by Andrew Sutherland

originally published in the December, 2010 issue

Whether you’re an established artist, trying to explore new directions, a mid-career artist, who wants to develop new skills, or an emerging artist looking to create a new work such as a film or an installation, there are thousands of public grants available to Canadian artists.

“For forty years now, we’ve had the mandate of supporting arts for the benefit of all Ontarians,” says Geneviève Vallerand, communications coordinator for the Ontario Arts Council (OAC).

“In recent months, we’ve seen real evidence that speaks to how highly Ontarians value the arts, for the strength and livability of their communities.”

An October 2010 survey commissioned by the OAC showed that 95% of Ontarians believe that the arts enrich their quality of life, and 89% percent believe that if their community lost its arts activities, it would lose something of value. To that end, Canadian consumers spent as much as $22.8 billion on cultural goods and services in 2003, an amount that is greater than spending on tobacco, alcohol and gambling combined.

Both the Ontario and Federal governments offer a wide selection of artists’ grants for practicing artists in a variety of disciplines such as music, visual art, theater, and new media. Last wear, the Ontario Arts Council awarded 51.8 million dollars in grants, and the federally-funded Canada Council for the Arts awarded 146.1 million dollars to individual artists and arts organizations.

Your first grant application can be a bit intimidating, and to get the most out of the program there are a few things you should know to make it easier. Before you start, it’s important to know if you qualify as an artist.

Both the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts have similar criteria to determine if you can be considered a practicing artist.

You must be recognized as a professional, practicing artist by peers who are working in the same field. You must have completed basic training in your chosen field; it can be formal or informal. You must also have spent a significant amount of time practicing your art; for example, you’ve been painting for a few years or have spent several years studying dance or composing music. If you can talk about your practice and your art, you are probably an experienced artist. Finally, do you seek payment for your work? It doesn’t mean you have to earn a living solely from your art, but you at least seek an income for it.

In addition to these criteria, each program has specific requirements depending on what grant you’re applying for, which is why it’s important to know what you want to do, and where your project fits. You may feel that your project could fall into many categories, or is an interdisciplinary piece.

“People ask where their chances will [be best], but the reality is that there is probably only one program that their project will fit in,” says Christian Mondor, an information officer at the Canada Council for the Arts.

“A program officer will situate your application and take a look at what you’re proposing and say something like, ‘Oka, well I think this is the best program for you, this is the best fit for your needs and interests’,” says Geneviève Vallerand.

Start your application early, don’t wait until the day an application is due to give a call to an information officer for additional clarification; they’re there to help and can guide you in the right direction.

“If you as an artist give yourself a three or four week lead time and connect with the program office you’re applying to, you can get sufficient feedback that will make your application as strong as possible,” says Vallerand.

Once you figure out what grant you want to apply for, the real determining factor in qualifying will be how you fill out your application. It’s important to spend plenty of time working with the application; the OAC recommends you start with a rough draft to help you organize your thoughts. Write in your own voice, and show what’s unique about your project, your artistic practice, or the geography or culture related to your art. Focus on the artist’s statement. Think about why you make art, what inspires you and your goals and aspirations. Give a complete description of your project, who your intended audience is, and why your project is important. Also provide a detailed budget, According to the OAC, there’s no such thing as too much financial detail.

Along with your application, you’ll need to send support material, which will depend on the grant you are applying for. If you practice many art forms, send samples of your work that are the most relevant to the type of grant application you are preparing.

Applicants are reviewed by a jury made up of their peers.

“Artists who have expertise in specific areas, visual arts, dance, and theatre, they’re the ones that come together as a group and make an assessment based on the field of submissions,” says Vallerand.

“Every jury is unique and is really the corner stone of our granting.” Last year out of the 9,634 individual applicants to the Canada Council for the Arts, 2,347 individuals received grants. At the OAC of the 6, 592 applications submitted to the OAC, 3,490 were successful.

“In most cases it’s not because the individual isn’t meeting the eligibility criteria although there is a set of standards they need to meet; it’s not about what they’re doing, but about our budget limitations,” says Vallerand.

At the OAC the most commonly applied to are grants for popular music, writer’s work in progress and emerging visual artist grants. “There is an increasing pressure on the programs with new technologies, the ones that make it easier for artists to reach their audience,” says Christian Mondor.

“For musicians we have a program that will help them develop a promotional website, for their band or ensemble. We do the same for visual artists.”

For creative grants, you can only apply for one per fiscal year if you’re an emerging artist, says Mondor. If you’re an established artist, in different disciplines, you can apply for different projects. However an artist might be able to apply for a writing grant and also apply for a travel grant to go and receive an award.

Or a musician can apply for a career development grant and later apply for a touring grant, provided the grants don’t double up the funds for a period of time.

Considering the staggering number of Ontarians who see an inherent value in the arts, there have never been more opportunities for Canadian artists to succeed and not only fulfill their creative dreams but also have an impact on their communities.

“The arts and creative sectors don’t only have an inherent value,” says Vallerand. “It’s been proven time and time again, that the economic contributions of the arts are significant to Ontario’s prosperity.”

For more information about the types of grants available, check out:

Andrew Sutherland is a Toronto based freelance journalist.

Toronto, Canada