Announcing The Common Application for the Arts

June 1, 2023

Margot Melcon, Program Executive, Arts and Culture, Zellerbach Family Foundation
David Blazevich, Executive Director, Fleishhacker Foundation
Shelley Trott, Chief Program Officer, Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Nearly 50 years ago, admissions officers from 15 colleges created the original College Common Application. To save stressed out high school seniors time, the group agreed upon a set of identical questions that an applicant could answer and submit to any of the participating colleges. Today, over a thousand public and private universities accept the College Common App.

Wouldn’t it be great if grantseekers could fill out a single application and a thousand funders would accept it?

With that dream in mind, we have come together to create the first-of-its-kind “Common App” for artists and arts organizations looking for funding in the Bay Area. We have developed this new tool with input from artists, grantseekers, and grantmakers, and with an openness to making changes so that this tool becomes more useful, and easier to use, as time goes by.

The impetus for this work stems from research several of us co-commissioned on how individual artists and arts organizations accessed arts funding during the height of the COVID pandemic.

One of the key findings was that if grantmakers had collaborated more, if grant applications were simplified, and if there was greater transparency about funding opportunities, then the mad rush of arts-relief funding that was distributed in the first year of the pandemic would have been allocated more effectively, efficiently, and equitably.

Although the missions, strategies, and goals of our foundations are different, we share the belief that the grant application process should be simpler, and it’s our responsibility as funders to reduce the burdens we place on grantseekers wherever we can. That is what this “The Common Application for the Arts” is all about.

Upcoming Grant Opportunities Accepting The Common App:

The Zellerbach Family Foundation - Community Arts Program
Applications due: June 19, 20223

The Fleishhacker Foundation - Small Arts Grants Program
Applications due: July 15, 2023

What The Common Application for the Arts is

The Common App is a new tool for artists, arts organizations, and fiscally sponsored projects seeking project and organizational funding from the arts programs at our foundations.

We compared the questions we were asking in our individual grant applications and agreed on asking the same questions, in the same way (and with the same word counts!).

The Common App standardizes the application process.

The Common App asks only the questions that we need in clear and simple language to provide our program officers, panelists, and Board Members with the information necessary to make a funding decision.

The Common App streamlines the application process.

We also looked at how we ask grantseekers for budget information and there too we determined that we could simplify and streamline our requirements. So, The Common App includes Project and Organizational budget templates that are accepted by all of us. Fill the template out once and you can submit it, as is, to all three of our foundations.

What The Common Application for the Arts is not

This is new for us.

We’re taking a walk-before-you-run approach in developing this new tool.

Therefore, like the paper version of the College Common App that was rolled out in 1975, this first version has some limitations.

Filling out The Common Application for the Arts does not serve as a one-stop-shop grant application portal to the three foundations.

We hope to build that technical capability in the future, but for now, eligible grantseekers who meet a particular funder’s criteria can copy their responses to The Common App questions and paste them into the corresponding questions on each funder’s application form.

Questions asked in The Common App will match 90-100% of the questions you will find on the individual application forms, as funders will use questions from The Common App’s standardized set of questions.

Responses provided in The Common Application for the Arts are not going to be evaluated in the same way by each funder.

We have come together to standardize how we ask questions, but each funder still has its own priorities, guidelines, eligibility, and review process. Our partnership on The Common App does not combine grant programs or pool funds.

What does success look like?

Our goals are that The Common Application for the Arts:

  • saves grantseekers time
  • reduces the burden of the application process
  • provides transparency around grantseeking
  • creates greater consistency and efficiency in the application process
  • offers standardized budget formats
  • enhances coordinated outreach and communication about grant opportunities

Over time, we also hope that more funders, locally and even nationally, will come to accept The Common App, standardizing and simplifying their own applications and budget templates and making the process even more rewarding.

The adage that “to go fast one should go alone, but to go far one should go with others,” has resonated for us in the year that we have been working together on this project, but we all know group projects are not always the easiest.

As a starting point for this work, we gathered and reviewed several dozen applications and grant guidelines used by fellow arts funders in the Bay Area. We identified the questions asked most consistently and the recurring themes in these documents. The Common App we have developed seeks to gather information that is not only of highest interest to our three programs, but speaks to the common interests of a wider community of arts-funders.

Each of us has different operational and technological capacities to manage a grants application process, and this too has impacted our approach to go slow to make changes that will last.

But each of us is here to try something new and to be open to learning through this experience. A focus group held last spring provided valuable feedback that helped to focus and refine The Common App, and with input from the community, this tool will improve over time.

We hope you will take a look at the first-version of The Common Application for the Arts and that it helps you save some time as you apply for upcoming funding from us.

We also hope you will let us know your thoughts about the application itself and the approach we are taking.

- Margot, Shelley, David