Rachel Bunting is a Chicago-based dancer, choreographer and dance producer with a solid track record of winning grants. Bunting has received funding from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Dance USA/Audience Architects, Chicago Dancemakers Forum and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. She's founded a company, The Humans, and completed several residencies.
With so much experience on the topic, we asked Rachel to tell us a bit about her process when applying for grants. Her answer, to make a pitch that itself was an artwork, written in the language of poetry, surprised and intrigued us. It was also gracefully aligned with her interests in visual images and movement ... not to mention it won her $4,000 in funding. Bunting's actual grant application documents are attached to the end of this article.
Rachel Bunting's Approach:
Before I start dancing or hashing ideas out in the studio, I have already accumulated too many ideas. At first I don’t put any reins on these ideas. I have dreamed them up, and I give those dreams their full due. I write them out just as I’ve seen them in my mind. They are usually visual images, not movement ideas. This is the meat of my art.
Be careful what you write. Those ideas want to live.
For me, these images are pretty magical. I search for just the right language to describe them. If at any point, they don’t make sense to me, I have choices. I can scrap the ideas completely, or I can go deeper and keep writing. I usually choose the latter. It takes a lot of time to write well; I always give myself lots of time to finish grants. I might start a month before they are due and come back again and again. It becomes a contest with myself. Have I been honest? Does the voice in my writing match the voice of my art? It must.
One of my goals in grantwriting is to give the reader a taste, a feeling, of what it is like to observe one of my pieces. I believe in the poetic nature of my dance work, and I hold my writing up to the same standard. I want to spark the reader’s curiosity, their own sense of wonder. I want the person holding my grant application in their hands to enjoy the experience of reading it. In this specific grant for DCASE, I had dreamed up many disparate images, so I wanted the writing to be quirky, non-committal and dreamy.
Writing grants is frustrating because it forces me to concentrate on fundamental questions:
- What do I want this piece to convey? If I could narrow the idea down to one sentence—and I never can—what would it be? I believe the best art is multi-layered. Even as I write this, I’m surpassing the limit of just one idea, one sentence. It’s good to look in the mirror and ask myself the hard questions.
- How will I, the artist, be transformed by making this work? How will my performers change and grow by taking part in this process? Could this work touch the audience in a transformational way? Why does this work need to be made?
- How do I want my audience to feel while watching this piece? This matters to me. It really helps me describe an atmosphere, an emotional setting for the ideas.
Rachel’s application seems to merge dance and visual arts disciplines together seamlessly.
When I write a grant, it is almost like I am trying to see into the future. At the beginning of making the work my my gray sky for which I received funding, I claimed the piece would include a bunny, a series of earnest songs, perhaps a deer. Up until the very end, I didn’t have a singer or a deer. I ended up meeting a lovely Irish gentleman who sang the most earnest of ballads to open my piece, and, two days before the show at The Dance Center, my sister and I spent the day making a deer mask which found its way onto a dancer to end the piece. Be careful what you write. Those ideas want to live.
DCASE Grant Review Panel's Assessment:
Rachel’s application describes work that is exceptionally innovative in both style and concept, and seems to merge dance and visual arts disciplines together seamlessly. Her project’s culminating performance at the Dance Center of Columbia College is an exciting opportunity for Rachel that will expose her to new audiences as it has a significantly larger audience capacity than venues where she has previously produced her work, and a steady stream of patrons. Rachel provided an exceptionally clear narrative detailing her specific ideas and themes for the project, her promotion plans for the concert, and the impact this work and show would ultimately have on her career.
Rachel Bunting graduated in 2001 with a BA in dance from Columbia College Chicago. There she discovered her instinct for combining image with motion. She began creating work that was driven by a unique movement language and steeped in a peculiar and rich sense of visual space.
Bunting is the founder of The Humans dance company, housed in the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater where Rachel has been artist-in-residence since 2004. She is a proud recipient of four consecutive Illinois Arts Council Agency Awards. In 2007, she was chosen as an artist-in-residence at the Canal Chapter Gallery in NYC where she spent five weeks creating a movement-based installation titled, Let’s kill our sadness. In 2008 Rachel was awarded a three-week residency at The Atlantic Center for the Arts under the mentorship of Susan Marshall. In 2008, she and fellow dancer Precious Jennings performed their duet, who I am (who I am not) at Judson Church in NYC as part of the Movement Research works-in-progress showings. This duet was also a part of The A.W.A.R.D. Show!, which is produced by The Joyce Theater in NYC and The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago as well as a self-produced, shared evening at Links Hall, Chicago.
In 2011, Rachel was chosen as a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist, and she presented an evening-length work titled Paper Shoes, which was the genesis of her fascination with episodic form. In 2012 Bunting showed an excerpt of my my gray sky at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and co-produced a shared bill at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.