The trap of arts grants
2 min read

The trap of arts grants

Early career grants slow you down and bulk up your budget.

There's a type of grant for artists that:

  1. has a months-long application process and a final report at the end
  2. allows a long period of time, like one year, for funded activities to happen
  3. prescribes many milestones; you need to detail all the budgeted activities in the application and in the final report

This is too slow to help early-career artists. If you avoid this trap, you can get the same or better results much faster.

Milestones

Alex Danco, in his January 2021 article "Why the Canadian Tech Scene Doesn't Work", laments milestones—the criteria imposed on you, the artist-founder:

[I]f seed deals take 3 months, then founders will learn to build companies that look good under that kind of microscope. And that means they’re going to optimize for playing determinate games, so that they can show definable wins that can’t be argued against; rather than what they should be focusing on, which is open-ended growth. (Canadian investors love to say, “Your growth is impressive, but we want to see some concrete milestones. We’ll fund you once you’ve achieved this definite accomplishment.”)

The phrase "open-ended growth" does a lot for Danco's argument. He claims that milestones distract from open-ended growth and limit your potential.

But when talking about companies that need tens of millions of dollars to get going on the All-In Podcast episode from March 19, 2021, David Sacks praises milestones:

Venture capital is a milestone-based investing model. You take a little bit of seed money, you create a prototype, you get some proof, then you raise a Series A, you get $10 million you get some customers, then you raise $25 million and you scale the company, and it's based on milestones. It's actually a very efficient way of investing.

The difference between Danco and Sacks is the definition of "milestones." Sacks uses the word to talk about the dollar amounts, not the criteria to get that cash.

Notice that Sacks' first dollar milestone is a raise of $10 million. Maybe the smoothest way to get there is not to micromanage your journey from zero to that point!

I like the seed stage as Sacks describes it: "take a little bit of seed money, you create a prototype, you get some proof."

The efficient process

What would Sacks' efficient process look like for your music?

Take a little bit of seed money. Get this money directly from your audience and make it conditional. If you don't reach the dollar amount you need, the project doesn't run.

Create a prototype. You need to make something salable. It's a prototype, not a masterpiece.

Get some proof. The proof is whether or not some small audience buys what you're selling.

Much better—you'll only make more of what you've proved you can already do. And think of all the online tools you can use to assist this process: crowdfunding, home recording, digital distribution, websites with payments, email, and social media.

Arts grants would rather you slow down, bulk up your budget, and subsidize the existing industry. We can do better.