There are many kinds of musicians in Alaska, and I'm the road-seasoned kind. Most of my career has been spent on tour, playing small gigs or house concerts -- and then getting in the car, driving all day, and doing it again. Coffeehouses, village pubs, parks, and backyards are the performance spaces where I feel like myself.
That's why the world of grants and grant applications initially felt distant to me. Every year I used to hear about the Rasmuson Individual Artist Awards, and every year I would think: That's meant for those OTHER musicians. Not for me, passing the hat for coffee and gas money; not for me, booking gigs in strangers' homes on Twitter and driving a thousand miles to get there.
I can't remember exactly when I changed my mind about the Rasmuson IAA application, but it was other artists that changed it. Friends of mine started receiving awards -- friends who wrote pop and rock and folk and electronica, friends who made music that usually fits best in dive bars or dance clubs or around campfires. As I paid more attention to the lists of awardees each year, it became obvious that Rasmuson was interested in a more expansive definition of artist than I had first believed.
My early applications were very clumsy. Writing the artist statement was agony, and I had no idea what to put on (or leave off) the resumé. The first year I got a little ways in and gave up. The second year, I nearly finished writing a project grant -- but I missed the deadline. I remember throwing up my hands in frustration at 12:01am, a few hours from done.
The next year I focused on the application properly, dreaming up an ambitious project: developing an entire stage musical on a vast, abstract topic. It was an absurdly large undertaking for a $7500 award. Looking back now, I would have turned me down -- I had no idea what I was asking for, and I wasn't ready to do it. The committee was right to pass on it, though at the time it hurt to get a no.
But the application forced me to sit down and ask myself what I do and why. It made me articulate exactly where I want to go with my art. Even without winning an award, the process of applying was valuable, almost like a mini-arts-retreat – every attempt put me in better touch with myself, my practice, and my goals.
In 2017 I received the grant I applied for. My project was very focused this time, a better fit for the budget. It was education-oriented: I spent two weeks working with a producer that I admire in a sort of one-on-one master class, learning audio engineering and digital arrangement, exploring music tools I hadn't used in my classical background or my all-acoustic touring life. The grant also allowed me to buy gear to continue working at home, and I test drove my new skills -- like simple MIDI, looping, engineering, and basic mixing -- on subsequent projects.
Am I a “grantable” artist? I've received a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, so I suppose I am, regardless of the fact that my next project was a garage punk EP. A whole lot of other artists can get this kind of institutional support, too, including many who don't think they fit the bill. It turns out that the only culture conflict there was the imaginary one that I let myself buy into.
If I could, I would run around the state of Alaska personally sharing this story with other musicians like me -- musicians who think grants are for other artists. Writing a grant is a specific skill, yes, but it's a learnable skill, and practice leads directly to improvement. Rasmuson has created tons and tons of resources over the years to help artists learn to write grants, including example applications, workshops, and video walkthroughs of the whole process to help artists succeed.
I even asked them directly for help a few times in my own process. They were not only helpful, they were excited to help, and they personally answered my specific questions in time to revise my application. I genuinely believe Rasmuson wants to support Alaskans who feel far from the organized infrastructure of the arts. And I think that trust is well-placed, because some people now working at Rasmuson are former IAA grant recipients themselves, artists who now reach out to other artists for a living.
If any of this resonates with you, no matter what kind of musician or artist you are, I hope you'll consider taking action.
Make applying for a project grant a part of your year, part of your rhythm. You'll get better at it with practice. And you might get a project or fellowship funded one day. And not just from Rasmuson -- there are a lot of granting organizations out there! We’ll be presenting more of them here as opportunities for musicians arise.
If you apply this year, I wish you the best of luck. Artists need support, artists deserve support, and through granting organizations, artists can ask for the support they need.
Details on applying for the Rasmuson Foundation's Individual Artist Awards for Alaskans:
Learn about eligibility and start an application here. Online applications close on March 1st, 2022 (and the process begins again every new year).
Artists can submit early, by Feb. 14th, and get their entire application reviewed in advance, to make sure it's watertight and ready to go before the judging committees. Paper applications are also due on that date.
The next free virtual workshop on applying will be on Tues. Feb. 8th at 12:30pm, presented by the Alaska Native Heritage Center. The workshop is tailored to Alaska Native artists, and open to all. Register here.
If you have any specific questions about your project idea, don't hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions are not only welcome, they're encouraged.
Marian Call is a singer, songwriter, and producer based in Juneau, Alaska.