The Creative Project

10 Make It Happen

Pulling It All Together

progression from idea to performance


In this chapter, you learn how to…

  • Combine the elements of your grant application into a cohesive and convincing written proposal.
  • Format the proposal for maximum clarity in keeping with grant guidelines.
  • Explain your artistic work in ways that authentically connect with others.
  • Build a verbal pitch with practice communicating both on video and in-person.
  • Discuss the potential benefits after you complete and submit a proposal.

At this point, you have drafted your mission statement, project description, budget, and timeline, as well as begun to pull together your work samples. This is no small feat!  Seriously, find a way to reward yourself—even if it is simply walking down the hall to get a snack out of the fridge. Take a moment to acknowledge the work that you have dedicated towards this process and the new skills you have developed along the way.

Before we get too deep into our celebratory mode of operation, though, it’s important to make sure all of the elements of your proposal align. This might involve a few rounds of feedback and revision. Let’s take a few moments to talk about the final steps before you upload your proposal and press “send.”

Finalizing Your Proposal: Putting the Pieces Together


You have encountered the term “alignment” throughout this text and here it is, again, to pay you a final visit. This term first appeared as you developed your artistic mission statement, then popped back up as you developed your project description and work samples.

The idea behind this term is to ensure that there is a clear connection or line between you, your artistic mission, your work as an artist, your project, your budget, and the work samples that you submit for review. The overarching goal is to build connections between each element of your proposal. So gather your materials for a holistic review.

As you review the individual elements of your proposal, note how well each piece connects with the supporting parts. For example, consider these questions for your project description:

  • Is there a noticeable connection to your project in the language you chose to frame your artistic mission statement?
  • Do you see how the project that is proposed in the description fits as a logical next step in the progression of your work?
  • If so, how? If not, what can you change to create a greater sense of alignment for the reader?

A practical strategy is to identify specific areas where you find gaps, differences, or disconnects between the elements of your application. Then return to those areas to explore new ways of creating connections. Your ability to thoughtfully balance and weave together your artistic values and the needs of your audience will greatly increase your odds of creating a compelling proposal for the grantor.

Similar to considering the funder’s perspective when creating your project description, ensure you are deliberately addressing that view as you assemble your final proposal. Take advantage of the extensive research you conducted during the grant review process to get to know their organization and understand their mission. This knowledge helps you frame every element of the proposal in a way that is consistent and relevant to the grantor.


Please, please, please study the grant formatting requirements. Every grantor has specific formatting requirements. Granting organizations are interested in creating a level playing field and part of what makes that possible is by requesting that all applicants submit their materials in a specific format. There are numerous approaches to how each organization requests your materials for submission. Your job is to meet those requirements precisely. These are audience-specific rules, not guidelines. Deviating from their requirements causes your proposal to stand out for the wrong reasons.

Before you begin building your proposal, take the time to understand exactly what you need to do.

For example, if each part of the grant application has a specific word or character count, make sure your text is within the given parameters. Do not submit 600 words if they are asking for 250 words. The reader is not fascinated with your prose; instead, the application is not considered.

Take the same approach regarding page lengths. If it asks for a project description that is one page in length, do not give them two pages.

Also, if your grant requires a multi-page document, take note of how they would like each section to be labeled. Frequently, you need to have your name and project title on each page, as well as a header for the specific piece of the application that is being submitted (e.g., Timeline). Here is an example of a clear page heading:

Canyon Chorus — Lower La Barge Box Canyon: Project Description

Ben Cantantino


Specifications for each grant will vary. Ultimately, your documents and headers should provide clarity regarding who you are and what you are proposing. Funders want you to be creative. They also need to know that you can follow directions. Failure to comply with basic formatting requirements is an easy (and very avoidable) reason for your proposal to be rejected (Beeching, 2010). This is a simple barrier to entry that most, if not all, granting organizations utilize.

Artists in Action

“Be clear. Be concise. Follow directions! Read the directions and follow them. You might be communicating with someone who doesn’t have the level of training that you have. So make sure you give them enough information, but make sure that it’s the important information. Don’t expect them to just understand the value of what you do.”

