COUNTDOWN TO MEMORY #17: I Try, Try Again How I approach grant applications

Amy Stacey Curtis - Pyragraph

T-Minus 17! This post is part of an 18-post countdown to Amy Stacey Curtis’ next and final solo biennial in Maine mill space. After MEMORY, her upcoming biennial, she will have completed nine solo biennials over 18 years, with 81 massive interactive works, all told. She’s been unloading her process on Pyragraph as we countdown to MEMORY. Read the series here.

I’ve raised 30% of the funds needed for my art through grants. I’m about to begin the 18th year of what will have been an 18-year art project, nine solo-biennial installation exhibits in Maine’s vast abandoned mill spaces.

To raise this 30% for these uber exhibits, I’ve submitted 63 grant applications (between 2001 and 2015). So far I’ve received 13 grants (or, for about 20% of these submissions, I’ve gotten in the mail or my inbox “congratulations” rather than “sorry”). And, this is a pretty good result!

As the years passed, each time I applied for the same grant my answers got richer.

But, I’m still trying for my first “big” national grant. Most grants I’ve received have been small-ish to large-ish state or regional grants ranging from $500 to $13,000 (most in the $1,000-$2,000 range). The big national grants play “harder to get.”

Among other nationally based foundations, I’ve tried five times for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, six times for Creative Capital, and I’m waiting to hear if I’ll receive the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship—if eight times is the charm.

I’ve kept trying for these big national grants, because:

  • It can’t hurt to try.
  • It can only hurt if I don’t try.
  • Any grant writing is good practice.
  • Each time I apply, my work is exposed to new-to-me curators and directors, whether awarded or not.
  • Some day it will be my work’s turn.

With the “sorry”s I’ve received, I know it’s not something I did wrong, nor that my work wasn’t strong enough. For every excellent application—all directions followed, deadlines met, details covered, feasibility considered; and each a compelling, wonderful idea deserving of a grant—there are tens, even hundreds, of equally deserving applicants. The foundations have only so many grants they give.

When I started this 18-year work in 1998, I still had two years of formal education to complete. But, as soon as I graduated, I began applying for grants—even the big ones.

I figured each time I applied, not only would my chances improve, but also my understanding of my work. These first grant questions would force me to think about my work in ways I hadn’t.

Then, as the years passed, each time I applied for the same grant my answers got richer, thinking more about the whys with each submission.

Even now I start from scratch (I never copy and paste last year’s answers). I try to improve my language. I try to expand upon my work’s significance. And, I wonder: Will this be my work’s turn?

I try, try again. Anyhoo.

As the end of my 18-year Maine mill project approaches, I’m losing my “some-day-it-will-be-my-work’s-turn,” “it-will-be-time-when-it’s-time” perspective. I’m hearing a whiny, impatient un-presence in my head that sounds like Luke Skywalker when he couldn’t pick up power converters. And, I don’t like it.

I wrote in my previous post that once done with my 18-year opus, I would “speed into whatever road lies ahead no matter what twists no matter what turns.” Well, my “worrying-about-the-future” Luke is hoping the road includes more exhibits beyond my state’s line, maybe even far beyond.

It seems my “not-being-right-here-right-now” Luke has it in his head I might not achieve these “whatever-road” exhibits if not awarded one of these “big” grants, if I’m not “taken in” by the larger art fold—that having just accomplished what I will have accomplished in the state I love, might not be enough.

Does my Luke think I need one of these big grants to prove my work matters? To prove that my work is “big” too? Or is my Luke just having a temporary freak-out, a kind of “mid-career crisis,” a “what-does-it-all-mean,” because the end of my big project is almost here.

Either way, I just want to shake him. Because I know, throughout the rest of my brain, that no matter what happens after, what I will have created now with this big project, will have had, and will continue to have, worth and meaning, and that’s big enough for me.

So, when these 18 years are all “said and done,” part of my speeding ahead, part of the twists and turns I take, will be getting back to trying, and trying again.

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About Amy Stacey Curtis

In 1998, artist and writer Amy Stacey Curtis began an 18-year commitment to interactive installation art, nine solo-biennial exhibits from 2000 to 2016. In the end, Amy will have installed 81 large-in-scope, participatory works in the vast mills of eight or nine Maine towns. Each solo-biennial exhibit is a 22-month process, each exhibit exploring a different theme while requiring her audience to perpetuate its nine unique installations. As part of each biennial process, Amy scrubs by hand its respective mill; the spaces averaging 25,000 square feet.

The Maine Arts Commission’s 2005 Individual Artist Fellow for Visual Art, and recipient of numerous grants including those from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Amy committed to this ambitious and ephemeral project to convey that everyone and everything affects everyone and everything, no matter how small or fleeting the impact. MEMORY, Amy’s last solo biennial, will be open for participation September 17-October 28, 2016 in a Maine mill to be announced. MEMORY will be worth the trip from wherever you are.

Amy (and the thousands of objects she stores to mount her massive exhibits) lives with her husband Bill in Lyman, Maine.


  1. on February 12, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Persistence is important. They might deny your grant 4 years in a row, but if you’re improving along the way and they weren’t satisfied with the grant choices they made previously, that only increases your chances of getting it on the 5th time.

    I don’t have any experience getting grants, but I am glad the government still supports art and services like NPR. I can’t think of a single news radio station I would be okay listening to if NPR didn’t exist.

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