Here’s what happens in that murky time after you hit the submit button on your RISCA grant application and before you get a letter in the mail with the results (and why it takes so long).
Each program’s process is a little different, so this is what happens in the Fellowship and Project Grants for Individuals programs.
Step One: Screening for Eligibility
Staff start by reading every single application- for the April 1st deadline, about 215 applications were submitted for the fellowship and PGI programs alone, this week I am working my way through 187. At this point, I just check that each application meets our eligibility requirements and is complete, and I take some notes about content, genres represented, and style for step two.
Step Two: Central Casting
For the April deadline, I gathered nine grant review panels with 31 total panelists from six states. We recruit panelists that are working in a wide variety of art forms and styles. Our panelists are artists, arts administrators, and people working in arts-adjacent fields or serving artists. With the exception of the Fellowship program, they are Rhode Islanders. This is similar to casting a play- we need specific skills, experience, and knowledge and each person fits together like a puzzle piece. We gather totally new panels for each deadline, you can only serve on a RISCA panel once every three years, so we are constantly updating spreadsheets and making notes about people we think would be great panelists.
Step Three: Panelists Evaluate Applications
Panelists for all of the grant programs, except a few of the fellowship categories, then review the applications at home, and give them a preliminary score. So, your applications and supporting materials are first viewed by panelists at home, on their personal computers. We estimate that panelists spend about 30 minutes reviewing each application, so, depending on the number of applications, this is a 12-18 hour time commitment before the in person panel review day. We try to give panelists at least a month to do this work. At this point, in addition to submitting a numerical score via our online grant system, they also take notes and make comments about each application in preparation for the panel review day.
Step Four: Panel Review Day
The panelists come to RISCA offices in Providence for an all day panel review meeting. This is the big day for your application. Facilitated by the program director, the panelists discuss each application in detail, returning to supporting materials, asking questions of each other, and looking at each project’s budget. Each panelists updates their score for each application, and once we have discussed each application, the program director ranks the applications by their total score. The panelists then make funding recommendations for each application, based on the total amount of money available to award.
Step Five: Distilling Feedback
During the review day, both the program directors and other staff take notes on the feedback from the panelists. Then, the program director distills this feedback into a concise paragraph for the applicant. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide feedback or critique in our fellowship programs, partly because of the number of applications.
Step Six: Council Approval
Our council, which is the governor appointed group that oversees RISCA’s activity, reviews the panel recommendations and comments, and then approves the grants. We do our best to give them at minimum a week, usually two, to review the comments before the council meeting.
Step Seven: Notification
Once the grants have been approved, we send out notifications via mail to each applicant. With the exception of the fellowships, each applicant receives feedback on their application regardless of whether they were funded. From submission to notification typically takes about 2 and a half to three months, and a lot of spreadsheets.