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Community Supported Art (CSA): Ten Tips for a Successful Artist Proposal

Its time for another season of the extremely popular Community Supported Art CSA Program.  We get a lot of questions regarding what makes a good proposal, what are the jurors looking for and what should be included as work samples.  In an effort to address these questions and to get better proposals, I thought it […]

Its time for another season of the extremely popular Community Supported Art CSA Program.  We get a lot of questions regarding what makes a good proposal, what are the jurors looking for and what should be included as work samples.  In an effort to address these questions and to get better proposals, I thought it was a good time to repost and update a list of tips. While this list is specific to the CSA call, most of it applies to any open call process.

If you prefer a more personal session we are presenting an info session Thursday, December 22nd at the East Lake Library (2727 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN ) at 6pm.  The session is free and hosted by Springboard for the Arts Andy Sturdevant and myself. (Scot Stulen from mnartists.org).  No RSVP needed.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS IS JANUARY 13, 2012

Proposal Tips and Frequently Asked Questions

Based on the four CSA cycles we have organized, here are some tips and other advice for crafting your proposal. Each panel is different, but this tips should help you craft a more competitive proposal. For full information about the program and application visit the submission website.

1. Be clear and specific in your proposal. Do not submit a vague proposal or one which has several projects within it. Pick one, and explain it well.  The jurors do not response well to multiple choice proposals.

2. Be clear with your language. This is not a contest awarding your writing sample…so simplify and make sure your ideas are coming across directly.  A good proposal is written in language that non-artists can understand clearly.

3. Your proposal does not need to be a functional item or have anything to do with agriculture. While the idea for the program is based on a farm CSA model, the art work does NOT need to reference its roots. Likewise, preference is not given to any work that references food culture or agriculture.

4. Can you execute your proposal within the budget, time and scope outlined? Your work samples will be used to judge not only artistic merit, but your ability to reasonably execute your proposal. For example, if you are proposing to make 50 stained glass pieces and your proposal contains work samples of book art projects, the panel will question if you can pull it off a labor intensive project in another medium.  Be realistic.

5. Be reasonable. A thousand dollars is a modest stipend. Be smart and creative in your proposal. Nobody is getting rich by making 50 pieces for $1000. However, this is an amazing marketing vehicle and opportunity to place your work in the hands of paying, eager collectors. View this as a prime marketing device and think of how you can grab a collectors attention and wet their appetite for more.

6. The most successful proposals have offered:

A. High perceived value: The shareholder feels they are getting an amazing piece for the price.

 B. Representative: The proposal relates to the artists main body of work (the shareholder feels they are getting a small piece, which is representative of the artist’s overall work). This also works to your advantage as you are hoping to reach new patrons and sell the type of work you want to produce.

C. Access: The proposal offers access or insight into the artist’s creative process. This is where several of the performing arts proposals have succeeded.

D. Exclusivity: Ignore the word commercial in the description. Its confusing in this context. What we are referring to is some artists who produce multiples in a more production sense (for example a mass produced set of greeting cards). The jurors and shareholders have responded very well to pieces that are fine art objects, unique and not something that they can easily get at another venue. So a unique edition that is exclusive or in some other way unique.

7. Successful proposals consider use and/or presentation. For example, functional ceramics, 2-D work, small sculptures all are easily understandable as to how they will be displayed or find use for the shareholder. A piece that is more un-traditional can be a successful proposal, as long as its use is at least suggested. For example, a selected proposal from last cycle was a collaboration between a textile artist and a photographer to create a bolt of fabric with fruit and vegetable PLU stickers as the pattern. This unique proposal succeed because it was an interesting artwork it left in its raw format, but the artists also included instructions for sewing the fabric into several creations, thus creating a direction for further use. Basically, if you can’t think about how it would be displayed in your home or used as a functional piece it will be problematic for most shareholders.  You want your piece to be the object they want to show all their friends.

8. Consider the presentation. Work does not need to be matted, framed or otherwise finished…and actually for the stipend it would a waste of time and money to do so. What you should consider is creative ways of presenting the pieces that may also function to protect the works. For example, a simple plastic or brown paper wrapper for prints, or foam padding around a ceramic piece with a hand tied bow. These details present well to the panel and also to the shareholder. Don’t confuse these with gimmicks, it’s still about the main work, but consideration of presentation is a part of the overall package.

9. Work Samples. The documentation portion of the proposal can be past work and does not need to be the actual offering. If you have an example of the piece…great, but if not other work samples are fine. A mockup is only needed if you think the proposal needs it and the description is not clear. This is primarily for artists proposing something very different from their regular work and the work samples are not clear.  However, your work samples should support and illustrate your proposal and not confuse the jurors.  For example, if the work samples are all watercolors and the proposal is to do ceramics that would not be a helpful presentation for the jurors.

10. In the end its about the work. Be creative and think about how you would feel if you received your proposed work as part of a share. Maximize the potential of the format, and don’t bite off more than you can handle.