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Get a Grant – a short, powerful application

Are you an artist or designer starting up your own practice? Perhaps the funds can help you on your way with a financial boost for talent development. ‘Check the websites and know that there are friendly people working there who want to contribute their thoughts. Nothing to be afraid of,’ says art teacher and radio curator Femke Dekker during the Get a Grant Event, organized last Thursday by the Creative Industries Fund NL and Mondriaan Fund via Teams. Some 140 participants joined this digital variant of Get a Grant. For the last five years, it has been a recurring event full of tips & tricks about applying for financing from a fund as a starting artist or designer. Moderated by Dekker, artists, designers and fund staff once again talked about opportunities for starters.

‘Write in giant letters on the wall what your greatest passion is’

‘Take the time to find your own voice. What is your position as a maker? Hone your plans, by discussing them with others as well. But most of all: write in giant letters on the wall what your own main goal is, your greatest passion, your plan. And keep that in mind when you make an application.’ This was the advice from performance artist Mylan Hoezen. He graduated from the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen, and in 2019 he received a Stipendium for Emerging Artists from the Mondriaan Fund.

‘Everyone has their own method,’ he says. ‘Before I completed the forms, I filled notebooks with my writing, all the while looking back at the capitals on the wall – my dot on the horizon. My tip is this: get started with your profession and don’t put off submitting an application indefinitely. At that time, I also worked in a bar to earn my money, at all kinds of weird times. It was pretty ‘messy’, but waiting for the right moment makes no sense, because it won’t come. The great advantage of a contribution is that it gives you time to focus on your work and development; it takes your professional practice further.’

Immense variation: from installation, painting and fashion to digital design

Niels Engel, project officer at the Mondriaan Fund, and grants officer Sharvin Ramjan at the Creative Industries Fund NL, say that the two funds complement each other (and sometimes overlap to some extent) when it comes to a contribution for talent development. For pronounced crossovers, the funds jointly have a staff member for Interdisciplinary Projects.

‘We like to keep an open mind and employ a broad definition of artists,’ says Engel. ‘Starters in the first four years of their practice can apply to us, in all possible disciplines, from painting or performance to audiovisual installations. Nor is it exclusively reserved for people with an art academy background. Artists who followed a design education can apply as well. And also starters without this specific educational background. What’s important is that you are able to clearly demonstrate a professional artistic position and practice, and a professional profile.’ Niels Engel tells us that you can apply to the Mondriaan Fund all year round for the Stipendium for Emerging Artists. He has noticed an increase in the number of applications since the coronavirus crisis. ‘This year, in October, there are already 200. Approximately 40% are successful and receive a grant.’

Sharvin Ramjan has this to say: ‘The difference with the Mondriaan Fund is that the Creative Industries Fund NL is specially intended for designers in the first four years of their professional practice. Within this group there is an enormous variety, ranging from fashion, product design and architecture to the application of new technology in digital culture. Every year we have one Talent Development application round, and the deadline is usually in March. Of the 200 or so applications we receive, some 60 go into a second round and between 30 and 40 are awarded grants. Applicants without a diploma from design or art studies can go to the Scout Nights.’

Avoid stumbling blocks: endless texts and exaggerated themes

Applying is one thing; obtaining an award succeeds in a fifth to half of cases, and sometimes seems to be an art in itself. For moderator Femke Dekker, this raises the question: which stumbling blocks should you avoid as an applicant?

Ramjan: ‘Dos and don’ts? I wouldn’t want to name them, because a special application always rises above the patterns of dos and don’ts. Talent development is intended for exploring new avenues, so you shouldn’t be putting on blinkers.’

Engel: ‘Committees are wary of receiving motivations or explanations from artists that seem to go on for ever. It’s better to write something short and powerful. If you’re already struggling to make your point, how can a committee understand clearly? And it’s best not to dream up major themes if you don’t relate to them at all in your work. It’s not a prerequisite to talk about sustainability, for example. The work can just as easily be about matter. Don’t feel obliged to use big words; a committee will soon see through that.

Text and image in one package – compare yourself and be precise

But the point is, as a thinker in images how do you find a short and powerful formulation? Designer Kalle Wolters talks about his method: working together. Since obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Illustration & Animation from the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen, he and seven others are part of the collective Studio Knetterijs. In 2018, Knetterijs received a Talent Development grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL for the special publications the collective produces: magazines that turn into posters or from which postcards and also audio works appear. Wolters has this to say: ‘Clarify your thoughts, your motivation and your plans by discussing them with others and letting each other read them. This was necessary within our collective to sharpen everyone’s role and to name the common identity. But if you work alone as an artist or designer, it is just as important to compare yourself, for example to a colleague who may have been awarded a grant before. Someone who’s not too close to you, because if someone like that understands what you’re saying, it will come across to the committee as well.’

Question from the audience: what about documentation material? Can you refer to a website or provide a link to videos? Niels Engel of the Mondriaan Fund is clear about this: the smartest thing is to upload everything you want to show together with your application, so that all the committee members are provided with your information in one package and do not need to gather information. The same applies to the Creative Industries Fund NL, where you are asked to upload a portfolio in addition to the motivation for your application.

When asked whether examples of good applications are available, moderator Femke Dekker refers to the websites of both funds. No private documents are shared there, but many examples of awarded grants are highlighted. ‘These are inspiring and instructive – have a look at who the people are and seek contact if they appeal to you or you know someone. Colleagues are often willing to help each other. Dare to ask: the funds, but also among yourselves.’