– Jeannie Howe


Another recurring theme throughout this text has been the need for feedback. Earlier we mentioned the importance of having colleagues review your project description, using the grant’s specific criteria to guide their feedback. As you put the finishing touches on your proposal, this is a great time to circle back to your peers with the full application. Ask them if you managed to connect the dots for the reader. You may have been thinking and writing about this project for many weeks, months, or even years, so it is crucial to collect feedback from objective readers who are less familiar with the project. Ask if they are able to find the clear connections between you, your work, this project, and how it fits into the overall trajectory of your life as an artist. If there are gaps in your design, this is the moment to identify them and adjust.

Dig Deeper in Exercise 10-1. Read and reflect on how to manage negative feedback.

Submit and Celebrate

After going through several rounds of feedback, proofread your proposal one last time. This is your chance to make any last-minute updates and corrections. Once you’re happy with the completed proposal, it’s time to hit “submit.” Congratulations! Take some time to celebrate, and enjoy the satisfaction of having created something that is designed to help you build a sustainable life as an artist.

Dig Deeper in Exercise 10-2. Reflect on the goals you articulated at the beginning of this process.

Talking About Your Work

The need for artists to develop the ability to communicate about their work is an important point highlighted repeatedly in this book. Our discussion focuses primarily on how you can clearly articulate in prose who you are as an artist, how that directly connects to your project, and how to frame a narrative that inspires interest and support from potential funders and granting organizations. An equally important skill is how we can best connect with individuals and audiences in person.

Most of the time that you spend on this planet, when you’re not grant writing, involves moving through the world, living your life, doing your work, conversing with other humans, and advocating for the work you are creating. Here’s the thing to keep in mind—it is impossible to predict who will connect you to the next opportunity or supply you with the financial backing needed to move your work forward. It could be a friend of a friend you meet at a social gathering, someone that attends a performance or gallery showing, or it could happen while standing in line at the grocery store. The point is that this unpredictability means you always need to know how to talk about your work and be ready when it does happen.

Along with being able to comfortably share who you are and what drives your creative work with those who are not artists, funders and grant organizations often request meetings or a video verbal pitch about you and your work as part of the application process. So, there’s really no escape here. The world wants you—no, the world needs you—to be able to connect with others about your idea, project, and work in a way that opens the door for exploration, conversation, and support.

You might be thinking: okay—message received. Now, how can I actually do this? Great question. In this section, you’ll learn how to construct a verbal pitch through several steps that can easily be brought together to create a powerful and engaging narrative.

Artists in Action

“Because you start to feel the prickles of your own soul when an idea that’s good comes to you. So you knew that it was good, but you’re communicating about it in a way that other people can get excited about it. And that’s really invigorating and that kind of confidence comes from success.”

– Alysia Lee

Building Your Pitch

Step 1: What, Who, and How

This all comes back to the questions:

  • What is it for?
  • Who is it for?
  • How will it happen?

What’s powerful about these questions is that they get to the root of your project. Using these prompts to help guide our thinking, we can begin to unearth what is driving us to move forward with a particular project. Still, articulating all of this can be overwhelming. It’s easy not to know where to begin. Let’s begin by breaking it down into smaller pieces. Then we can weave them back together to provide a fully integrated approach in how we talk about our work and its connection to who we are as individuals and artists.

What Is It For?

First, we need to tackle this big question: What is it for? You’ve done a tremendous amount of work in answering this question while building your application materials. This time, the approach will be a bit more targeted and specific, aimed towards answering the “what” in each of the following prompts:

  • What is your project?
  • What problem(s) are you addressing, or what idea(s) are you exploring?
  • What motivates you to act?
  • What is your innovative solution?

Take a few moments to develop one or two sentences addressing each of the “what” prompts listed above. The idea here is to capture the key points you want the listener to understand. Remember, they are not reading these responses. Instead, they are engaging with you in a conversation that you are prepared to have.

What is your project? Think about which elements of your project are most important to highlight for the listener to get a high-level overview of your project and for them to want to learn more about it.

What problem(s) are you addressing, or what idea(s) are you exploring? Clearly identify the “why” of your project. For example, if you are developing a product or new approach to something, you need to be able to explain why you are doing it. Share the driving factor behind this new design. If your project is exploring a concept or idea, articulate exactly what you are thinking about and why it is important to you.

