job in the Financial District. But stop!  How can you pick yourself up and try again?

Most foundations with a mission to support the arts are looking to add prestige value by association with an already well-known artist.

Keep in mind that the reason that many emerging queer artists fail at securing grant funding is that they lack a long-term cultivation strategy – a master plan that lays out the steps one needs to take to cultivate a funder. This strategy is grounded in the notion that each proposal submission is the first step of grantseeking.

Tough Fact #2: LGBT funders are a very small group.

Within that group, LGBT arts funders number in the dozens.

According to the latest information from Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the total number of LGBT-friendly foundations in the U.S. is 316. Of that pool, only thirty-four are exclusively LGBT private foundations. Competition is fierce and the stakes are high, so make sure that your proposals are polished and funding strategy is long-view. Again, don’t think about the next six months, think about the next six years.

Tough Fact #3:

The foundation world hates trying new things

Foundations, and the people who run them, are risk-averse. The fact is that most foundations with a mission to support the arts are looking to add prestige value by association with an already well-known artist. To accomplish this, they recruit consultants and program officers that are allegedly experts in their field. These folks are on staff because they (supposedly) have the ability to discern artistic merit and therefore advise their board of trustees on the worth of an artist’s or organization’s project. Unless it is a foundation priority to find and fund emerging or unknown artists, most mainstream foundations give grants to the same group of people, over and over again. There may be a place in their docket for only one or two “unknowns.” As an artist in the New York metro area, you are competing with thousands of other artists for that tiny slice of pie. As a self-identifed LGBT artist you’re vying with the entire LGBT queer community for a sliver. How do you break in?

Keep reading to find out the 6 things Queer Artists absolutely need to know about getting grant funding.

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