A year in the life of an Arts Council grant

We know the grant process can sometimes feel … a little long. There’s somewhere close to six months’ time between application availability and approvals, with a whole lot happening before, after and in between.

Whether you’re new to California Arts Council grants or you’ve been here before, join us on a journey through the seasons to demystify the grant process, phase by phase.

Phase 1. A grant (program) is born. It’s late summer: The California sun is shining, the air is warm, and your grant is, more or less, still a twinkle in the eyes of the Arts Council. The state budget for the fiscal year has just been finalized, and our Council members and CAC staff are taking a long look at last year’s program priorities, making improvements upon existing programs—or establishing new ones, if funds allow. As the leaves start to turn, the Council and staff spend the next couple months developing and updating everything you’ll need to succeed during the application process.

Phase 2. There’s an app for that. This is the part where you—the applicant—come in! Once everything is in order—nearing the end of the calendar year—the grant programs are announced. Guidelines and applications are posted to our website, along with deadlines and other useful documents and significant dates. You are now free to start putting together your primo application package, with approximately 6-10 weeks to get it done.

This is also the time when we provide extensive technical assistance to applicants. Our knowledgeable programs staff host webinars, post FAQs, respond to your emails and answer your calls pertaining to the application process. We really, really urge you to take advantage of these opportunities for guidance—especially first-timers—we can’t stress enough the value this can have in helping you to get answers to any questions you may have in order to create a complete and effective application.

Phase 3. Crunch time. Around early spring comes the final scramble before deadlines. Ask any final questions you may have of our staff, and be sure you have all the required components of your application accounted for.

And while you’re all tenaciously assembling your apps, we are (also rather tenaciously) recruiting panels of experts to guide the review process—bringing us to Phase 4.

Phase 4. Read, rank, recommend. Things get pretty quiet on your end around this point, wondering and waiting—but there’s a lot going on over here. The rest of the spring belongs to our peer review panels. Groups of three to five panelists, experts in their respective fields, meticulously pore over each grant candidate’s application, scoring them based upon our ranking guides. Once that’s done, it’s time for some serious math. A Council committee and staff analyze in depth how to distribute funds equitably, taking into consideration the funds available, the number of applications, and their ranks. Their recommendations are submitted to the Council, who vote on the final grant awards.

This is actually the phase we’re in right now, with applicants for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The Council will be reviewing the panel’s recommendations during their upcoming public meetings on May 9 and June 7.

Phase 5. Funds in the sun. It’s summer—again! The sun is shining, the air is warm, and your grant has been approved! You’ve received a letter notifying you of the award, and sign your grant agreement. Keep in mind that based on ranking, most grantees receive only a percentage of funds requested, and you must still be fully able to commit to your proposed project given that amount.

Congratulations! It’s finally time to put that hard-earned money to good use, enriching the lives of Californians by connecting them with the arts and cultural experiences.

And if this wasn’t your year, don’t be discouraged! There’s still good news for your organization. All applicants receive detailed notes on the panel’s analysis of their application—so even if you didn’t get the grant, you do get valuable input from our expert panelists to help you learn from the experience and better your chances for next year.

Note: This specific timeline applies to most but not all CAC grants. All follow this process, but deadlines may vary for some programs.

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