But incredibly enlightening. Today I took off work because the DCA was reviewing my CAAP grant application in a public meeting session at the Chicago Cultural Center. The grant is for training with master mask maker and puppeteer Jeff Semmerling to improve my skills at making masks and puppets to build the stuff we'll need for "The Last Unicorn." (I blogged about it a bit earlier here.) I've actually started training with Jeff already and I'm learning a lot (I've got a couple of masks built but have to paint them; I'll be sure to upload photos once they're done. These aren't masks for "The Last Unicorn," but I think my next couple of masks will be used in "Unicorn" if they come out good enough.) Everyone's application for this grant is evaluated by a panel of artists and voted on- and their discussion of every application is public! Anyone who wants to can sit in, and if you show up at the right time you'll hear your own application discussed. While I was a bit nervous about that at first (especially in light of the fact that while I was there, I was decidedly the only observer), it wound up being a tremendously helpful process. I learned a lot about what actually gets discussed by the evaluators in the room- here's some general tips:
- Always be as specific as possible in a grant application. Don't just say what you want to accomplish, be very specific about how you'll accomplish it.
-Avoid hyperbole, but be upbeat and positive. Beware the cliche answer that you can all too easily imagine every other grant applicant using.
-Theatre is a moving, breathing medium. If a grant lets you submit a work sample, as a theatre artist you are making a MUCH stronger case for yourself if you submit video instead of photos.
-And above all: if you plan to use a CAAP grant to fund new headshots, know that many, many, MANY other people are applying for exactly the same thing, and that the CAAP grant isn't necessarily geared very well towards funding that kind of purchase. I swear, I was only there a couple of hours and at least half of the applications were for new headshots! Hooray for whatever two people out of the vast pool of identical applications actually wind up getting a grant for that, but it's not a good way to stand out.
After hearing the discussion of my project, I feel a lot more confident about my chances- hearing the discussion helped me gain confidence in my ability to write a grant application well, and speak clearly and confidently about by goals and the steps I'm taking to achieve them. Most of what they had to say about my application seemed to be very positive- I don't know if any of them were being diplomatic because I was in the room, but I got a really good vibe. Maybe they were just relieved that I wasn't asking for funding for new headshots. I also got a few items I should consider for improving future grant applications. We'll see what happens- the discussion is public but their actual votes and rating are private, and I only got to see a very small portion of the total discussion. Still, it looks like I decidedly remain in the running. Keep your fingers crossed for me! And thanks to the DCA for letting its applicants sit in. I wish everyone whose application was evaluated that day had been there; it would have been tremendously instructive.