How to find financial support for your art
by Paul Richamond
Artists often have questions about how to raise money either from local businesses, applying for grants, or brainstorming better ways to sell one’s art. In this article, I will talk about raising money from local businesses and community organizations, based on my experiences of seeking support for the creative and artistic projects that I have carried out over my career.
The short answer; build relationships in your community.
To be clear, surviving and thriving as an artist takes a lot of work and persistence, and one way isn’t easier than another. There are just different ways in which artists try to get funding for their projects, their art, or their time.
When nobody knows you
First, let’s start with being a young or emerging artist. You are at a disadvantage, no one knows you or your work. When working with businesses you need to establish yourself for anyone to believe that you will do what you say.
For example, I had produced my Word Festival for three years before I introduced a program booklet that offered ad placements for businesses. I used the funds to subsidize the program booklet and raise money for the festival.
The first year, no one thought anyone would come to a poetry festival. It was even hard for me to find venues to host the event. The second year, I changed the name to the Word Festival, to attract more people since people’s initial response was that they hated poetry.
One thing I learned early on was to not compromise my values and to adapt my offer with an ear to how the community was responding.
"The first year, no one thought anyone would come to a poetry festival. It was even hard for me to find venues to host the event."
Understand what funders need
By the third year, I had enough visibility and presence to get the attention of many local businesses. I was able to incorporate them into the festival by having them become the venues for readings which brought awareness to the community about their businesses.
The Greenfield Solar Store, for example, agreed to be a venue. They cleared an area in the store and set up chairs, people went to the reading and discovered the Solar Store and bought some of the products they offered. They were a venue for every festival after that and placed ads in the program book.
During the fourth year, it was easier to go to all these businesses, banks, and community organizations and ask if they wanted to put an ad in a program book, support a reading, buy books, etc. I also offered to place their names on the festival website, on posters, and in any media outreach that was done creating additional value for them.
"It is all about connections and relationships."
I proved to businesses that my program booklet was going to go out to 700 people. It would be handed out in several towns to help advertise the festival and was being used by people to find out what was going on during the four days of the festival. Their ads would be looked at many times by people who lived near their businesses and it was an affordable way for them to reach their target market. I fulfilled their need to make their business visible to the community and it helped me raise money for my festival.
The key was to understand what the businesses needed and give it to them, and not just focus on what I needed. This success also inspired other businesses who learned about the festival through the program book and their participating business friends. A number of them reached out to see how we could work together.
It is all about connections and relationships.
The summer that poet María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado moved to Western MA, she also learned that she was awarded a 2004 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant in poetry. When she began to give readings as a 2004 MCC Fellow, she was able to leverage that visibility to partner with the Springfield Public Libraries to continue the monthly open mics after the poet Crystal Senter-Brown discontinued doing so to pursue other creative endeavors.
Before Maria Luisa's partnership, she attended the open mics regularly to support Crystal and the open mic readers. The Springfield Public Libraries through former librarian Anna Brandenburg offered the venue and a modest honorarium for María Luisa to host the open mics.
When Anna moved out of the area, María Luisa connected with librarian Matthew Jaquith, who had taken the lead for this type of outreach. From 2005 through 2020, María Luisa developed and submitted ongoing proposals to the Library to offer poetry workshops and curated reading series, all free to the public.
The Library wrote the grants and María Luisa was offered a modest honorarium because the Library staff saw the ongoing benefit to the community; this was captured with attendance records and post-event surveys, two reporting tools that the Library used.
At the same time, María Luisa began to receive offers to facilitate paid poetry workhops and readings in the Pioneer Valley. The long-standing relationship with the Library, however, led to her being named the first Poet Laureate of Springfield, MA (2014-2016). With this ongong support, María Luisa expanded the types of workshops she offers.
What is important here is that even though you are the one who needs the funding, what gets you the money is finding out what the businesses or organizations need, and showing how you will be providing it with your art, performances, and efforts. That is why they want to invest in you, and your ideas, because it translates into investing in themselves.
Make the initial investment
There is a saying “you must spend money to make money” which is particularly hard to do when you don’t have money! You must invest time and spend money before you will be able to ask for financial support from others to pay for your time. You will come across a lot of people who will say they cannot pay you for your art but can offer you ‘good exposure.’
"What gets you the money is finding out what the businesses or organizations need, and showing how you will be providing it with your art, performances, and efforts."
I had people say the same to me. It’s great to get exposure, up to a certain point. After a while, I would say to the person who wanted me to give away my art and my time for free, “People die from exposure.”
