How To Make Time to Be an Artist

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

Tell me if this happens to you.

There is a new book out by a break through author and you think to yourself, “That could be me.  I wonder how she did it.”

You stand on line at a book signing and as you move closer to the author, you feel more and more frustrated holding that book in your hands while your book, the one you have always wanted to write, is still an unwritten dream.  As she autographs your copy, you make the same promise to yourself that you always make when you find yourself face to face with someone who is actually doing what you are longing to do, “OK, today I am going to write my book!”

The problem is that promise will have to fight its way through a laundry list of Other Important Reasons Why You Can’t to get you to sit down and do your work.  Here are the most common ones:

  • I’m too busy
  • I have no time
  • I have a big job
  • I have other priorities
  • I can’t get started

At this point, you know that you are the only one who can champion that promise through.

Without your help, that dream will remain what it is - just a dream. And you will always be on the line with the rest of the dreamers, another fan seeking an autograph, not the writer who has written the book.

Writers and artists have lives that are not that different from ours.  They have to live somewhere, put food on the table, and take care of themselves or their families.  They also have a passion to be creative, to make art and to get it out into the world to share with others.  How do they do this?

Artists actually have two passions.

The passion for their art which is the one that fuels their dreams and imagination.  This is what many people experience when they read a book or see a painting that touches them.  You see yourself in that work of art and you feel their creative spirit igniting your inner artist.

The other passion is their practice.  This is the part that is not so glamorous or exciting.  It is the alarm clock set for 4:45 am, it is the daily struggle to put a few good words on paper, to fight distractions, the will to create something faithfully, to acknowledge and thank yourself for the effort without judgement.

To show up.  Every single day.

The power of combining these two passions is formidable.  It will strengthen your creativity with focus and from this will come your book, your painting, your opera.

You will also be experiencing the benefits of an artistic life: creating joy and living an intentional, purposeful life.

Three simple steps to set up your practice

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen. “

Joseph Campbell on having a “bliss station,“ in The Power of Myth

Over time, you will find you are actually building a body of work.  You will also notice elevated levels of happiness in your life because you are doing something about that dream of yours and spending time working on what you are passionate about.

This practice requires commitment and perseverance.  By showing up every day, you will gain a strong sense of purpose. Sharing it with others will give you joy. This is what will sustain your creative spirit.

These three steps that lay between you as the fan and you as the artist.

Set your alarm

Find one hour a day.

Think about your typical day and find one hour of time.  Set an alarm, a calendar reminder, an alert or anything that will remind you it is your time for your practice.  

This should be a time that you can come to everyday and do your work. For me, this is that magical hour from 5:00 - 6:00 am. I set two alarms for myself.  One is to wake me up and one is my internal clock to be mentally prepared to fight my desire to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

Clean your desk

Keep your space clear.

This is your sacred space.

I believe the only things you need are your imagination and your tools.   For me, that means absolutely nothing on my desk, no sounds, no distractions.  No phones, Facebook, alerts.  No internal editor - myself.  I even turn all of my text white so I can just write without interruption.. Something I cannot do easily because I am so easily tempted to self edit as I write.

Sit in the chair.

Show up.

I have a friend who has a hard time getting himself to practice the cello.  He will walk into the practice room and walk around circling the cello before sitting down to play. Once he is sitting in his chair and practicing, time will fly and he wonders why he wasn’t doing this earlier.  

Sometimes getting past “circling the cello” and just sitting your chair is the most difficult challenge.

Make something

What terrifies me is the blank page.  

For you it may the empty canvas, the silence in your head.

You may also have that other pesky fear: of not being perfect.

Your job is to put something down on paper.  Get the story, the dance, the symphony out of your head and into the world.  It will look like a mess.  

“Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it.” Salvador Dali

If you are struggling with your work, here’s a piece of advice I find helpful:

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“Procrastinate.  If at first you don’t succeed, give up immediately, move on to some other task until that becomes unbearable. Then move on again circling back around to the first problem.  By now, your subconscious will have worked on it, sort of like sleep, only cheaper.”  from Ten Bullets by Tom Sachs

There are many dreamers in the world with a work of art one alarm clock away from becoming a wonderful reality.

Set yours now.




