Why I Was Rejected For 4 Pandemic Relief Grants, And Why It's OK
by Anne Kostecki
This past year, which happened to be my full first calendar year in business, was difficult. It was 2020, and it was the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had so many dreams in January 2020: to teach workshops, to sell at art fairs, network with local businesses, connect with other entrepreneurs and form new client relationships. And since I had just moved across state lines, I wanted to establish my business so that I can have freedom to take or turn down jobs. I finally realized that I had talent, and that I could make my business work: and after 10 years of freelancing, I was ready to focus on my business and make it grow.
And then the pandemic hit.
At first, I didn't know how long the lockdowns would last. I was naive, and thought it would be mostly over in a few weeks. I was in the early stages of my yearly planning, and I had already applied to a large art fair with a pricey entry fee, tent requirements, and a local business license requirement. In February, I did an audit of my art product inventory, and purchased a very large amount of notebooks, notepads, prints, stickers, and art supplies to create more products. I had used a lot of my initial investment capital, but from the research I had done and information given to me about that particular art show, I would easily make many times over the money I had invested. I also applied to another women-owned business fair (which also had a pretty big price tag) and was looking forward to that.
As days went by, and events in my life were slowly getting canceled, I realized that this was going to last a lot longer than I originally thought. And then, I received an email saying the big art fair would be canceled, and so did the other fair, and that they would be moving online. The big art fair gave me an application refund, the other one did not. I had to end my in-person art lessons for safety reasons. And for the first time, I had to reckon with the idea that I wouldn't be able to participate in any art fair, workshop, networking event, or any sort of teaching engagement whatsoever for about a year.
All of my hopes and dreams for my first year of business were more or less dashed.
So, I applied for artist relief grants.
I will be honest: I did not need money desperately. Even though I had sunk a lot of money into my inventory and supplies, I had saved a lot of money over the past 2 years for a rainy day. I was very careful with my budget to make sure I wasn't buying too many supplies or wasting money unnecessarily. And, my husband's job more than supports our family, so we did not have any financial worries. So I disclosed all of this information with each grant application, because I wanted to make it clear that I wasn't worried where my next meal would be coming from.
So, why did I apply for artist relief grants if i didn't have financial trouble? And the answer was, because at that point, I had sunk more money into my business than I was making. My husband and I had invested in my business last January fully expecting that my business would take off. And since I was looking at almost a full year of not being able to do any business in-person, I was worried about making back my investment. In short, a grant could do me a lot of good, if it was at all possible that I was eligible for one. A grant is not a loan, so I wouldn't have to pay it back. It was free and easy to apply, so I thought, why not?
Here's a little snippet from one of my to-do lists from last year:
Grants I’ve Applied For
Sam Fox/Pulitzer ASAP Grant: Rejected (6/5)
Artist Relief National Grant: First Round Rejected, Second Round Rejected. 4th Round applied 6/25 rejected. Applied on 9/4 for cycle ending 9/23
The Luminary Futures Fund: Entered on (6/5) REJECTED
Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis Artist Relief Fund: Applied on (6/5) Rejected
In the end, I applied to 4 different grants. I was rejected for all of them. But...that's ok!
But, to be honest, I kind of expected that! As I've previously said, I was doing fine, and I had built a safety net for myself. I knew that it was more than likely that there were tons of struggling artists out there, and they needed the grants more than I did. I applied with the thought that, "If there's extra money lying around that I can use to pay down my debts, I'm cool with it. But if there is someone struggling more than I am, please give them the money first." Based on the emails I've received back on how the grants were awarded, it sounds like there were far more artists in need than the grants could accommodate. And that fact depresses me.
I gave up on receiving a grant by the end of summer 2020. And, I don't think there were many new grants after that anyway. I didn't think the pandemic would last into the fall (HA), let alone well into 2021. Now, I don't know what to think. I don't know when we will reach herd immunity, or when I can do another in-person art fair (masked, I assume), or another workshop.
I'm very lucky to have a roof over my head, to be able to work on my business and not worry about financial problems. And most of all, I'm lucky to have my health. I try to focus on all of these things when I'm feeling down about being isolated, when my business isn't flourishing like I thought it would, or when I don't have any time to do something other than care for my kids. There is so much that I am grateful for, and that is what is important.