While you may not have much money, you have your art, your ability to perform, and your time. These are the resources at your disposal. What you need to learn is how to operate in a way that doesn’t whittle them away with little coming back to you. That is the path to burnout and burning a hole in your finances and your enthusiasm.
While you may not have much money, you have your art, your ability to perform, and your time. These are the resources at your disposal.
By being you and sharing what you can offer to your community, is how you become known as the dancer, the painter, etc., that people turn to or think of when they have a project or need. As a new or emerging artist as was mentioned earlier, you are at a disadvantage since no one knows you.
Becoming known becomes your work. Become known and build relationships with the town, and those in the community you want to do your work. That can’t be emphasized enough, you need to build relationships.
After a few years of running my festival, I started receiving calls from other towns asking if I could create a similar event in their town. My work had paid off. The festival was visible, known, and successful and more connections were being made from one business to another reaching out into other towns. Many times, these connections are what led business owners to introduce me to other people they knew. That put me in contact with the people who make the decisions regarding funding.
"While you may not have much money, you have your art, your ability to perform, and your time. These are the resources at your disposal."
Study your potential funders
Another factor that I found helpful was getting to know timelines for budgets for colleges and community organizations. Similarly, it is important to know what times of the year businesses do the most advertising and when they plan their budgets, so that when you are putting in your proposal you are getting it to them when they are considering their budget, not after they have made these decisions for the year.
Also, many of these organizations have someone who does their community outreach, and finding out who these people are and introducing yourself is important. Before asking for what you need, find out what they need. Research the kinds of events they support, the people they are looking to reach, and know exactly how you meet those needs with your event or performance.
Save any press and publicity you’ve had for your event and share that information when you visit them to show that your event is both real and newsworthy. This is one of the reasons it is harder to get support for a new initiative. They want to know you can make it happen, so have examples that you have been successful.
"Before asking for what you need, find out what they need. Research the kinds of events they support, the people they are looking to reach, and know exactly how you meet those needs with your event or performance."
Make it easy to work with you
Are you easy to work with? Are you demanding? Do you have a reputation for making things complicated? Or does the sponsor think that your events appear to happen easily and without much effort on their part? The sponsor’s effort should start with their agreeing to sponsor you and should end with writing the check, or afterwards opening the thank you card that you send.
They don’t want to put on the event, that is your job. The more you can show that you deliver as promised, that people have enjoyed your events, and praised your work, the easier it is to raise the money you need.
Businesses are busy running their own businesses. They are concerned about bringing customers in their door and what the community thinks of them. If your project brings in more customers, which in my case was by using their stores as venues, they saw and heard people say this was the first time they entered the business, I had them supporting my festival year after year.
It is important to acknowledge the multicultural aspects of our communities. Include that awareness of a multicultural community and issues of diversity and inclusion in your events.
If you can show how your event will help address those issues, and make it possible for the inclusion of diverse artists, performers, and audiences, this increases your chances of being funded. Being inclusive is not always easy and is not limited to ethnicity, but includes gender and other important demographics, like age, income, ability, sexual orientation, and more.
This is where you must put your creativity and networking to work, to see outside of the box for ways to meet all these angles and invite others in. You will be amazed by many ways you can fulfill your goals, and you won’t be making up a story hoping to get funded. Working towards being inclusive will expand your own understanding of the importance of art in our communities and the more that the community comes to understand and experience this, the more they will support your work.
"The more you can show that you deliver as promised, that people have enjoyed your events, and praised your work, the easier it is to raise the money you need."
Slow beginnings & open doors
The number one thing to remember when you start to seek ways to fund your work is not to give up. You will learn from each failed attempt. Go slow in your requests, and don’t expect large amounts your first time out.
If you are adding value, someone will pay attention. Maria’s example above is a good one. Once the organization saw what she made happen, they wanted more, and they realized more money was needed. She didn’t even have to ask to have them to offer more. In her case, the library wrote the grants and helped with fundraising to make her work possible for their constituents.
There is also one major glitch to consider that will be out of your hands; the economy. If there is a recession, market crash, or another surge in the pandemic, most businesses will cut back any spending and will focus on trying to stay alive.
This is not to say that all opportunities dry up. For those who keep their eyes open and brainstorm ideas, there are always open doors. Just be aware that, the landscape is always changing. COVID was a good example of having to reinvent our work thanks to a situation we didn’t see coming.
Good luck, keep creating, trust in yourself, and ask for help. If you don’t ask, there is no way for it to happen.