Meet QAF 2016 Awardee Kensaku Shinohara

1. Can you tell us about your QAF funded project?

title: monster 

date: Dec 3-4, 2016 (not confirmed yet)

place: Queens Museum (not confirmed yet) 

My concept for monster is based on Trio, a dance I developed
in collaboration with two other dancers in 2014. Trio was an
active exploration of space and time and how these elements
influence character development and narrative within the
framework of modern dance. Since premiering, Trio has been restaged
for Ferrone Dance Hub (NYC), Mauriah Kraker (WI) and
conte (Japan). After working on Trio for a year, I’m now curious
to mine the choreographic concepts that spurred this short dance
on a larger scale via a new work, monster. For monster, I will
incorporate four dancers, both male and female, to elicit complex
inter-relationships and to yield a rich choreographic architecture
for the stage. I’m eager to immerse myself in the material of time
and space as choreographic tools once again in order to learn
more about how I can affect both audience and dancers’
experience of a dance by manipulating these essential elements
of performance.


2. How do you think this project will impact the community?


It will help bringing people from Manhattan and Brooklyn where there are more art events to Queens borough. They will start to know what is happening in Queens and will come back.

Also our work will inspire the art scene in Queens. Even Queens Museum has not brought many dance performances, so we hope to bring more contemporary/modern dance, especially since Queens Museum has extraordinary spaces. 


3. How has QCA been helpful in the grant process?


Especially the workshops and lectures were helpful to learn how to write the applications.

Also appreciate the quick response from QCA all the time.


4. Here is your chance, what do you want everyone to know about you as an artist and your process?


I create dance that is new and affects people's values. 

It may change your perspective. 

It may not look entertaining at a first sight, but it will inspire you somehow. 


I have my full artist statement here:




Hip to Hip Theatre’s Story (Or How the Queens Arts Fund Can Help You)

Hip to Hip Theatre Company has received a whopping 12 Queens Arts Fund (QAF) grants since 2009. Their focus is on presenting free professional performances of Shakespeare’s classics in Queens parks all over our vast borough. Artistic Director for Hip to Hip, Jason Marr, kindly took a moment to answer some questions for us about Hip to Hip and how QAF has helped shape their growth as the premiere producers of Shakespeare in the park in Queens.



Jason Marr (center) performing with Hip to Hip on the Long Island City waterfront

Hip to Hip has received several QAF grants over the years. What has been the most immediate, positive impact of receiving these grants?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, QAF helped us really get in the game. In 2009, the first year we received funding through QAF, we doubled the size of our programming and quadrupled our reach. In fact, even applying had a positive impact on our young organization because it pushed us to really examine our administrative structure, our short-term and long-term goals, and it allowed us to dream bigger. I am happy to give a lot of credit to QAF for helping us focus and expand our mission to include the whole borough of Queens.

Have your QAF grants opened up any opportunities for Hip to Hip beyond just the immediate impact of getting that sweet, green cash money?

Absolutely. Funding begets more funding. The most obvious opportunity funding from QAF opened up to us is avenues to other funding sources. When individual donors and foundations look at your organization and see that a local arts council is on your list of supporters, it gives you an advantage because they see that the organization is already on the road to sustainability and accountability. In other words, having QAF’s “stamp of approval” makes you a safe bet for other funders.

You perform at several public parks throughout the vast geography of Queens. Can you describe the impact your programming has had on each of these communities?

An important part of our mission is to bring professional cultural activity to those who would not otherwise have access to it. In order to achieve this, we do three things: (1) we try to target communities that are underserved; (2) our programming is free; and (3) our programming is held in public parks. Of these three, it is the “free” and “public parks” that makes all the difference, because we reach more than just the folks who may have seen our poster or received a flyer from a local civic organization, but we also reach a lot of people who just happen to be in the park that day. During a performance of Hamlet in Flushing Meadows two years ago, a group of teenagers on bikes stopped in their tracks when they stumbled upon our show in progress, and I’ll never forget the look of surprise on their faces, and I’ll never forget how they slowly laid their bikes on the ground and became engrossed in this live cultural community event.

Because we run a borough-wide tour, one of our biggest challenges is really connecting to each of the communities. Last year, we launched an outreach campaign that partnered us with the Community Boards in each of our target communities, which in turn partners us with over 100 civic organizations.

How is the 2015 season looking?

2015 promises to be our biggest and brightest yet. For our ninth year of programming, we will be touring our children’s workshop “Kids & the Classics” and our professional productions of The Merchant of Venice and The Merry Wives of Windsor to ten parks all over the borough from July 22 to August 16, and we anticipate reaching nearly 8,000 people.



