Creative Capital: Grants for Visual Arts

OVERVIEW: Creative Capital was originally founded in order to "reinvent cultural philanthropy" by applying the principles of venture capital to arts funding and investing for the long term by forming ongoing relationships with the projects it supports. Creative Capital takes an entrepreneurial long view of its funding, so its support goes way beyond just handing money out to worthy recipients. And all of its grants have an open application process, so anyone who meets the eligibility criteria can apply.

IP TAKE: Creative Capital is one of the most unique and dynamic grantmaking institutions in the arts today. Securing its support enables all manner of connections and backing beyond the initial grant, and there are few barriers to entry.

PROFILE: Creative Capital offers grants of up to $50,000 in five main areas of the arts: Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Literature, Film/Video, and "Emerging Fields." Its process of financing projects includes an individualized approach that provides grantees with "sequential financial support and tailored advisory services to enable their project’s success and help them build sustainable careers." Since this process is so uniquely comprehensive, the application cycles for each area are scheduled on a yearly rolling basis, with each grant round opening near the beginning of February. The application is closed until the 2018 cycle.

Creative Capital also holds open calls for grants, so as long as you are a U.S. citizen and a working, non-student artist at least 25 years old, with at least five years of professional experience, you may apply for funding.

Each grant recipient also gets a three to seven-year commitment that involves a high level of engagement between Creative Capital and the artist for that period and includes things such as advisory services, consultations with Artist Services staff, access to its network of arts consultants, Artist Retreats, phone-in clinics, and various promotional activities. These career development services are valued at around $40,000, for a total commitment to each recipient of up to $95,000 per project. The foundation also offers a Professional Development program that helps grantees hone their skills in fundraising, public relations, strategic planning, and marketing.

Creative Capital also offers the Arts Writers Grant Program, which is a program administered in partnership with the Warhol Foundation. The Arts Writers Grant Program is geared specifically toward supporting writers whose work "addresses contemporary visual art," particularly those who write directly about and promote contemporary works of visual art. The breakdown of grant amounts for various areas are as follows:

  • Article writers: $15,000
  • Blogs: $30,000
  • Books: $50,000
  • New and Alternative Media: $15,000
  • Short-Form Writing: $30,000

According to Arts Writers Grant Program Director Pradeep Dalal, it aims to honor and encourage writing about art:

  • that is rigorous, passionate, eloquent, and precise.
  • in which a keen engagement with the present is infused with an appreciation of the historical.
  • that is neither afraid to take a stand nor content to deliver authoritative pronouncements, but serves rather to pose questions and to generate new possibilities for thinking about, seeing, and making art.
  • that is sensitive to both the importance and difficulty of situating aesthetic objects within their broader social and political contexts.
  • that does not dilute or sidestep complex ideas but renders accessible their meaning and value.
  • that creatively challenges the limits of existing conventions without valorizing novelty as an end in itself.

It also looks for artists who "demonstrate bold, inventive and singular ideas in both form and content; are at a catalytic moment in their creative practices and in their approach to their career; are deeply engaged with and rigorously committed to their art forms; have potential for significant artistic and cultural impact; understand the professional landscape of their field; and are generous and demonstrate a readiness to accept the kinds of assistance [Creative Capital] offers."

As Dalal told us, "We would like to help individual writers, as well as impact communities of artists and writers. On the one hand, the primary purpose of the grant is to allow art writers to buy time for their work, especially since so much arts writing is underpaid or unpaid. At a basic level, this is the most direct change that we can make – giving writers the time and means to work on the projects that they most want to work on. On the other hand, we want to support arts writing as a field. We believe that criticism, reviewing, journalism, and scholarship are necessary to the vitality of the arts; they keep conversations and debates alive—and lively—and frame our understanding of what art is, and can be." 

He also adds, "We only give 20 grants each year and it is very competitive—roughly 3 percent of applicants are selected to receive a grant. So I would emphasize the need to remain optimistic, and to apply more than once; the jurors are different each year. Also, the focus of the grant is on arts writing, and so we ask our evaluators to consider the quality of the writing as well as the originality and/or urgency of the project."

Recently, Creative Capital also launched On Our Radar. As Executive Director Ruby Lerner explained to us,"Recognizing that we’re in the privileged position of receiving many more terrific proposals than we can possibly fund, we created On Our Radar. If you make it past our very competitive 'letter of inquiry' round, and progress to the second tier of our evaluative process by being invited to formally apply, you can elect to post a brief project description, your email contact info, and a thumbnail photo of the project to the On Our Radar website. We promote these projects to our entire email list and have seen this create opportunities for artists who we are unable to support with awards, but who we nonetheless recognize as having talent." 

Since its inception, Creative Capital has given some $35 million in financial and advisory support to nearly 580 artists. And since competition can be so fierce, it can be helpful to read founder Ruby Lerner's blog post on Creative Capital's grantmaking process. More on the selection process can also be seen here.

Some of the recent recipients of Creative Capital support include graphic novelist Deb Olin Unferth, author Ben Marcus, poet Jen Bervin, and former Fulbright Scholar Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. Other artists and projects that have received support can be viewed here.

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