What motivates you to act? Once you have a solution to the problem or the idea, you must find the link that connects you on a personal level to the problem or idea at hand. Possessing a well-defined understanding of what motivates you to tackle this project helps connect you to your listener. As a culture, we crave personal connection. Think about how to make your project personal and how you can use that strategy to connect with others and strengthen and support your narrative.

What is your innovative solution? The goal in this last “what” prompt is to outline why your approach to the problem you’re solving or idea you’re exploring will work and be of interest to the listener. Distill your ideas down to one or two sentences that underscore how you can accomplish the project and spark the interest of the listener to support you.

Who Is It For?

Now we need to turn our attention to the second question: Who is it for? In this instance, we are breaking this down into two specific questions to help develop our narrative:

  • Whom will you serve?
  • Who are your partners and collaborators?

Whom will you serve? Remember, there’s always an audience, big or small, for anything we create. The point here is to succinctly articulate both who they are and how you will reach them.

Who are your partners and collaborators? No artist is an island, and this is especially the case for most creative individuals when they take on a project. You need to be able to easily communicate who your team is: the community, external organizations, artists, and/or other partners you will be working with to develop your project. This will help you define the project for a listener.

How Will It Happen?

Last, you will want to address the question: How will it happen?

  • How are you creating change?
  • How is your project funded?
  • How can others help make an impact?

How are you creating change? Outline the potential impact for your project. This is your opportunity to think about the outcome of the work you are developing and how it helps, connects with, or impacts the target audience.

How is your project funded? Every artist and project has a different answer to this question. You might already have committed partners with in-kind donations or crowdfunding to support your project. Maybe you have been building a project from personal funds as a starting point and are seeking funding as a next step in the development of the project. Other artists might be operating as a functioning business and need support to expand the reach of their work. Regardless, you need to possess a firm grasp on the financial status of your project. Be prepared to explain how the new funding helps move the project forward, and for longer term initiatives, how you plan to build a framework of sustainability.

How can others help make an impact? This is the moment where you make “the ask of your listener. Your goal with this question is to either identify specifically how the person you are speaking with can help you or provide an explicit way for someone to help. This conversation will be different every time, as you are not asking potential funders, granting organizations, collaborators, patrons, and audience members for the same thing. Thus, a crystal-clear understanding of why you are speaking with an individual or organization informs the potential outcome of the conversation. One helpful technique involves identifying the desired outcome and working backwards from that point. This allows you to create a framework for the conversation to help drive the discussion towards the result that you intend.

Artists in Action

“Make sure that you are really listening, and really asking the questions, and really absorbing them, because your job is to be a communicator. What you have to talk about needs to be super compelling and you need to be communicating accurately.”

Jeannie Howe

Step Two: Building the Script—Structure and Talking Points

As outlined above, every conversation is different depending on the situation, context, and specific outcome you are hoping to achieve. While we cannot control where the discussion goes, there is an opportunity to stack the deck in our favor. This is accomplished by thoughtfully creating a structure or pitch to engage the listener as you tell the story of your project.

If you review your notes from Step 1, you may notice a skeletal structure that you can expand with details from your answers to the prompts “what,” “who,” and “how.”

Take a look at this structure as a possible model:

  • Introduction. Introduce yourself and what you do as an artist (you can access this from your mission statement).
  • What. Explain what the project is to the listener.
  • Who. Outline the project’s audience and your collaborators and/or partners.
  • How. Talk about the impact of the project, how it will happen, and how the person speaking with you can help.

Using this framework, cull through your notes from the “what,” “who,” and “how” prompts to gather the important details of your project and develop your key talking points that you can utilize for conversations.

As you begin to shape this material into a narrative format, you will want to keep in mind that less is more for the listener. This requires that you concentrate on highlighting the key elements of your project. A good goal to work towards is a pitch that can be delivered in five minutes or less. Anything more than that and people lose focus on what you are saying. If you lose their attention, you have lost their funding or support.