Finding Funders & Getting Them To Love You and What You Do

You are alone in your studio.

You and your cup of coffee.

You think about what you really want to be creating. A deep sigh escapes from your soul.

Why did my last grant proposal get turned down?

Who else can I go to to for funding?

And how do other people get grants?

We all know that grantwriting is hard work, but what should you do when your efforts just don’t seem to pay off?

Do you cross your paint stained fingers and keep plugging away? Hope that your next proposal will be a winner? Pray that award letters will soon flood your inbox?

You need a new strategy, not wishful thinking.

When your grantwriting efforts aren’t doing as well as you’d like, don’t simply step up your efforts. And don’t give up.

Instead, take a step back and look at what you’ve done so far.

Do you have the right pieces – and the right thinking in place to impress panelists and win grants?

When I asked you to tell me what some of your top frustrations in grantwriting are, many of you said that knowing how to find funders and getting “detailed information on how to find those that have given grants in the past and those that would take grant submissions” were huge challenges.

This can be confusing but over the years I have developed a clear strategy for finding the right funders and building relationships. 

If you want to create a simple strategy that will help you win more funders & fans, answer the four questions below.

Sound good?

Let’s start with understanding your funder.

1. Who is your one funder?

You might be aiming to send out proposals to several funders.

But if you think of large numbers of foundation, philanthropic, government and corporate funders, you turn them into a faceless crowd.  And when you appeal to a faceless crowd, your writing becomes general, common, and boring.

OK, do you think Stephen King focuses on millions of readers when writing his bestsellers?

King tells us, in his book On Writing, he writes for one reader only — his wife. As he writes, he wonders, “What will Tabitha think about this section?”

Works pretty well for him.

When you write for one funder, your writing instantly becomes more engaging, focused, and persuasive. You’ll stand out more from the crowd, get more points for really knowing what is important to your funder, which will help you generate a higher ranking.

Do you know your one funder?

Can you imagine picking up the phone, introducing yourself and your project, and perhaps complimenting something you read on her website?

Have you had a conversation with any of the other artists listed on her website that have gotten grants?

Do you go to events that this funder supports?  That is the best way to establish a personal contact.

And grantwriting is personal.

Foundations exist to give away money to fulfill their mission.  But  do you think they will give away money to someone they don’t know or trust?

Panelists look for a reason in your proposal to trust you with a grant to do your project.  You can build that trust by doing a little homework to make your proposal more appealing.

To know your one funder, go beyond hitting the search button at the Foundation Center.

Dig a little deeper to understand their mission. Understand their priorities. Empathize with their goals, and inspire them with your ability to help them achieve their goals as well as yours.

2. Why would your funder fund you?

Your art might help you achieve a number of goals — increase your audience, build buzz,  generate more sales in tickets or of your artwork, raise your profile, gain new collectors, etc.

But have you thought about what’s in it for your funder?

Why should she support you?

The panelists will read hundreds of proposals from people like you who will write all about the quality of their work and their artistic goals.

What can you do to stand out?

Here’s something to keep in mind:

  1. Funders have missions and goals that, at their core, are really about making the world a better place
  2. They have to give out money to people whose work is of high quality and aligns with those missions and goals
  3. Showing a funder how you are the best candidate to fulfill both her goals & yours is a smarter grantwriting strategy.

A few examples:

  • As a painter, you might want to create new work and give an open studio tour for the community
  • As a composer, you could help local music teachers and give a mini masterclass about engaging students in ensembles.
  • As a dance company, you could give an open dress rehearsal for a neighborhood senior center
  • As a multimedia artist, you might volunteer to create a set of awards for a local legislator to present to civic leaders

3. Are you crazy?  I don’t have time to do all that!

To engage your funder and get a grant, you need to build a relationship.

To market your work and build an audience for your work, you have to do the same.

Don’t wait until you have spent all your time, money and energy creating work – and then start thinking about building support and awareness of your art.

Try thinking the other way around.

Consider the time you give in cultivating funders as an investment in marketing, promotion and building awareness of you & your art.

The world your funders occupy are full of people that could be your next raving fans, new collectors & buyers.  Some of them are artists, many of them are art lovers.

And if you have a good relationship with a funder and she cannot fund you, she can recommend you to someone else who can.  This happens more often than you think and you cannot get a better referral than that!

