This Summer Session we’re going Back to School, focusing on the intersections of artistic practice, education, and the role of various institutions. Today we bring you an excerpt from an article by Sarah Brin, who volunteered with the California Arts Council to review art grant proposals. Brin offers some advice and general findings based on her experience to help future artists find success when they submit grant proposals to the state for their projects. This article was originally published on Medium on April 10, 2016.

Nick Cave. Heard, 2015 (performance still); Detroit, MI. Courtesy of the Artist and ArtNews.

Nick Cave. Heard, 2015 (performance still); Detroit, MI. Courtesy of the Artist and ArtNews.

I just spent three days in a conference room in Sacramento reviewing grants for the California Arts Council. I spent this time with 4 other arts professionals working in different fields. I stayed in a weird hotel and had a modest per diem for eating meals by myself, after which I would take long, aimless walks around the state capitol and think about stuff. I learned a lot during this process, so I’m sharing a few takeaways for artists and would-be grant-writers.

• Our group was responsible for reading a little under 50 applications. Each application has an assigned “main reader” who steers the conversation of each proposal. This person has the floor to set the tone for the discussion of a project. I wouldn’t use a term like “make or break” here, but something less dramatic and slightly less tangible happens.

• I noticed three big themes popping up within the applications we read. I’m simplifying here, but they were: (1) collaborative instrument making, (2) art parades, (3) support for transgender creatives.

• Jargon is the worst. Don’t say something like “our collaborative process has innovative impact around groundbreaking community discourse” unless you take time to unpack what that really means. Terminology does not make you seem fancy, at least not to the people willing to take three days off from work because they really care about which projects get funded by the state.