Over the past two weeks, I was a juror for an artist-in-residence program. I spent about 10.5 hours reviewing 30 applications. As I reviewed, I took notes on what I found myself responding positively and negatively to. These notes are summarized below. They reflect my own biases, the application’s structure, and the organization’s criteria.
The basis of good writing is clear thinking. The applications that rise to the top show deep praxis and high intelligence.
Say what, who, when, where, how, and why. Stating the parameters of your project clearly and simply helps jurors remember, sort, and rank your proposal. Timelines help convey a clear plan. Citing individuals or organizations shows that you’ve done some groundwork.
Specify outcomes when possible. At the same time, balance outcomes with open-ended-ness. Don’t be too predetermined; allow room for growth or discovery, and for dialogue and the dynamic qualities of the program to inform your work.
Use headers. They are helpful landmarks in narrative texts.
Hit the marks. If the criteria are outlined, address how your project, specifically, fulfills them. Avoid generalizations about how art fulfills the criteria (“Art is ___ because…” “Art functions in society to…” “Art has the power to…”). If your project relates to social or political contexts, summarize them. The bulk of a letter of intent should be a description of your proposed project; background info should make up a smaller proportion.
Demonstrate a track record. Your work samples should show that you have the experience and capacity to pull off your proposed project. If your proposal includes a new medium or format for you, describe how you will learn or overcome the technical challenges.
If you’re going to propose an expansion or re-staging of a current project, convince readers why it is dynamic, necessary, worthy, or new, rather than merely helpful for your career or exhibition history. Is there a strategy? Does this next phase help you reach a bigger, more ambitious goal? Do you have any concrete plans or partnerships towards that goal? Show how this specific opportunity is a good fit (as opposed to any other opportunity that provides funding or visibility). Bear in mind that other applicants will be proposing all new projects, which seem more ambitious, and conclude with a more satisfying sense of accomplishment, in comparison. If your proposal is for an interstitial phase of a longer project, the outcomes may seem modest or unexciting.
Review your submittal as a whole. The parts should interlock and strengthen each other. Accentuate strong connections (include work samples of past projects relevant to your proposal or artist’s statement). Eliminate weak connections (omit less-relevant text or art from your statement or work samples if they don’t support the proposed project). [In practice, this means drafting and editing your submittal first, rather than cutting, pasting, and writing directly in the application portal.]
Don’t be redundant. If you say something in your proposal, no need to repeat it in your artist’s statement or work samples, or vice versa.
Limit art-speak. On a mechanical level, each sentence should function to communicate an idea that is specific to your project or process. Avoid making up acronyms for elements of your art practice that you reference only once or twice.
Provide enough context for your work samples. This is especially true of performance and social practice projects.