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Grant Guidelines

Sue Mark | Advaita Society

The Creative Work Fund invites artists and nonprofit organizations to create new art works through collaborations. It celebrates the role of artists as problem solvers and the making of art as a profound contribution to intellectual inquiry and to the strengthening of communities.  Artists are encouraged to collaborate with nonprofit organizations of all kinds, stretching boundaries and forging new partnerships.

In October 2019, the Fund will award approximately $620,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations and collaborating visual or traditional artists. Grants will range from $15,000 to $45,000. Projects are expected to be completed within two or three years, but those of longer duration will be considered.

The Fund seeks

  • Projects in which the creation of an artwork is central
  • Projects in which the artist functions primarily as an artist, not as a teacher, an art therapist, or in another capacity
  • Projects in which an active, authentic working partnership between the artist or artists and the organization is central to the work’s development
  • Projects that engage the organization’s constituents in the artist’s work
  • Projects that draw upon artists’ creativity and problem-solving abilities
  • Projects through which the making of art can strengthen a community, draw attention to an important issue, or engage audiences in new ways
  • Projects that challenge artistic imagination and organizational thinking
  • Projects that will be presented in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, or Sonoma County
  • Projects that designate at least two-thirds of the grant funds to the principal artists and their direct expenses for creating the work.

2018-19 Invitation:
Traditional & Visual Arts

The Creative Work Fund invites letters of inquiry from nonprofit organizations and collaborating traditional or visual artists. A traditional or visual arts project may culminate in any form, but it must feature a lead artist with a strong track record as a traditional or visual artist. The Creative Work Fund uses the following definitions for these eligible artists:

    • Traditional artists create in art forms that are learned as part of the cultural life of a group of people whose members have a common ethnic heritage, language, religion, occupation, or region. These deeply rooted expressions reflect a community’s shared standards of beauty, values, or life experiences. Often they are learned orally or by emulation. Traditional artists may excel as individual artists, work as a group, or work collectively, and they may produce works in a variety of forms — oral traditions, performances, crafts, multidisciplinary works, and others.
Examples of recently funded traditional arts projects
    • Neema Hekmat of Mountain View collaborated with Afsaneh Art & Culture Society of Woodacre: Composer Neema Hekmat along with other musicians and the creative team at Ballet Afsaneh collaborated to create The Persepolis Project, an original performance work that was informed by ancient Persian earth-centered humanistic beliefs and philosophies. Original music compositions featured traditional Persian instruments.
    • Nimely Napla of Oakland collaborated with Diamano Coura West African Dance Company of Oakland: Liberian artist Nimely Napla collaborated with Diamano Coura West African Dance Company to create an original multidisciplinary performance piece titled The Forbidden Bush, was featured as part of Diamano Coura’s 40th and 41st performance seasons. The dance/drama was performed in an East Bay theater and outdoors at Lake  Merritt and Defremery Park.
    • Arash Shirinbab of Berkeley collaborated with the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California (based in Oakland): Calligrapher Arash Shirinbab, ceramicist Forrest Lesch-Middelton, and the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California explored themes of hospitality, morality, and justice through creating a series of calligraphy-inscribed ceramics that were inspired by the Persian Nishapur tradition. The artists made dishes, vessels, and tiles using traditional ceramics and calligraphy practices that convey messages coming from sources ranging from traditional Sufi poetry to Twitter. Integral to the project was an event at the cultural center at which guests were served food on some of the dishes, illustrating the art of hospitality at the heart of Islamic culture.
    • Jenny Bawer Young of Castro Valley collaborated with Manilatown Heritage Foundation of San Francisco: Master weaver Jenny Bawer Young collaborated with Manilatown Heritage Foundation and eight female apprentices on Chew-wang chi Biyeg (River of Life) to create an indigenous Kalinga laga (backstrap loom) tapestry. The project’s title refers to the Chica River, which runs through the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines. The tapestry was woven in traditional laga style through a collective and communal process in the United States and the Philippines.
    • Visual artists include those with experience in painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, installation art, public art, drawing, crafts, graphics, ceramics, design, or artists’ books. (Video and sound-based installation artists and artists creating new genre, time-based works should apply as media artists in a future year.)
Examples of recently funded visual arts projects
    • Mark Brest Van Kempen of Oakland collaborated with Arts Benicia: A master plan was being developed for the environmentally sensitive Benicia Waterfront that would integrate the historical downtown area with the adjacent marshlands and park. Arts Benicia and artist Mark Brest van Kempen collaborated to integrate public art and public dialogue into planning for this development. Three temporary site-specific installations and an exhibition explored aspects of the site and triggered a set of public events to discuss ideas raised by the installations.
    • Clare Rojas of San Francisco collaborated with the 509 Cultural Center of San Francisco: Muralist Clare Rojas, the 509 Cultural Center, and others involved in shaping a Mid-Market Arts District in San Francisco collaborated on the creation, development, and installation of a large-scale temporary public mural on the five-story Warfield Building. The finished work is visible to Market Street motorists, mass transit riders, and pedestrians.
    • Ehren Tool of Berkeley collaborated with the Palo Alto Art Center:  Ceramic artist Ehren Tool created new work honoring local veterans. Beginning in April 2014, the Palo Alto Art Center (Art Center) invited community members to lend objects, images, and ephemera related to their or their relatives’ military service. Ehren Tool incorporated these items as scanned glass decals or embedded objects into ceramic cups and displayed them in an installation. At the end of the project, he gave the cups away to the community members who had contributed images and objects for the project.
    • Rene Yung of San Francisco collaborated with the San Francisco Maritime National Historical ParkArtist Rene Yung explored untold stories of Chinese immigrants to the Bay Area through a project focusing on the 19th Century shrimping industry that Chinese immigrants established in the San Francisco Bay. With a team of artists, scholars, and Maritime Museum staff, Rene Yung sailed on a replica 19th century Chinese shrimp junk to sites of former fisheries, chronicling the journeys through visual images, audio, and text. The project culminated with an installation at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s Visitor’s Center and several public events.

