Getting a Grant – Submitting Effective Work Samples

I recently had the pleasure of viewing a video of a close friend’s MFA Thesis Dance Concert.   I was left with one very prominent thought: “This is a great example of a work sample submission for a grant!”

In October 2010 I served as a panelist for Theater Bay Area’s CA$H Grant for Dance.  We viewed every possible kind of work sample that one could imagine.  The videos that were successful were clearly considered an important part of the application.   This seems like common sense, but many applicants focused only on the written application and threw in a DVD of their most current performance without taking time to consider if using this as a work sample will add value to the grant proposal.

The videos that stuck out had the following elements:

Attention grabbing beginnings: If the panel is not engaged within 10 seconds they will not continue to watch.  Out of the 75 work samples we choose to view, only about 10 were fully watched.  It’s no coincidence that the dance companies that were funded submitted high quality videos that we watched in their entirity.

– Details matter.  A video that was thrown together, looks thrown together.  Funders want assurance that their investment will result in quality art.  Show them that you make quality art.

– Context matters. For example, if you are applying for a grant for a project that involves a large group of dancers, submit a work sample that demonstrates you are able to create a well-crafted dance with more than one dancer.

Things to consider when you are choosing and editing your work sample:

– The beginning: The work sample does not have to start at the beginning of the dance:  Que the video to a part of the dance that is attention grabbing, yet still relevant to your proposal.

– Context, Context, Context: Almost every application you will ever apply for is going to ask for a written project description and a history/bio of the choreographer or company.  Please make sure that the video you submit visually supports the writing.

  • Example 1: If your history/bio states that your movement is influenced by Merce Cunningham make sure that your work sample clearly reflects this.
  • Example 2: If your project proposal is to create a work collaborating with a German choreographer, show an example of a collaboration you have engaged in during past work.

This is all easier said than done. As a young artist, it is not the norm to have a large array of high-quality videos to choose from.  Maybe you are applying for a grant and you only have one or two videos to choose from – this is where the “work sample description” section come in!

Most grant applications allow you to include a description of your work sample. Use this!

– The Work Sample Description: The name of the piece, when and where it was performed is fine, but it does not say anything about why you chose to use this particular work sample to support your application.  This section of the grant is often short (1-2 sentences), but try to find a way to use it to your advantage. If this is your only video that you have, be honest and say that, however, it is really important to also find a way to verbally relate what the viewer is watching to what you are proposing; how this is an accurate representation of your specific style as an artist.

Always refer back to your artist history/bio and project description.  Pick out the strongest language that you find – try to relate as much of this language as you can to your work sample.

Have fun and good luck!