To help you navigate this challenge, consider word count as your partner in persuasion. On average, you can speak about 150 words per minute at a conversational pace. This means your text needs to be 750 words or less. Yes, that’s right—750 words or less. While at first daunting, this constraint of word count can help guide you in the design of your text as it demands deliberate attention to word choice and structure. There is no room for superfluous items or points. Your script needs to be focused, informative, and authentic. Channel your inner Ernest Hemingway. Be merciless with your pitch script. Experiment with what you can remove so that you keep only the essential. It’s like you are packing a road trip travel bag—when in doubt, leave it out!

Once you have a draft of your pitch script, take a few moments to review your text and see if it answers the following questions:

  • Does it articulate the importance of your project?
  • Does it identify who is involved and why?
  • Does it include a specific call to action?

These three questions provide an opportunity for you to reevaluate the design of your pitch script and gain insight regarding gaps in the structure of your text.

Last, consider having a trusted colleague, friend, or mentor review your script. Share the three questions listed above and ask for feedback. This will help you uncover what is working and what needs to be improved, with the goal of creating the strongest possible text to present to potential supporters of you and your work.

Artists in Action

“Getting that first positive email back from a grant application was a big boost in confidence and it helped my momentum. A lot. It was a big deal. . . When I was first starting out, grant income was kind of the primary income for whether a project could move forward or not for me. Of course, I would sink a lot of personal resources into it as well—my time and whatever financial resources I could personally put into it. But without a few key grants funding a few key projects, they definitely wouldn’t have happened.”

– Adam Rosenblatt

Step Three: The Delivery

With your pitch script prepared, now it is time to bring the conversation to life. Before we move forward, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that building skills in public speaking is a process. Each of us has skills and abilities that are unique to who we are as individuals. With that in mind, everyone experiences a different level of comfort with speaking publicly. This is an opportunity to grow. If you focus on the process of building the skills needed to speak publicly about your work versus the outcome of each attempt, you will find that your path to improvement is clearer, more focused, and more sustainable.

If you remember anything from this chapter, the most crucial element to use as a guide is that your pitch and delivery need to sound like you. This is where the real work begins. Creating a natural, authentic presentation that is confident, possesses a conversational flow, and sparks the interest of the listener takes time to cultivate. As you begin to develop and hone this skill, below are a few tips to help you get started.

Be Brave—Employ An Eraser

Your talking points are a frame that is etched in pencil, not a permanent marker. As you begin to work on delivering your pitch, keep in mind that this is a malleable document designed to support you. It provides a conversational map that organizes your thoughts, and it, much like you, needs to change and evolve. As you work on talking through the text and memorizing passages, you will begin to tweak things to smooth transitions and set up points of interest.

Pace Yourself—The Power of Recording Is Real

Once you have a basic grasp of how your pitch is structured, begin recording yourself. This does not require an elaborate setup. All you need is something to capture audio or video so you can listen back to gain insights on what works and what needs improvement. Pay attention to your pacing.

  • Are you rushing?
  • Where in the delivery of your text does that occur?
  • Are you speaking clearly?
  • How’s your posture and body language?
  • Are you emphasizing the most important points?

Recording yourself can be an incredibly powerful, and at times humbling, tool to help you improve your pitch delivery.

Start Small, Then Build Your Courage

As you get comfortable recording yourself and refining your delivery, the next step is to present your pitch to another human being. This is where things get interesting because it begins to feel real. Grab a friend or colleague that you are comfortable with and ask them to let you share your pitch. Have your listener pretend to be the funder and invite questions. As you go through this process, pay attention to what holds together and what falls apart in your talk. Remember that this is a process, meaning you may need several rounds of repetitions before being comfortable.

As part of this process, you need to find ways to practice talking about your work. So make a list of friends or family members, colleagues, and mentors with whom you can practice pitching. If this is new for you, it takes time to build these muscles. Again, it’s a process: think marathon, not sprint. Once you get comfortable pitching to an individual, create an opportunity to pitch to a small group of three people and work your way up to speaking in front of a larger group. In each scenario, you make new discoveries about engaging the audience. The more varied the situations, the better prepared you will be in the future to tackle talking in any given scenario where you need to advocate for your work.