In either category, artists and organizations should plan projects and prepare and authorize their letters of inquiry together. If a project will use a fiscal sponsor, that sponsor also must review and sign off on the letter.

Review Criteria

In the invited categories, the letter of inquiry screening and proposal award decisions will be based on:

  • Evidence of the range and quality of the artist’s work
  • Evidence that the project is an authentic collaboration between the artist and the organization
  • Evidence that the project stretches organizational thinking and artistic imagination
  • Demonstrated capability of the organization in its field
  • Evidence of fiscal responsibility and sound organizational management


Who Can Apply?
Creative Work Fund projects feature one or more artists collaborating with 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Fiscal sponsors are allowed. The Fund encourages the artists and organizations to “come together” for the sake of this collaboration:  An artist should not submit a request to collaborate with an organization if he or she serves on its staff or board of directors.
Residency Requirements
The principal collaborating artists must live in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, or Sonoma County and have lived there for at least two years prior to submitting a letter of inquiry.  Collaborating organizations also must be based in one of the 11 counties.
Limits on Submissions
Artists and organizations may submit one proposal per category per deadline and may receive no more than one Creative Work Fund grant every three years. For 2018-19 consideration, artists and organizations that received Creative Work Fund grants in October 2016, August 2017, and August 2018 are ineligible.

Past Creative Work Fund grant recipients also must have finished their projects and had their final reports approved before submitting new letters of inquiry.

The Fund will not consider

  • Commissions of new works by artists in which the applicant organization and artists are not collaboratively engaged in the making of those works
  • Projects in which the lead artists and collaborating organization are not based in the eligible counties or those with multiple artists, most of whom are based outside of the 11 counties
  • Projects that do not feature the artist(s) centrally as demonstrated by the project descriptions and budget allocations
  • Projects from lead artists or organizations that were awarded Creative Work Fund grants in 2016, 2017, or 2018
  • Projects from artists or organizations that have not completed projects and final reports for previously awarded Creative Work Fund projects.
Further consideration
Applicants receiving significant grants for the same project from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, or The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Special Awards in the Arts Program are less likely to be supported.
How to apply
Click here to learn how to apply.
The deadline for letters of inquiry is March 1, 2019 at 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.