13 Ways to Fund Your Art

by Rotimi Agbabiaka

There’s a reason why the starving artist cliche has persisted for so long. Art costs money and arts funding seems to be perpetually vulnerable to such threats as the current administration’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.

As dire as the current situation may seem, theatre artists continue to create and many find support for their work in the generosity of foundations and municipal governments. While the majority of such funding goes to organizations, some grants are designated for individual artists and we at Theatre Bay Area have compiled a list of funding sources available to Bay Area theatre-makers.

The grants on this list have an open application process, which means applicants need not be nominated or invited to apply, and they provide funding for a range of expenses including production costs, research and writing, career development, and living expenses. The varying eligibility requirements of these grants make them available to all kinds of theatre artists and administrators.

Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic, a cinematic shadow play brought to life by San Francisco’s ShadowLight Productions, was funded by a Jim Henson Foundation grant. Illustration by Hamid Rahmanian.

Asian Cultural Council Individual Grants

Who: Artists and scholars residing in Asia or the United States

When: Awarded annually with applications usually due in the fall

How Much: Up to $10,000

The Asian Cultural Council funds artists, scholars, and arts professionals in such fields as Theatre, Dance, and Arts Administration, who wish to conduct research and training projects outside their home country, either in the United States or Asia.

Recent Recipients: Larry Reed of ShadowLight Productions received a 2016 grant to research the indigenous Orang Asli culture in Malaysia.

FYI: This grant does not fund production or touring costs.

The Awesome Foundation For the Arts and Sciences

Who: Awesome people everywhere

When: Awarded monthly with rolling applications

How Much: $1,000

The Awesome Fund is made up of fully autonomous local chapters that provide no-strings-attached micro-grants to support projects deemed “awesome” by each chapter’s “trustees.” There are chapters in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

Recent Recipients: Harris David aka Lil Miss Hot Mess

FYI: You can apply to more than one chapter for the same project and some chapters are based on a theme rather than a location.

Creating Queer Community

Who: LGBT artists

When: Awarded annually. Info sessions and grant writing workshops in July/August with application deadline of late August.

How Much: $500 to $1,500

The CQC program, administered by Queer Cultural Center, annually offers $500 to $1,500 commissions to approximately 20 Bay Area artists to create events for the National Queer Arts Festival, which takes place in San Francisco and Oakland in June. Accepted applicants receive artistic production planning, marketing and financial assistance to ensure their projects succeed, and invaluable lessons on how to apply for grant funding and self-produce their work.

Recent Recipients: Marga Gomez, Celeste Chan and KB Boyce, Peter Griggs

FYI: After devoting the 2016 cycle to projects highlighting past participants in the NQAF, the CQC program returns to accepting open submissions in Summer 2017. Follow QCC’s Facebook page for updates.

House/Full of BlackWomen, a site-specific project by Amara Tabor-Smith and Ellen Sebastian Chang, is funded by Creative Capital and Creative Work Fund. Photo by Robbie Sweeny.

Creative Capital

Who: Artists in all disciplines with at least five years of professional experience

When: Deadlines vary and only certain disciplines are funded each year. Join their email list for announcements of application deadlines.

How Much: Valued at up to $95,000 over several years with up to $50,000 in direct financial support and $45,000 in advisory and professional services

One of the only national nonprofit organizations that awards grants to individual artists through an open application process, Creative Capital solicits “adventurous” ideas and works with recipients on an individualized plan of support meant to last for three to seven years.

Recent Recipients: Ellen Sebastian Chang, Amara Tabor-Smith, Erika Chong Shuch

FYI: Applicants must be at least 25 years old, not a full time student, and a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident. It will be a few years before funding is once again available for performing arts projects.

Creative Work Fund

Who: Artists and nonprofit organizations in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, or Sonoma County

When: Applicant information seminars occur September through November. Letters of Inquiry are usually due by early December.

How Much: $10,000 to $40,000

The Creative Work Fund supports individual artists who partner with a nonprofit organization of any kind to create new art works. Each year, the fund invites artists in two broadly-defined artistic categories to apply. For the 2016–2017 cycle the categories are Literary Arts and Traditional Arts but future cycles will award grants in Performing Arts, Visual Arts, and Media Arts.

Recent Recipients: Rhodessa Jones, Idris Ackamoor, Paul S. Flores

FYI: Artists and organizations may submit one proposal per category per deadline and may receive no more than one Creative Work Fund grant every three years.

The Jim Henson Foundation Grants

Who: Artists creating and developing new works of live puppet theatre

When: Awarded annually. This year’s letter of intent was due on March 13.

How Much: $7,000, $4,000, or $3,000

Each year the Jim Henson Foundation gives $7,000 Production Grants, for the production of new works to be presented in the coming year; $3,000 Workshop Grants for the workshopping of new pieces; and $4,000 Family Grants for the development of new work specifically for children, families, and teenagers.