These Skills Are on Loan

As artists, we have spent years of our lives developing specific skills that provide us with the ability and power to create things of beauty at will. Yet we all know from experience that if we don’t continue to work in the studio, rehearsal space, or practice room, those abilities can weaken. Each of us has an artistic practice that needs to be nurtured and maintained for continued growth and development. Your pitching skills also require this type of support and commitment. So keep in mind that you need to continue creating opportunities to advance your skills in talking about your work. Much like maintaining your physical body, the muscles of public speaking require regular exercise.

Dig Deeper in Exercise 10-3. View samples of student projects created at Peabody, including a sample video pitch from a recent graduate.

Next Steps

As with many significant moments in life, often the first steps towards a goal can be the most challenging. At the same time, they can be the most rewarding and transformative. Taking risks and stretching our skillset provides the opportunity for us to grow and get a glimpse of our own potential.

All this growing, building, stretching, creating, and developing can be difficult, and with all of this comes the reality that failure will be part of this process. Before you push the button to send your ideas and work out into the grant universe for funding or rejection, try to keep the following points in mind as you navigate the process.

Think about the long game. You may not win a grant the first time out. Rejection does not feel good, but in this arena, it is not personal. It usually takes two or three tries to receive funding, even for veterans. Like any art form, grant writing takes practice, reflection, and time. You have given yourself the time to develop your craft. Consider offering yourself that same level of patience and support as you build your grant writing skills.

Rejection does not mean you are a failure. A grant application that gets rejected is not a failure. Most granting organizations will provide comments or feedback on your application so that you can improve. Often, we grow more from our “failures” than we learn from our successes. After the sting of disappointment subsides, pick yourself up and get to work on learning how you can improve. Take the time to reach out to the granting organization for feedback and make adjustments so you can avoid repeating mistakes.

Recycling isn’t just for the environment. You can reuse the material from a grant application, with revision, in future proposals to the same or different funders.

Keep showing up. Funders and grantors build relationships with artists. That process can begin as soon as they meet you. This means attending information sessions about the grant or feedback sessions based on your submitted proposal and seeking guidance from the organization for proposals you may be developing. Get to know your potential backers and help them get to know you.

As artists, we understand that progress in our work is made when we consistently show up for ourselves. It is never easy to create something from nothing, which is what we do each and every day in our craft. It’s what makes us inspiring and important to the world. The same principle will be true for every grant proposal that you construct over the course of your artistic life. The more frequently this becomes a part of your life as a creative individual, the more skilled, confident, nuanced, and creative you will become in advocating for your work.

There will be good days and there will be challenging days. Our job is to keep going, keep creating, and keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Dig Deeper Exercises

Exercise 10-1. Feedback
For perspective on how to assess and manage critical feedback, check out Ann Klein’s essay on the Creative Independent, “On responding to negative feedback: Walking with a broken foot.”[1] Respond to the following prompts.

  • Which metrics do you want to use to measure your success?
  • And what path do you want to explore?
  • Does this feedback help me get closer to myself?
  • What can I learn from it?

Exercise 10-2. Reflection
Look back at the goals you articulated in the Exercise 1-2. Goals activity.

  • How has your perspective changed as you’ve moved through this process?
  • Did you address any of your areas of curiosity or improvement?
  • If so, what did you accomplish?
  • What further steps can you take to continue working those (and other) personal and professional goals?

Exercise 10-3. Learn About More Student Projects
To take a behind-the-scenes look at projects, events, and other career endeavors initiated by variety of Peabody students and alumni, check out LAUNCHPad’s Creative Wire blog[2] and Max Q Podcast.[3]

In addition, Mezzo-soprano Maddalena Ohrbach (BM ’22) won a Peabody Launch Grant in 2021 for her project, Prison Pipes. In her video pitch, she does a fantastic job articulating why her project is important, what community will benefit, and how her skill sets prepare her to execute the project.

Key Takeaways

  • Before clicking “submit,” find areas where you feel there are gaps, differences, or disconnects between the elements of your application and return to explore new ways of creating connections.
  • The ability to comply with basic formatting requirements and deadlines is a simple barrier to entry that granting organizations utilize to prioritize applications.
  • Artists need to clearly articulate who they are in relationship to their creative work, how that directly connects to their project, and how to frame a narrative that inspires interest from individuals, audiences, and support from potential funders both in prose and in person.
  • Grant writing takes practice, reflection, and time. Your artistic skills were acquired incrementally. Provide yourself with that same level of patience and support as you build your grant writing and pitching skills.

