Her experiences in the art world, as well as an interest in supporting fellow curators, artists, and art administrators has brought Berlin-based Turkish curator Ece Pazarbaşı to start the Berlin Art Grant Clinic. It is a clinic specialised in giving you knowledge on how to write a good application, but also teaching you how to get over procastination. We spoke to Ece Pazarbaşı about the program of the clinic and the know-how of writing a successful grant application.
How come you decided to organise a workshop series about grant writing?
I am a curator, that I always see as a plus. I am originally from Turkey, living in Berlin for 7 years now. Before that I was living in Istanbul, taking care of my own curatorial practice and working for contemporary art organisations and museums. Due to the funding schemes in Turkey, I had to raise international funding for my projects by myself. This is how it started. With this self-schooling, let’s say, I was also helping friends. In the end I was able to help a lot of friends to get money for their projects. When I arrived in Berlin, a good friend of mine said, why won’t you give workshops here to share your knowledge? I thought, let’s give it a go. Very soon after that I started. That was 2014 and it has been growing ever since. There is money in the arts, and there are so many good artists in Berlin. The structure of the places that is giving the funding does not fit with the nature of art. They want something quantitative but art is a fluid thing, very flexible. The way to write a good application is to think of the quantitative aspects of your project. As I have said, there is money for arts and there are high-quality art projects, but not everybody knows how to link these two successfully. And this is how and why I have decided to start with the Berlin Art Grant Clinic - I wanted to teach how to make this link in a less painful way. Writing an application is indeed a boring and painful thing, but it is not a difficult thing to write a successful one.
Image credits: Ece Pazarbaşı
How does the workshop program look like?
The first day is what I call the Diagnosis Seminar. It is when I talk a lot, share my knowledge about how the institutions are working and what is their mindset, and give strategic grant writing tips. A lot of people have great conceptual ideas but don’t know how to formalize it, how to make it understandable. First day I am teaching how to do that, but also how to get over procrastination. We all know the situations when there is an open call and you don’t want to sit in front of your computer, and I am teaching how to get over that. On the second day, at the “Operation Workshop”, I am teaching budgeting and, within the light of the techniques I have given the day before, we collaboratively work on each others’ project descriptions, which is always very fruitful. The first day is more about theory and the second day is more about practicality. The program has enriched over the past 4 years that I am organising it. During this time, I also learned a lot from giving the workshop series and continued to develop the program. Since I started the Grant Writing Workshops, I have been asked to teach at Helsinki Fine Art Academy, which I am doing now since 2 years. I also teach at Transart Institute since 2012 and got asked by the Art Academy in Mainz and Kassel. I truly enjoy giving this course, it is a lot of fun.
Why do you call it a clinic?
It was actually a friend of mine that said it should be a clinic. As curators, we love to work with a concept. So, at the clinic I have a Diagnosis Seminar and an Operation Workshops, but there is also the Emergency Room where I give consultancy service, especially when grant writers are in total panic before the deadlines.
Can you tell us more about your background as a curator?
My curatorial practice usually has a participatory aspect. The latest projects I have done are, among others, The Cabinet of the Unknown exhibition project at Museum der Dinge, where I have created a knowledge platform with the people that were working in the shops of the Oranienstrasse and with the unknown objects at the Museum’s own collection. It was very much about an exchange. Before that I was part of the Festival of Future Nows at Hamburger Bahnhof - I curated a series of events about memory, sharing knowledge, and food. I also curated the Muscle Memory exhibition at Kunstraum Bethanien/ Kreuzberg with a side program which was quite participatory.
Image credits: Ece Pazarbaşı
Reflecting upon the time that you have been organising workshops, what have you learned from it?
You have to be open on several levels. First of all, you have to know the fundings that are around but you also have to have an open heart. There are so many artists that are struggling, and you have to be accommodating these fragile souls. I hope to create an open atmosphere where everyone feels free and open to share their thoughts. This is also something I learned from my curatorial practice. When I bring people together, there is always a bonding atmosphere that I try to create. Some artists are going through difficult times when they have to combine their practice with part-time jobs. In the application evaluation process, I can never know how the jury decision is going to be, but I can really help them to write a good application that formalizes their concept and ideas in a strong way. In the end, everyone from the course is able to deliver a successful grant application package. In the workshop series you have to be uplifting too. I always remind in my course that, when you are applying for grants, you are not begging for money. Because these institutions have their yearly cultural budget, they spare especially to support artistic projects. That is why, if you get the grant, it is not a favour done to you, it is actually a business agreement. This is quite empowering for many people. The task of the people working at the institutions is to support your project and your task is to realise it with that support. If you prepare your application in a good way, you simply make it easier for both sides. In time, I learned this is the most important point to teach in these workshops.
Concerning grant proposals, which elements do you consider crucial in writing an application?
If visual or performing artists would be excellent in writing, they would be writers. It is so normal for artists that they don’t know how to write grant applications. At the clinic I guide participants step-by-step in a sample application process. In this process, the most important thing is to be clear, concise, and compelling. I think I have worked with more than 500 artists from different fields: curators, NGOs, and cultural managers. Most of the time the main problem I observe is - the project description focuses so much on the concept that one cannot understand what the actual work is about. Yet, it is also normal that, if you are working on a concept for years or months, you lose the objectivity after a while. As I find this very crucial, I am also teaching how to review your own application.
But even if artists or curators write a good application, there are still so many other people applying. How can you differentiate your application from others?
I have two answers on that. While you are preparing your application, one question you always have to ask yourself is - how is my project unique? This is how you can remind yourself and think about how to reformulate. The second is - you never know what is going to happen in the jury. You cannot guarantee if you are going get the grant or not. But you can guarantee that your application is a good one.
Image credits: Ece Pazarbaşı
What is your point of view on the importance of funding for the arts?
Everyone wants to have a continuous income while they continue their artistic practice without having to think about a side job. Artists just want to produce what they are good at - making art. We are lucky there is so many fundings, but this does not mean there is enough. If we are talking about Berlin, it has always been an inherently creative city. This is the legacy of the city. This is what makes Berlin so interesting. That is why people are still coming here. To sustain this cultural heritage and the social background of artists, the city has to create a continuation in a system for the artists to survive here. It is something that keeps the creative industry of the city going. It is part of the cultural policy.
How would you like to further develop the Grant Writing Workshop series?
Writing a grant application is such a boring topic, this is why I can make so much fun during the course. I like to give the subject a bit more lightness. Eventually I hope to be able to give these seminars and workshops for free.
Is there something you would like to add?
If you were to ask me why I am doing this, I would say it is to make a better world. Which might sound a bit cheesy but I feel this is my addition to change the world. I believe that art has the power to change people and to change situations. With more support artists can do more and then we can altogether have a better world. Which is maybe very naive but this is how I see it.
Oh yes, I also have another tip. Don’t leave it to the last minute. I always say, give it two months or at least a month before the deadline, because the writing process has several layers. Even though you decide to squeeze yourself to three days only, do not let these three days to be the days just before the deadline. Three days a month earlier would be less stressful, thus more productive.
Ece is giving a monthly seminar and a workshop at Lacuna Lab. Find out about the upcoming dates in link below:
Location: Lacuna Lab, Paul-Lincke-Ufer 44A 2.HH 1.OG, 10999 Berlin (Kreuzberg)
More info and tickets: www.artgrantclinic.org