Recent Recipients: Christine Marie, Larry Reed, Seth Eisen

FYI: Individual artists without 501(c)(3) nonprofit status must apply through a fiscal sponsor, which is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit that will receive and administer the funds on their behalf.

Jonathan Larson Grants

Who: Composers, lyricists, librettists who work in musical theatre

When: Awarded annually. Last year’s application deadline was September 30.

How Much: $10,000

The American Theatre Wing administers this no-strings-attached award, in honor of Rent composer/lyricist/librettist Jonathan Larson, which recognizes and showcases the work of emerging musical theatre artists who work as lyricists, composers, or librettists or any combination of the three.

Recent Recipients: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dave Malloy, Kirsten Childs

FYI: Artists may apply only once per grant cycle. You may apply as part of a team or as an individual applicant.

The MAP (Multi-Arts Production) Fund

Who: Performing artists and organizations

When: Applications for the next round open in Fall 2017

How Much: $10,000 to $45,000

This open-submission grant supports the creation, development, and distribution of original, live performance-based projects that question and challenge the current socio-political climate.

Recent Recipients: Christopher Chen, Yussef El Guindi, Taylor Mac

FYI: Individual artists must partner with a nonprofit organization that can act as a producer, presenter, fiscal sponsor, or community partner.

NALAC (National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures ) Fund for the Arts

Who: US-based Latino artists in all disciplines

When: Awarded annually. 2017 application guidelines will be announced in late Spring 2017.

How Much: $5,000 or $15,000

NFA offers two grant categories that are available to individual artists and ensembles in the Bay Area: the $5,000 Project Grant, which can used for a variety of expenses including production costs, career development, and living expenses, and the $15,000 Master Artist Grant, which supports projects that involve knowledge and skill transfer between a master artist and a mentee artist.

Recent Recipients: Xandra Ibarra, Paul S. Flores, Guillermo Gómez-Peña

FYI: Applicants must be current members of NALAC.

Nathaniel Justiniano’s Do What You Love was funded by an SFAC Individual Artist Commission and a TBA CA$H grant. Photo by Kija Lucas.

San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist Commission

Who: Artists living and working in San Francisco

When: Awarded annually in alternating disciplines. Application deadline is usually October to November.

How Much: Up to $15,000

One of the most generous Bay Area individual artist awards, this SFAC grant supports San Francisco-based artists in creating and presenting new works of art in the city with priority given to work that is rooted in historically underserved communities. Each year the award alternates between two artistic categories: Performing Arts and Visual/Literary/Media Arts. 2017 is a Performing Arts year and the SFAC will hold workshops in August and September to educate prospective applicants.

Recent Recipients: Monique Jenkinson, Nathaniel Justiniano, Sean San José

FYI: Applicants must provide proof of at least two years of recent residence and performance in San Francisco.

Shotgun Players Bridging the Gap Fund

Who: Theater artists aged 35 years and older who have worked on a minimum of two Shotgun Players main-stage productions

When: Awarded annually with an application deadline of June 15

How Much: $1,500 to $7,500

Shotgun Players offers this fund to support the career development of artists who face the growing financial pressures that come with age. $25,000 is divvied up in various amounts and past grants have funded needs as diverse as yoga classes, vocal lessons, and a new laptop.

Recent Recipients: Beth Wilmurt, Cathleen Riddley, Christine Crook

FYI: The application, like many other grants, requires a video work sample so get in the habit of recording your work.

Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Director/Choreographer Observerships

Who: Early to mid-career directors and choreographers

When: Awarded annually. Upcoming deadline is April 16, 2017.

How Much: A weekly stipend of $250 and a travel stipend of up to $500

This program provides emerging directors and choreographers with paid opportunities to observe the work of master directors and choreographers as they rehearse productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and at regional theaters across the country. Once accepted to the program, Observers may apply to any of the 25–30 Observership opportunities offered in any given season.

FYI: The foundation offers other development opportunities that you can learn about by signing up for its Opportunities Bulletin.

Theatre Bay Area CA$H (Creative Assistance for the Small and Hungry)|Theatre

Who: Individual theatre artists and small theatre companies

When: Awarded biannually. Upcoming deadline is May 1, 2017.

How Much: $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for companies

Theatre Bay Area awards this grant in the fall and the spring to support a variety of artistic projects. Recent awards have gone towards such costs as production expenses, research, and writing, with priority given to work that impacts the community and results in some tangible creative activity.

Recent Recipients: Safiya Fredericks, Lisa Hori-Garcia, Andrew Saito

FYI: Applicants need to be members of Theatre Bay Area. Applicants with a dance project must now submit to Dancer’s Group as there is no longer a common application form.