The world of federal grants can be complex and confusing. This section offers some general tips for potential grant seekers on preparing your organization to apply and completing applications.
Decision Points before You Apply
Creative placemaking brings together at least two different practices – arts and community development – but can include many different types of partners and practitioners. Creative placemaking, by nature, requires multiple partners with differing expertise to work together. Practitioners may want to cast a wide net in searching for appropriate funding opportunities; some will be appropriate for one partner to pursue and other partners will be the right applicants for different opportunities.
This will prove true in many of the funding opportunities listed in this guide. They require specific kinds of expertise, such as housing, workforce development or museums. They are relevant to creative placemaking because practitioners can include them in a broader mix of funding sources. For example, a housing developer would be able to access Low-Income Housing Tax Credits for a specific housing project. Working in partnership with a local arts organization, that housing development can become something more than just another apartment block. Rather, with a mix of partners and resources, it can become an anchor for a collaborative creative placemaking effort that fosters inclusive belonging. Federal funding will not be the sole source for any creative placemaking project; those pursuing creative placemaking will want to look for resources from a variety of federal, state, local, private, crowd-sourced, bootstrapped and philanthropic options.
Explore state partners
Individual state resources to support creative placemaking are too numerous and variable to enumerate in this guide, but state agencies are vital public partners in creative placemaking work. The case studies show a number of examples in which state arts agencies and other state agencies have played integral roles in placemaking. Additionally, State Arts Agency Resources for Creative Placemaking Practitioners illuminates ways in which state arts agencies can be a useful resource for creative placemaking practitioners, provides tips for applying for state arts agency grants, and helps practitioners understand some of the key roles of state arts agencies.
Here are some strategies for investigating state-level partners to do creative placemaking.
- Start with your state arts agency. There are many ways in which state arts agencies support creative placemaking. Only a handful of state arts agencies offer specific creative placemaking grants, but most agencies offer a variety grant programs for projects, organizations, and artists that may support a component of a creative placemaking effort. Find your state arts agency.
- Look at nontraditional funding areas for funding opportunities that could help advance your goals. Beyond arts programming, what other elements does your project include? State agencies that might provide grant funding include those focused on:
- Economic development or commerce
- Small business
- Rural development
- Community affairs
- Parks and recreation
- Environmental affairs
In addition, consider connecting with your state housing finance agency, state association of regional planning councils, or statewide association of community development corporations. While these nonprofit agencies may not have funding to offer, they can be valuable sources of advice, technical assistance, advocacy or other supports.
Know your resource
Not all federal community development programs are grants. Much federal support comes in the form of tax incentives for development, lending capital and other financial instruments. We have included the most prominent of these in the guide. Although creative practitioners are not likely to be able to apply for these directly, they are central to how community development gets done and they represent an important part of the funding ecosystem. Examples include the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, New Markets Tax Credits and Community Development Financial Institutions Fund awards.
Consider your organization’s capacity
Most federal funding opportunities come with rigorous application processes, as well as substantial monitoring and reporting obligations. It is important to be sure the applicant organization has the capacity not only to complete the application, but also to manage the funds in compliance with federal government requirements. Things to consider are: staff time and ability to collect financial and program data, track progress, complete and submit timely reports (sometimes as often as quarterly); ability to secure required non-federal matching funds; and ability to execute the project or program within the grant time frame.
Tips on Completing Applications
As you look through the guide and find federal funding opportunities that look promising, you can find them on grants.gov and subscribe to specific opportunities in order to receive email updates when solicitations are released or updated.
When you apply:
- Always read the funding solicitation thoroughly and carefully. Are you eligible? If not, is one of your partners? Will you be able to meet the program requirements? Does your project fit what the funder is looking for? You don’t want to waste staff time on an application that is not likely to be competitive.
- Answer all of the questions completely. It sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many times applicants skip all or part of a question and make their applications less competitive.
- Use straightforward language and organization. This makes it easy for the reviewer to find the required information and understand what you’re trying to say.
- Pinpoint how your project meets the goals of the specific program – even if your own goals are broader or narrower – and explain it clearly.
- Begin early. Download the application, create a profile on the grants.gov website (if applicable) and complete the required federal forms and attachments as early as possible. Make sure you have the necessary registrations (including a DUNS number and active registration in the federal System for Awards Management) completed well ahead of time, as these can sometimes take days or weeks to process. Aim to complete and upload your application ahead of the due date to avoid any last-minute technical difficulties.