Artist Interviews

Below are excerpts from artist interviews conducted by Zane Forshee. Full artist bios and interviews are available in About the Artists. This section includes the following artists and topics:

  • Jeannie Howe on Advice on Grant Proposals
  • Andrew Kipe on Learning From Mistakes
  • Khandeya Sheppard on Navigating Rejection

Jeannie Howe on Advice on Grant Proposals

What do you wish you knew when you first started?

ZF: Thinking back on all of these experiences that you just outlined, which are huge and incredible and wide variety, what do you wish you knew when you first started? Knowing what you know now, what do you wish you could have told yourself when you first started out?

JH: I would say that part of it is trust yourself. But also, know what you don’t know. One of the things that’s really important about fundraising is that you depend on content experts. I know for artists, a lot of times, they’re the content experts, but there may be parts of their projects [for which] they aren’t the content experts. For example, the people who are running the organizations where they’re doing their work.

Make sure that you are really listening, and really asking the questions, and really absorbing them, because your job is to be a communicator. What you have to talk about needs to be super compelling and you need to be communicating accurately. You just don’t know everything, you know?

I would get to be friends with a lot of different people in the theater. If you had a bad day, you could go down and watch rehearsal. I was counting on my college, if not high school biology, when I was working in the medical sciences and I had to fundraise for research projects, along with the many other things I was doing. So it was understanding your role as an interlocutor, as a translator of sometimes complicated ideas.

Do you have advice of common things to do in grant application?

ZF: Do you have any advice, like common things that you see are like the do’s and don’ts? Could you offer a couple?

JH: Be clear. Be concise. Follow directions! Read the directions and follow them. I would say and this is not a don’t, but this is something that people don’t do a lot—make sure there’s money in the budget to run your organization and to pay yourself if you’re doing proposals for yourself.

This is another challenge in philanthropy is that a lot of people don’t want to pay for general operating or for overhead, but you have to turn on the lights, you have to pay your rent, and, you know, in some cases you have to feed your children. You certainly have to eat. You have to do that. If you don’t, nobody, very few people—and I have been in situations where this has happened—but [there are] very few times when people come back and say, hey, I don’t see anything in the budget for you.

You’ve got to advocate for yourself in that way and understand that if you’re part of the whole as an artist, you are part of the whole movement, which includes our responsibility to make sure people understand the value of what you’re doing. And that value is represented by a price tag, that this is not the, “oh, it’ll be great exposure for you” you know, oh, I’m doing you some kind of favor. No, I mean what you do as artists requires training. It requires time. I guess everybody can try to get a part-time [barista] job, but what we’re trying to do is to create a better world and to do our work, right? So yes, I think this would be very high on my list.

Any other common mistakes you see grant writers and artists make?

ZF: Any other common mistakes you see grant writers and artists make and things that they put together?

JH: I think in writing, often people will make assumptions. They have plenty of room, even in a short proposal, to provide details. I think in every field, we get completely immersed in our own bubble of what we do. You have to remember it’s important to know your audience. You have to remember that you might be communicating with someone who [isn’t] going to have the level of training that you have, and they might not have as broad knowledge. So make sure you give them enough information, but make sure that it’s the important information. Don’t expect them to just understand the value of what you do, you know? If it’s going to have impact on kids, talk about it. What is it going to do? So that’s what I would include too.

Andrew Kipe on Learning From Mistakes

Has there been a project that you’ve had funded that failed?

ZF: Has there been a project that you’ve had funded that failed? I mean maybe you did the thing, but it didn’t have the desired outcome, or it sort of went in a direction that you didn’t expect or think about?

AK: Yes, I think, yes. Not every project, not every idea is a good one, right? In a large organization sometimes it’s challenging to give projects the time they need to sort of grow and thrive. My rule is it takes three years to start a new initiative, and I’ve talked about three years a lot just on purpose, right? Because in my mind, that’s how it works. I think this [also] applies for individuals. Now small groups don’t have necessarily the capital to be able to maybe wait as long. You’ve got to think about that.

