Because, truly, what is it even?
Whether for a grant, a residency, fellowship, or cult—chances are good, as an artist, that you will be asked to deliver the entirety of your hopes, dreams, ethos, and personality in around 500 words or less.
To try and quell the voices in my own head, I sat down with Chie Morita, the Deputy Director at Town Stages, Co-founder of the Forge NYC residency programs, and the Program Director for the Sokoloff Arts Creative Fellowship, to try and get some clarity around what the people reading your applications are actually looking for. Spoiler: there is no magic blueprint ahead. I know. I was disappointed too.
Here’s what Chie had to offer:
1.) Be Succinct
When I’m looking at an artist statement, I like a paragraph at best. Less is more. If you can pack a lot of meaning and integrity into not a lot of words, it’s going to speak volumes for you—especially if you are applying as a writer.
A good way to approach it, I think, is to write the one sentence version of your artistic statement first—then extrapolate. Chances are that sentence is going to include some buzz-words and interpretive language—great. Now interpret them.
2.) Make it Tailored, Make it Specific
You would never copy and paste the same cover letter to every job you apply for outside of the arts, so why would you here? Do your research. It’s evident when I get an application that didn’t take the time to actually find out what they’re applying for. So, please, take the time.
Once you’ve done that, draw on the parts of your personal artistry that match what you’re applying for and highlight them. Draw my attention to why you are right for my program—not just what makes you a great artist. Show me the overlap in our Venn Diagram. Tailoring doesn’t mean you’re being dishonest or you’re sucking up, it means that you’re serious about the opportunity and you’ve taken the time to show us how you’ll utilize what we’re offering.
3.) Point of View
This is a big one. Point of view is discussed ad nauseam on the other side of the table, but it boils down to—why? Why now? What perspective do you have as an artist that nobody else has? Make yourself relevant to the world we currently live in and tell us how you are in conversation with it.
Tell us about the tables you want to flip today and why you are the one to flip them.
Your point of view today will likely change—often. The world is changing. That’s okay. Embrace it. For me, a good artist statement is something that you wouldn’t have been able to write a year ago—and might very well come with an expiration date.
Personality is similar to POV, but instead of asking why, you’re asking how. How do you bring your unique perspective and humanity to your art? Think of it as an introduction. Show me who you are—the real you. As artists, we are empowered to find creative solutions. Tell me your solutions and make your personality self-evident.
You told me you want to flip a table, but will you be flipping it in a tutu or a tux?
Maybe the most important on the list. It’s as simple: be honest. I have to believe the words you’re writing. You can pack as many buzz-words or ideas or thought-provoking mission statements in, but readers can tell when they are being pandered too. If your goal isn’t to dismantle the patriarchy today, why are you writing about it?
Truth, for me, is so much better than trendy. Embrace your real passions instead of what you think I want to hear. Trust me, it will get you farther than trying to shoe-horn yourself into a box you would never fit in anyway.
6.) Allow Yourself to Be Prepared
Look at the deadline and give yourself plenty of time. Craft the application that you actually want me to see. If you have access to the full list of questions in the application, draft it outside of the software so that you have plenty of space to proof. If you are really on top of your shit, ask someone to read it for you. I know. Revolutionary.
Lastly, always save past applications. You might want access to your old content. Sometimes “past you” crafted some gems that current you will be thankful for. It’s not re-using, it’s recycling and updating for the present moment. To summarize, if you invest in the application, I’ll be more likely to invest in you. And if you prioritize de-stressing the process? Hey, you might not
7.) Use Your Resources
This is simple and might not necessarily apply to your artist statement directly but rather your application on a whole. If you’re applying to a residency at Space on Ryder Farm and someone you know just finished, talk to them about their application and experience. It will help. It might start conversations that will ultimately benefit your application.
Just as you would use all of your, for lack of a better word, connections when applying to a job outside of the arts, do the same here.
How’s that? Did I do it? Was that what you needed?
You’re asking me?
Uh. Haha. Yeah. See—we all just want to make sure we’re doing it right.
Can I get an AMEN.
Thank you. Bless you.
Chie Morita is the co-founder of FORGE, a boutique consultancy dedicated to helping artists and companies take the next step in their own work. Prior to joining the Town Team as Deputy Director, Chie served as the Managing Director of the three-time- Drama-Desk Award-nominated New York Neo-Futurists. She is also a proud board member of The Musical Theater Factory. In New York, she has worked with Broadway Producer Joey Parnes (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, End of the Rainbow), the Off-Broadway institutions The Public Theater and Ars Nova, and such independent artists and ensembles as Heather Christian and the Arbornauts, Esperance Theater Company, Extant Arts Company, UglyRhino, Panicked Productions, Fresh Ground Pepper, and art.party.theater.company. She has cast films for Sal Bardo, Emilie McDonald, Sarah Jenkins