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Tips for Applying to the NEA

  • Use your Program Director: NEA Program Directors are very open to
    getting calls from prospective applicants. They can help you craft your
    proposal to better fit NEA guidelines and are generally strong supporters of
    the field. The directors of Artist Communities, Visual Arts and
    Literature have met with the Alliance and are well aware of what the field
    offers to individual artists. They want to help you be successful, so don’t
    hesitate to contact them. You should contact your
    Program Director or Specialist at least a month before the application deadline.
  • Define your project clearly: The NEA is limited to supporting
    projects; however, there are many ways to carve out a portion of your
    regular activities and call it a project. Outreach to a particular
    constituency, support for artists that have never done a residency
    previously, or support for artists from under-represented states are all
    examples of projects.
  • Artistic excellence is key: Half of the score attributed to all
    proposals falls into the artistic excellence category. Since most artists’
    communities are applying for support for artists that have not yet been
    selected, other factors must demonstrate artistic excellence. The following
    are ways to communicate this to the panel:
    1. Representative list of alumni, including media in which they work, titles
      of well-known works, and other identifying characteristics.
    2. List of selection panelists -- since they do not know specifically which
      artists will be served, knowing who will select them is an important
      consideration. If you have closed panels, a representative list of past
      panelists could be acceptable.
    3. Fully describe the support given to artists in residence. This includes
      facilities support, technical support, meals, lodging, travel expenses,
      exhibition/presentation opportunities, stipends, etc. If you provide
      stipends, be sure to indicate all other supports offered. A stipend from a
      program where meals and lodging are provided is very different from a
      stipend at a program where nothing is provided.
    4. Submit strong work samples. A tremendous amount of how your application
      will be viewed depends upon the quality and professionalism of the artist
      work samples provided. It is essential that you submit samples of work
      created at your residency center, not simply slides of your facilities.
  • Describe opportunities to engage with the public: Be sure to indicate
    whether these opportunities are required or optional, planned ahead or
    scheduled last minute. Managing the expectations of artists in this area is
    key. Anecdotal stories from NEA panelists reviewing the applications about
    the past experiences of their artist friends at your community can easily
    kill the prospects of an otherwise good application.
  • Communicate the tangible (or more tangible) results of residency “synergy”:
    Many artists’ communities talk about the synergy that residencies create for
    artists -- between each other, across disciplines, etc. Be sure that if you
    mention this as a benefit of the program you fully describe how this
    manifests itself.
  • Position your program within the field of artists’ communities and the
    broader arts community
    : Panelists are looking for you to explain what makes
    your program unique from all the other applications in front of them. This
    means explaining how you are different from other residency programs, but
    also how what you offer artists is different from “residencies” in schools,
    museums, performing arts centers, etc. The Alliance website is a great tool
    for researching the program details of other artists’ communities, helping
    you to better understand your uniqueness.

Access to Artistic Excellence applications are due mid-March of each year
Guidelines for applications are available online at
www.nea.gov.