The 5 Cs of (arts) grant applications

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From 2009-2013, in my role as Chair of the Music Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, I assessed over 2000 grant applications. This included reading thousands of pages and listening to countless hours of support materials – which was a rare privilege, and extremely illuminating re. the vast range of musical activity occurring around Australia.

Based on this experience, many people have asked general advice as to how to write grant applications. There is no magic bullet. However, the following points should be borne in mind: what I call the “5 Cs”.

  1.  Clear

Ensure that your written text is to the point. The entire proposal should be easily understandable to a musician from a genre or background unrelated to your own. Or even better, to a member of the general public. Avoid technical jargon as much as possible. If assessors can’t understand the written application, will they be likely to support your project in the meeting?

  1. Concise

There is nothing wrong with information presented in a matter-of-fact, readable manner. More words does not equal a better application.

I recall one round that had 1200+ pages of applications to read. In addition there were hours and hours of support material to listen to. So: avoid waffle – assessors may not have time to appreciate it.

  1. Comprehensive

As an assessor, it’s pretty easy to tell a project that is well considered and of an overall excellent (i.e. fundable) standard. It will typically be achievable rather than speculative. All information necessary to make the project achievable will be included. If there are parts of the application that are vague and/or missing, it’s not helpful to the proposal’s chances.

It is worth trying to imagine the sort of questions you would have about a project if you were an assessor: for example, “who is going to do the arrangement of the string parts”, “who are these ‘Musicians TBC’ and how do we know they will be of an excellent standard”, “what is the recording venue for the project and why is it a good choice for this proposal.”

Budgets are a good way to ensure that you have covered all relevant details necessary for the project to be viable. (And they should be balanced).

Confirmations are important. While it’s often difficult to have venues, artists etc. confirmed when the application is due, another application in the same round probably will. So they will score higher on the Planning criteria, thereby putting your application at a disadvantage. And therefore you will be less likely to be funded.

  1. Criteria

The criteria are always published prior to the grant round closing. Peers are instructed in and before the meeting to assess applications according to the criteria. So, in essence, the funding body is telling you what they are looking for.

Ensure that your application addresses the criteria in a clear and convincing manner. There is no harm in being obvious in this. Use the other questions in the grant application to address the criteria. For example, if you are asked to name the artists you are working with, and one of the assessment criteria is “Quality of key personnel”, explain why these artists are the best people for the project in addition to saying who they are.

(And in case you were wondering, “quality of written expression in application” was never on the list of criteria. So we never funded an application on the English language skills of the applicant.)

  1. Convincing

Typically, grant rounds will be extraordinarily competitive. You may have a fantastic project being proposed – but so will the majority of other applicants. So it is worth making the value of your proposal obvious and explicit. Why is this project worth funding? What is valuable about the proposal in the broader context? (i.e. beyond that you want to do it). Modesty is not necessarily a virtue in grant applications.

If something you are applying for is extremely important, convince the assessors that it is so. Otherwise they will fund something else.

And don’t presume that all assessors will automatically be familiar with the importance of the proposal you are submitting, nor with your history. Don’t take anything for granted.

 

There are a lot of other suggestions I could make:

  • this is hugely important – ensure that your support material is of the highest quality and is relevant to the proposal;
  • talk through the application with the staff prior to submission to ensure it’s all going to be fundable according to published guidelines;
  • see what has been funded in the past including amounts funded;
  • register to be a peer so you can have first hand-experience of what happens in assessment meetings, and get personal experience of the process (and other applications);
  • if not successful the first time, try again after taking any feedback into account and changing the application if necessary.

Please note: these opinions are purely my own, and do not represent any sort of official Australia Council policy or official direction on how to write grant applications.

Two new violin works

Two works for violin and piano have recently been completed.

The first of these is the Violin Concertino: Summer Stories. This work was commissioned by Michael Patterson and Ars Musica Australis. Mike Patterson particularly wanted a work in which the solo violin part was not too difficult – that is, it would be playable by violinists of standard between Grades 7 and A.Mus.A. AMEB levels. The work is subtitled “Summer Stories” because each of its three movements relates in some way to an aspect of summer.
Nuclear explosion

The second new work for violin and piano is Maralinga. Maralinga is a place in the South Australian desert, and was the site for secret British nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s. Not a happy place in Australian history for either the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area, nor the Australian service personnel who were unwittingly used as guinea pigs for the effects of radiation.

Maralinga was written for Lara St. John, who will premiere the piece on 20 March, 2009. It was commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

Kalkadunga at G’Day USA 2009

The final movement of the Kalkadungu (co-composed by and featuring didjeridu virtuoso William Barton) was performed recently as part of the 2009 G’Day USA celebration concerts in Royce Hall, LA and Carnegie Hall, NY.

The performers were William Barton and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arvo Volmer.

The concerts were favourably reviewed, including by the LA Times.

Violin concerto CD released: Lara St. John

A CD containing the recording of my violin concerto has recently been released by Ancalgon, featuring internationally renowned violinist Lara St. John with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sarah Ioannides.

