Application Tips with Amber O’Reilly

Photo credit: Sarah Lamontagne Photography 

To help you prepare the best possible application for a MAC arts grant, we’ve enlisted the help of a few assessors who’ve served on a MAC peer assessment panel over the past year. We’re sharing some tips on writing successful grant applications, putting together a project proposal, and more wisdom from inside the panel room.

Today’s expert is Amber O’Reilly, a French-Canadian multilingual poet, spoken word artist, playwright and screenwriter from Yellowknife and based in Winnipeg since 2013. Her poetry and critical writing have appeared in several journals, magazines and newspapers and she has performed across Canada. Her French-language poetry collection Boussole franche is published with Les Éditions du Blé and won the 2021 Prix-littéraire Rue-Deschambault (Manitoba Book Awards). Her play Annie et Tom du lundi au vendredi was read at the 10th Festival à haute voix at Théâtre l’Escaouette in Moncton, and an excerpt will be read at the 12th Women Playrights International Conference in Montreal (June 18-23, 2022). She is also the author of several short theatre and film works. Her passion for languages has led her to speak French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and English. Amber serves as Board Chair of Thin Air Winnipeg International Writers Festival and Board Secretary of Association des auteur-e-s du Manitoba français.

As an assessor, what do you look for in a successful grant application?

I look for three main elements:

1) Originality

Is this something I have seen/heard/watched/read before? Is the work groundbreaking and memorable?

2) Potential

Does the project promise to find an audience, to create community and foster connection?

3) Weight

How important is the project to the artist’s career trajectory? Is it essential? Will it open doors for them?

What’s the biggest red flag on a grant application?

Lack of clarity, whether in the project description or budget are concerns. When I can’t understand what the work is about, I wonder how the applicant will fare in carrying out their project if its scope is not yet clearly defined. If there seem to be fishy calculations in the budget, it shows me the application might have been rushed, not quite thought-through. Most red flags can be avoided by reading the guidelines in advance to identify ineligible expenses and activities (ALWAYS read the guidelines!) and chatting with any of the friendly and approachable program consultants about the project prior to submitting an application.

                Read more: Build your best budget

“Brilliant support material is really what helped me remember and fight for an application, because it created an emotional bond between the applicant and myself. Having the chance to peer into an artist’s practice through their most promising work is utterly thrilling.”

For MAC grants, applicants are asked to speak about the cultural integrity of their project. As an assessor, what is the importance of cultural integrity in a project proposal, and what do you look for in an answer?

Cultural integrity is not to be overlooked, no matter the subject matter and practices or techniques involved in a project. It is the foundation of our practices as artists. I want to know how the artist considers their work in current global cultural contexts, traditions and symbolism. I want to know what level of care the artist intends to practice if they are creating work that goes beyond the boundaries of their own culture and experiences. To me, a high level of cultural integrity implies awareness, research, collaborations and especially consideration for audience experiences.

                Read more: MAC’s Statement on Cultural Integrity

How can I make my application stand out?

Applications that stand out for me showcase enthusiasm, a sense of urgency, high stakes and careful planning. The project’s who, what, where, when and especially WHY need to be clear and convincing.

How did your experience as an assessor change the way that you approach grant writing?

My experience as an assessor solidified many of the thoughts I had previously had as an applicant. With so many applications to read through, understand and numerically rank, the narrative sections of an application and the budget can only go so far to wow assessors. Brilliant support material is really what helped me remember and fight for an application, because it created an emotional bond between the applicant and myself. Having the chance to peer into an artist’s practice through their most promising work is utterly thrilling. As an assessor, I encountered lackluster support materials and also work samples that I urgently wanted to share with the world.

For more information, videos, and resources to help write a MAC grant application, visit our How to Apply page.