But if you were to start a new concert series and you go out the first year and maybe you only sell 150 tickets to each of the five concerts or whatever, you’re like, I don’t know, that was a failure. You know, that’s not good, right? But you’ve got to give it time: to market it, to find your audience, all those different pieces.

Hopefully you can find the grant funding to be that bridge to get you there. To be fair, sometimes it just doesn’t work. For whatever reason. That post-mortem that we talk about, when something has died, you go back and you figure out why. Well, we were in the wrong place.

I mentioned earlier about the community outreach concerts that we started. We thought initially that high schools would be a great place. Let’s go to high schools, right? They’ve got auditoriums–nobody came to the high schools. Where they came were to the churches, to the synagogues, to the community centers that had built-in audiences already that were doing some level of programming of some sort. It wasn’t always music, sometimes they had art shows or different things. But if we were in a high school and didn’t have the kids on the stage, nobody cared, right? Even though it was around the corner from whatever marketing research we did around those people.

We learned that lesson and the series didn’t die, but we stopped playing in high schools and we focused more on other places. This is tangential to the whole funding question, but I think you do have to make sure that you’re willing to modify your projects and be open to being wrong and tweak them as you go along. As it relates to grants, I think the important thing for students to understand is, whether it’s a one-time funding opportunity that maybe has a report, often they’ll have a report out at the end or a multi-level funding, you can change it.

If you start that project and it doesn’t work, when you get to that final report that goes back to the funder, you can say, ‘Here’s what we learned.’ You know, we did this and that, we didn’t do this, and here’s why, right? That’s okay. Again, you don’t necessarily have to have every piece of everything figured out when you make that application. However, you’ll do better having done that if that relationship piece has been set at the beginning too.

Khandeya Sheppard on Navigating Rejection

How do you navigate rejection?

ZF: Because you’re talking about partnerships with institutions and organizations, you also mentioned partnering with individuals. If you’d called me and said, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And told me about it? I would have said yes, like, “Yes, I want to do that.”

But my question is…

  • Did you get to “no” ever?
  • If so, what did you do?
  • How did you navigate that?
  • If you hit a roadblock, how did you wiggle around that?

KS: I will say that not everybody that got asked wanted to be involved in the project. However, I think I over populated my options of people, if that makes sense. I thought about a multitude of different people that this could benefit, knowing that there was a possibility that some people may not want to be a part of the project. But I had the conviction that I was going to do it anyway. Even if it was me and my band and that’s all that ended up happening, and I had to make some different arrangements around where it was going to happen and how it was going to pull off, I knew that I wanted to have this concert for this person. That was my goal.

What it ended up turning into was the benefit of having these conversations with other people. So, when I did get that “no” from certain individuals, I said, “Well, thank you for your time. Thank you for your consideration here in this project. If you would like to come and see the concert anyway…” Just to show a favor [to them].

Number one, I don’t know exactly what the reason for the “no” was and I didn’t want to make any assumptions, right? You want to leave them with the experience of the project anyway. So I offered for them to come to the concert and experience the project anyway, with the hopes that if you do something in the future, we can try to re-engage that partnership.

The most important and key part for me is leaving the door open for people in the future to want to be a part of what you have going on, what your artistic project or your endeavor is going to be. Sometimes it’s hard to get the “no”, but the “no” helps you dig a little bit further in: were you clear in what you were presenting?

  • Was it just not the right fit for that person at that time? You don’t really know what’s going on with that partner or something else.
  • Did that leave an opportunity for somebody else who really wanted to be a stakeholder at the table to come in and have their place in this particular time?

You can find out later in the future, there may be other people like the people you were trying to reach out to to be a part of the project that maybe better suited for what you have going on.

ZF: That makes really a lot of sense. One of the things that really struck me was that you didn’t have one person as the linchpin that held everything together, other than the person that you were honoring. Like, that person was kind of the focus, and then everything else was “all are welcome.” If you’d like to be part of this, there is room. If you don’t, you’re still invited. It’s all are welcome and however you want to engage.


Klein, A. (2020, February 19). “On responding to negative feedback: Walking with a broken foot.” Creative Independent.



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