This is a really amazing recording in a number of ways. Firstly the performance is outstanding, as can be expected. Secondly, it is available not just as a normal CD but also in Super CD audio. Thirdly, there are some excellent other pieces on the disc: John Corigliano’s Red Violin Suite and also Liszt’s Totentanz arranged for violin instead of the normal piano by Martin Kennedy and Lara herself.

Audio Excerpts:

Excerpt from “Wind Turbine at Kooragang Island” (first mvt.):

Excerpt from “Westerway” (second mvt.):

Excerpt from “Grand Final Day” (third mvt.):

This disc is available through Amazon.com, through CD retailers worldwide and also through iTunes (search for Hindson in the iTunes store – they even have the complete liner notes).

Moments of Plastic Jubilation (1999)

for piano solo

duration: 5 minutes


Audio recording performed by Katarina Kroslakova.


Performance of Moments of Plastic Jubilation by Sabina Im:


Programme Notes

    “…Techno music, nominated by Hindson as his stylistic starting point, is the sort of music you make when you want to grind your heel – ever so nonchalantly – on the old idea of music as a nobly expressive, humane activity.
    “Its mechanical repetitiveness of figuration and beat is a finger sign to musical as tradition – and, in case you feel like raising a red flag in sympathy, it means the same for the idea of music as revolution. This is music which goes with the spurious sense of immunity a hoon might feel while revving-up a wreck on the way to a fast-food joint; its moments of plastic jubilation, faithfully echoed by Hindson, at best fit the closing shots of the lastest action picture schlock”.

from a review of a Sydney Symphony Orchestra performance of SPEED (also by Matthew Hindson), The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday August 27 1999, page 13

This work for solo piano, Moments of Plastic Jubilation, was written partly in response to the above review, but also as being something of a representative summary of many of the composer¹s beliefs regarding music and its place in contemporary 20th/21st century society.

Whilst the work at times demonstrates musical correlations with certain forms of popular music styles, it was also composed using 1960s-style modular techniques. The work is thus very sectional, and relies more heavily on contrast rather than exclusive motivic development to carry the music forward.

It was commissioned by ABC Classic FM for performance by the superb Australian pianist, Michael Kieran Harvey, as part of the ABC’s Millenium celebrations.

notes by Matthew Hindson.


Reviews


      “EXHILARATION motivated piano duo Michael Kieran Harvey and his sister Bernadette Harvey-Balkus…

Moments Of Plastic Jubilation

      by

enfant terrible

      Matthew Hindson was deliberately provocative, musical leftovers seasoned with wit.” –

Fred Blanks, North Shore Times, 11 April 2001.


      “One of the important developments of music since the 1970s has been the rediscovery of simple repetition… The Australian Virtuosi’s programme on Saturday explored a series of pieces in this style – you might call it post-minimalist, since the rhythmic complexity of these works is far from minimal, as was evident from the two premieres of the evening.

The first was Matthew Hindson’s Moments of Plastic Jubilation for piano solo (Michael Kieran Harvey), on of the expanding group of recent Australian pieces drawing their titles from the words of bad reviews (I hasten to add that your present correspondent has never been immortalised in this way). In this case, Hindson was inspired to a particularly graphic representation of a view once put in this newspaper that techno music grinding its heel on the old idea of music as a nobly, expressive humane activity.

After a few token bars of humane activity, Hindson’s heel-grinding became at times a slightly predictable thrash. There was more here, however, than the simple relishing of bad manners, and despite its excess, effectively realised by Harvey, I didn’t find the style gratuitous. As in many modernist pieces, subjectivity can be effectively expressed by its absence.Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 2001.


      “Thank God for the critic whose complaint about an orchestral piece by young Australian composer Matthew Hindson goaded him into writing

Moments of Plastic Jubilation 1

      , a pastiche of musical snippets creating brilliant flashes of music, with an inspired contemporaneity that Kieran Harvey brought off with a fiery blast of playing. This is the exciting stuff great musical moments are made of.” –

Patricia Kelly, The Courier-Mail, 26 July 2001.


      “My next musical outing an up-to-the-minute recital by Michael Kieran Harvey and Bernadette Harvey-Balkus at the Opera House Studio showed how much Australia has changed since Darcy’s time. The oldest work on their program was an over-long two-piano Suite by Rachmaninov; the rest was skating-on-extremely-thin-ice post-modernism.

… the techno-junk of Matthew Hindson’s solo, Moments Of Plastic Jubilation (all plastic, little jubilation), added nothing to its composer’s reputation … We have to hear this stuff to be reminded of what substantial and significant piano repertoire really is. ” John Carmody, Sun-Herald – Metro, 8 April 2001.


CD Recording Available?

      Not yet. However, a live recording of the piece is available through the

Australian Music Centre library

    .

Other Information

An analysis of this piece with further background info in PDF format is available by clicking here.

 

Also available in a version entitled Plastic Jubilation, for piano and prerecorded part (12 minutes, 2 movements).

 

The opening of Moments of Plastic Jubilationis marked “Clayderman-esque”, in honour of the French pianist, Richard Clayderman. You can see videos of Richard Clayderman at the following:

 

or this one:

Clayderman’s style of pianism is certainly very distinctive and while it used to drive me crazy at school when the librarians played it day in, day out, while I was trying to study, it certainly isn’t his fault.