Film Funding | Reports

Funding for Vermont Filmmakers

1 Oct , 2002  

Written by Ann Jackman | Posted by:

Filmmakers and artists can find a supportive network and an important source of funds through the Vermont Arts Council.

The arts thrive when communities embrace their creative artists.  And communities thrive when artists use their visions to enrich the world around them.  Such is the symbiotic relationship that is the driving force behind the Vermont Arts Council (VAC), based in Montpelier, Vermont.

The Vermont Arts Council began in 1964 and it remains the only state arts organization in the country that is an independent, private, non-profit organization with a Board of Trustees, as opposed to other state arts councils that are government agencies.  According to its literature, the Council’s mission is to promote all kinds of artistic expression in its belief that "the arts enrich lives, expand minds, and form a vital thread in the fabric of Vermont community life."  It achieves this goal primarily through awarding project grants to creative artists and arts organizations throughout Vermont.

The Council has three stated goals:  to "create an environment where the arts can flourish, to nurture lifelong learning in the arts, and to strengthen community through the arts." That’s a big plan for a small state, but VAC has managed to stay alive and support the Vermont arts community for almost 40 years.  One of the reasons it does so is because it is not solely reliant on state and federal government funds.  "We are designated by the state to function as an arts council, but we operate independently," says Michele Bailey, Director of Artists Programs.  "[Although] the majority of our funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the state of Vermont, we also raise money through fundraising and membership."

In terms of funding for artists, VAC offers grants to individual artists, organizations, and schools for a wide variety of projects and support services. All applicants must be current Vermont residents.  Up until 1996, the Council offered only a fellowship program that was divided into specific artistic disciplines and was merit-based, but because of cuts in the NEA’s budget, VAC had to go through some restructuring. "We meshed all the disciplines into one category as a way to simplify, since we had less money and less staff," says Bailey.

This one umbrella category is now called Opportunity Grants, and it is divided into three sections:  Creation, Presentation, and Education.  The Presentation and Education sections are aimed primarily at arts organizations and schools, respectively, while most of the grants for individual artists are contained within the Creation category.  Its title is self-explanatory.  Creation focuses on the creation of new work as well as an artist’s personal development.  Filmmakers looking to fund a certain phase of their production would apply in this category.

Within this category there are three different types of grants:  The Standard Projects Grant, The Incentive Project Grant, and the Artistic Development Grant.  Which grant you apply for depends on the particulars of your project and your budgetary needs.

The largest of the grants, the Standard Projects Grant, ranges from $751 to $7,000. Applicants must present proposals for a specific project or a specific phase of a project. For example, a filmmaker can apply for funding to develop a script, to shoot a documentary, or to help in post-production, as long as the specific phase contained in the proposal is completed within a certain time frame.  The applicant must also demonstrate long-term goals for the project in terms of public presentation and future exhibition plans.     

Incentive Grants are smaller, between $250 and $750, and they help provide start-up funds, for instance to do research on a project.   "They are more about helping to create a new work.  I think of it as seed money to help emerging artists," says Bailey. Unlike the Standard Grants, which take into account the public presentation aspect, Incentive Grants focus more on an artist’s personal achievement.

Finally, the Artist’s Development Grant, which ranges from $250 to $500, helps artists in their ongoing professional development, by offering funds to help pay for conferences, seminars, and training, as well as funds for creating promotional materials and demo reels.

All grants require proof of matching funds.  The artist may request up to 50% of the cash needed for his or her particular project as long as it falls within the monetary range of the various awards. There are two deadlines a year for the Standard Grants and four deadlines for the smaller ones. The next deadline for all grants is December 10, 2002.

Bailey says that VAC gets up to 25 applicants for each deadline cycle, but was surprised to receive more than 40 in the last cycle alone.  She does not know how to explain this increase, but is heartened by the fact that the growing number of interested applicants can only mean that VAC is achieving its goal of encouraging artistic expression throughout Vermont.  In general, about one-third of the applicants receive awards.  The decisions are made by an ever-changing panel comprised of four to six artists of varying disciplines, depending on the types of applications received.  The panel determines the winners and the grant amounts and then makes its recommendations to the VAC Board of Trustees.

In addition to funds, VAC has also started an Artist’s Directory, an online database of the Vermont Arts Community.  Started this past January, it is slowly beginning to grow and is proving to be a useful information and networking source for local artists.  In the long run, the Council is considering organizing a statewide arts conference and is continually trying to think of new ways to offer training opportunities for artists.

"Freedom and Unity" is the state motto of Vermont, and the Vermont Arts Council embodies that sentiment splendidly in both its structure and its mission —  "unity" in that it operates in partnership with state and federal agencies, but "freedom" in that it maintains itself as a private, independent entity.  By providing the resources and support that allow artists to express themselves, to educate others, and to spread their vision throughout Vermont communities, VAC seeks to bring everyone together in an appreciation of art in all its forms.

For further information on the Vermont Arts Council, visit its website at or call them at (802) 828-3291.

For further information on the Vermont Arts Council, visit its website at or call them at (802) 828-3291.