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N.B. Artists Missing Opportunities to Grow Using Readily Available Grant Money

Saint John-based band Little You Little Me made a record using grant money. From left to right: Corey Bonnevie, Michael Milburn, Geoffrey Smith and Gavin Downes. Image: Little You Little Me, Facebook.

ArtsLink NB is encouraging the province’s artists to take a more business-minded approach to their work, and that starts with chasing the grant money that’s available to them, says the organization’s executive director Gillian Dykeman.

To this end, ArtsLink is holding the Start to Finish Skills Workshops that take artists through all of the steps needed to access professional opportunities and succeed in their careers. The workshops focus on increasing the number of artists pursuing grants and residency opportunities, as well as their ability to succeed with their applications. Workshops are taking place September 11 to 13 in Saint John, Florenceville-Bristol and Sussex.

According to the latest numbers, New Brunswick artists are below the national average when it comes to receiving funding from bodies such as the Canada Council for the Arts. New Brunswick received roughly 1.3 per cent of all Canada Council for the Arts funding in 2014. That’s  $2.77 per capita, far below the national average of $4.01 per capita.

But that’s not because New Brunswick artists aren’t good at what they do.

“We are succeeding at a reasonable rate, it’s almost 50 per cent which is actually pretty high. Of all the applications that go in, almost half succeed,” says Artslink NB executive director Gillian Dykeman. “But [artists] are applying at very low rates. I think there might be an idea in the culture that, ‘oh Canada Council grants are too hard to get,’ or there’s not a clear understanding of what the process of getting one is like.”

It’s this lack of understanding and awareness that Start to Finish hopes to address. The program covers the variety of grant and residency opportunities available to New Brunswick artists, and how to apply and write a good application for these programs. This also includes properly documenting work, which is crucial for a successful application.

It’s heartbreaking when you’re on a jury and you see images from an artist and they’re unclear or you’re not sure what’s going on with them,” says Dykeman. “They’re trying to show their work, but they’ve done a poor job capturing that.”

There’s no question that it takes much more than grant funding to make a living as an artist in New Brunswick. This is something Artslink NB goes deeper with in their Catapult Accelerator program. But Dykeman says applying for grants is a small piece of the bigger picture that helps artists make a living while still doing the work they want to do.

RELATED: N.B. Arts Accelerator Teaches Artists Business Chops

“It’s not something that you can count on year-to-year, by any stretch, but it is this thing that permits you to take creative risks and to make more ambitious project,” she says. “When you’ve got the backing of a grant that says that it’s contingent on you completing a project, you’re way more likely to spend the time doing it.”

Dykeman says she’d like to see New Brunswick reach the national average success rates for Canada Council for the Arts funding, which would garner $3.4-million in for the province. In order to do this, the province needs to continue to work to close the skills gap with artists, which is one of Artslink NB’s main missions.

“There’s no clear understanding of the process that it is. As an artist, a lot of the time your practice might be 50 per cent paperwork and not all artists realize that. If they’re not putting the time in to do their paperwork, to apply for opportunities, to apply for grants, to promote their work, then they’re not going to be able to circulate what they’re putting their heart and soul into the rest of the time,” says Dykeman.

“We want to try to equip people with that kind of information and knowledge so that they know that it’s an option and they start to exercise that option.”

Since there are grants and residencies for all mediums of art out there, the Start to Finish workshops are open to all artists, whether it be visual, film, writing or music.

Saint John band makes a record using grants

Saint John-based musician Geoffrey Smith knows first hand how applying for grants can help make a project come to fruition. His band, Little You Little Me, was able to tour and release an album on vinyl thanks to available grants. He says without the funding, the record wouldn’t have made onto wax.

“I don’t think it would have happened realistically,” he says. “I don’t think we would have been able to actually get the vinyl done.”

Though applying for grants may be an intimidating experience for artists at first, Smith says it’s important for New Brunswick artists to take the leap because it helps create a more vibrant arts and culture scene in their communities.

“If you don’t have bands or visual artists or whatever it happens to be, then your culture is going to die or become boring with everyone staring at their cell phones,” he says.

“I think anyone anywhere, any person living here, we have our own experiences to show and I think it’s important for there to be a representation of people who are doing creative things within the place they’re living in.”