When we approached DCASE about recommending a candidate for a successful theater-oriented grant recipient, Director of Cultural Grants Allyson Esposito responded with two words: George Bajalia. Bajalia's pitch for the Individual Artist Grant in 2013 was for research funding to travel to the frontier of Morocco and Algeria. There, he would gather materials to produce a high-quality play that showcased those cultures to a Chicago audience. Bajalia is interested in raising awareness through accessible storytelling, focusing on the geopolitical realities of people and the arbitrary borders that define or confine them.
Bajalia won $4,000 to research and produce The Magic Carpet. CAR corresponded with him via email to learn a bit more about how he pitched this successful endeavor to the City. His actual grant application documents are attached to the end of this article.
George Bajalia's Approach:
Grantors want to fund our projects. They work in the non-profit, educational and civil sectors for a reason. They are actively trying to give financial support for artists, and that’s important to remember. Grantors are trying to help.
I start “free-writing” as soon as I find out about the grant. I ask myself why I want to apply for the grant. What project comes to mind? Why would that project be important to the grantor? For the Individual Artist Program grant, I read through the prompts to get a sense for whom the funder was, and how the grant fit into to its mission. I didn’t worry about matching my responses to the prompts—or even what I wrote—as long as I got my thoughts down.
Grantors are really looking for someone with a clear vision who can articulate that vision to an outside audience.
This early stage is crucial; it’s when I write my most honest argument for why my work is a good fit for the grant. This writing is more candid than later drafts, but it is important. As I revise my writing, I try to distill the grant application into two questions: “Why is my work right for the grant?”and “Why am I the right person to carry it out?” Sometimes, I also answer the question, “Why right now,” though that answer often becomes evident in the editing process.
Affording myself the time to free-write responses is one of the primary advantages of starting early. Later, during the editing process, this work frees up time to hone my responses to address the prompts in an articulate manner.
Previously, when I applied for a Fulbright grant, I received some very good counsel: Fulbright isn’t always looking for good research, they are looking for good researchers. Grantors are really looking for someone with a clear vision who can articulate that vision to an outside audience.
I have to confess that I don’t always start early. The other good thing about the free-write is that I usually generate much more material than I need. A small amount of it is relevant. I never delete the excess; I compile it in a separate document. This material isn’t necessarily bad, it just may not be right for the proposal at hand. For ongoing projects, it can be really helpful to have this material as starting points for additional applications.
Demonstrate the ability to develop a realistic and executable plan.
Occasionally I’ll solicit the opinion of other directors and writers, but oftentimes I seek out the opinions of colleagues who work in other fields of the arts. Their critiques help me build a sense of the common vocabulary I should use for the proposal. Grant readers are individuals who have in-depth, but extremely varied, experiences with the arts. My proposal to fund a play needs to click with people from a diverse array of backgrounds. Getting feedback from fellow artists and arts administrators gives me a sense of what language is intelligible across backgrounds. It also provides extremely useful insight into how my project plan sits with potential audience members and collaborators.
George’s application had an incredibly clear writing style without sounding overly academic or abstract.
The most appealing thing to grantors is that you demonstrate the ability to develop a realistic and executable plan. Get specific about your plans for the grant’s support. Even if your final product ends up a bit different, these plans show that you have a well-defined framework. Any funds raised advance the project. At the end of the day, the grantor wants to fund somebody. We just need to help them believe in our work as much we do.
Allyson Esposito, director of cultural grants, DCASE:
George’s application had an incredibly clear writing style, conveying the potential and importance of his idea in high level concepts without sounding overly academic or abstract. He is focused on the development of a new work that has an exciting international component. Based on the artist’s work sample, the panel had every confidence that the final product will be involving, multicultural and open up dialogue around arbitrary borders. The premise of exploring arbitrary borders through the tangible metaphor of an incomplete rug is rich in both thematic and visual potential. Exceptionally detailed and accurate budget.
George Bajalia is a Chicago-based theatre artist and cultural critic. His research interests lie at the intersection of cultural globalization, identity performance and transnationalism within the Mediterranean region. Previously he was a Fulbright scholar in Morocco, where he adapted and directed a Moroccan Arabic production of West Side Story in addition to continuing research on the role of performance, on stage and off, in public discourse.
Bajalia is co-founder and artistic director of a transnational mobile arts lab called the Borderline Theatre Project, and is working with the Chicago theatre company Silk Road Rising on a short film entitled Multi Meets Poly; Multiculturalism and Polyculturalism Go on a First Date. He is also working on his new play, The Magic Carpet, which examines the militarization of the border between Morocco and Algeria and the economies of exchange, both formal and informal, between residents on either side of the border.
Bajalia holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication studies and Mediterranean culture and history from Northwestern University. he is a staff writer for online magazine Muftah.org and a contributor to visual anthropology blog Signs of Seeing.
George Bajalia is also featured on the 3Arts website.