4. Do you build long-term relationships?

It’s easy to forget that people fund people. The concept is a cliché, but it’s true.

Before people will give you money, you need to build relationships:

  • Invite them to your events, your studio.  Many funders like to watch and observe what you are doing before giving you a grant.
  • Attend events they are sponsoring.  What a great way to meet them in person!
  • If they have a blog, offer a guest blog or material for it.  JetBlue, ConEdison and many other corporations have blogs that love feedback and input from the public.  This can really help you build advocates on the inside and keep you top of mind for other unexpected opportunities.

To turn funders into supporters, be a good friend. Don’t treat them like numbers.

Here’s what to do next:

Ready to find funders & get them to love you and what you do?

Over the next 5 days, take 30 minutes a day and try my simple plan:

  • DAY 1:  create your profile and write down what makes your project unique
  • DAY 2:  make a list of 3-5 targeted funders and who they have funded. Study trade magazines like Poet & Writers.  Contact your district legislators about funding opportunities.  Check in with your local and state arts councils like Queens Council on the Arts.
  • DAY 3:  pick one funder and write down all of the ways your project meet their mission
  • DAY 4:  plan out your funder strategy. Can you contact a past grant awardee for some insight? (Hint: give them a compliment at the beginning of the conversation by congratulating them on their success)  Have you checked the funder’s website or blog?  Did you contact the funder’s office to ask for some advice regarding the application process?  To answer another commentfrom the survey,We need to know the trends that are being funded right now”, here’s your opportunity to find out.
  • DAY 5:  review all you have learned and decide it this is the funder for you

The simple truth about funders

Of course you’d love to get more grants. But the truth is, the money is less important than the relationship.

Authentic engagement with the people who can support you is what matters.

Develop relationships with your funders.  Put them first and they will put you in their portfolio of successful grantees.

That’s how you win more grants.

Ask yourself

Does your fundraising strategy keep funders engaged with your art and sync well with their missions?

Hang on to your calculators!

Look out for my next bonus Grantwriting 101 Tutorial post where I talk about all things budget such as how to avoid  the 3 most common budget mistakes artists make.

Got a question?

Let’s talk about finding funders that are right for you.

Do me a favor and hit the Like button and let me know how I can help you get funders excited about you & your next project in the comments below

Let’s get started,

Hoong Yee



Meet 2016 QAF Awardee - Juan Hinojosa

1. Can you tell us about your QAF funded project?

The new installation which is called ENJOY THE SILENCE, will consist of over 5,000 hand cut paper circles, which are hand painted and attached to the walls. The number of circles, or "eyes" as I call them, will surround the viewer and fill the space as much as possible. The concept of the eyes is to evoke the feelings of paranoia and the general sensation of being watched.  Currently, this feeling has become an issue with the new bathroom controversy all across the US. 

This installation will be created on site at Materials for the Arts in Long island City.  The official opening will be on Oct 20th from 6-8pm.  I will be giving a small artist talk to go over the bathroom controversy and hopefully open up a conversation about bathroom fears and issues.

2. How do you think this project will impact the community?

I can only my hope installation ENJOY THE SILENCE, brings up the conversation of gender neutral bathrooms.  Currently, there are 1.4 million transgender people living all over the US and even thought I may not be one, I can certain understand the feeling of awkwardness and feeling unwelcome while in a public restroom.  I hope my installation can illustrate that to the viewers and those who decide to walk into and use the public bathroom at Materials for the Arts.

3. How has QCA been helpful in the grant process?

 QCA help has been completely instrumental in this entire process.  Having a laid out budget, spreadsheet, and a solid plan to follow made me think of this whole process as a job or mini company I was starting.  Sure it is about art and making an installation but it put everything in a very professional context.  In many ways it reminded me of the NYFA Boot Camp of 2010 i did but with an actual goal/project in mind.  The best part is, now I can share my experience with the entire borough of Queens.

4. Here is your chance, what do you want everyone to know about you as an artist and your process?

I am a mixed-media artist who lives and works in New York. I received my BFA from Parsons School of Design and was awarded residencies at Material for the Arts (New York), the Vermont Studio Center (Vermont), and Aljira Center for Contemporary Art (New Jersey). Over the years I have been lucky enough to have had exhibitions at Materials for the Arts (New York),  Queens Museum of Art (New York), and the 2011 Biennial at El Museo del Barrio (New York).