Next Step Fund – Text Guidelines

Next Step Fund

Program Description

The Next Step Fund program, funded by the McKnight Foundation, provides project grants of up to $5,000 to artists in any discipline for the purpose of career development and artistic achievement. Applicants may be at any stage of their career, but must demonstrate achievement in their artistic field and have a history of public presentation or community contribution.

Successful projects will communicate a clearly defined set of activities that respond to a compelling challenge or opportunity for the individual applicant with the intent to raise the individual to the ‘next step’ in their artistic career. MRAC awards approximately 35 to 40 Next Step grants (about 8% of total submissions) annually, making it a highly competitive program.

An ideal Next Step Fund project is one that:

  • helps an artist overcome a barrier to significant, long-term success, professionalize or increase artistic output and quality,
  • completes a project that marks a significant milestone in their career, and/or
  • reaches a new community or market.

The following are examples of compelling projects:

  • The acquisition of equipment to help an artist increase quality, diversify, or otherwise improve upon their artistic process or product.
  • The development of a business plan, creation of promotional materials, or an artist portfolio.
  • Participation in a training, master class or workshop that will enhance the artist’s abilities (enrollment in a degree or certificate program is not eligible).
  • The production or presentation of a significant work that represents a milestone in an artist’s career.
  • The production or presentation of a work that expands an artist’s community or market (e.g. geographic region, cultural community, galleries, curators, professional network, etc.).

A next project (next exhibition, next album, next film, etc.) without career reach is not a compelling project in this grant program. Projects where the community is the primary beneficiary are not compelling Next Step projects as the focus needs to be on the individual artist’s needs.

Important Dates

  • Application Deadline is January 27, 2020 11:59 PM
  • Panel Review is March through May
  • Earliest Grant Expenditure Date and Grant Notification Date is May 27, 2020

Before Applying – Resources

MRAC provides the following ways to receive support before the grant deadline. Please reach out to MRAC staff to take advantage of these options.

  1. Grant Application Workshops– MRAC offers free grant application workshops 4-6 weeks before the deadline to learn about the grant program and to discuss project ideas with program directors. There will also be a recorded and captioned workshop uploaded to the Next Step Fund page on the website. Check the online calendar for dates and times for the in-person workshops at
  2. Previously Funded Grants– All applications awarded funding via MRAC are public information. You may visit, click on “Grants” and follow links to “Next Step Funds Recent Grant Awards” and request 2 previously successful applications to be emailed as pdfs; contact the program director at to have these sample grants sent.
  3. Draft review– MRAC program directors are available to review a draft of your application on a first come, first served basis. Send your request as soon as possible but no later than noon on Friday, January 24, 2020 to To obtain a review, applicants must provide a completed Artist section and Project section; applicants may choose to submit a resume/CVs as well. Documents may be submitted in the following formats: Word, PDF, or text in the body of the email. Written feedback will be provided via email. If you are a person with a disability you may request other accommodations.

How to Apply and Eligibility

MRAC grant applications must be completed online by 11:59 PM on Monday, January 27, 2020. We do not accept incomplete or late applications. Avoid last minute issues with the online submission by submitting early.  Please read guidelines thoroughly to ensure eligibility.

Applicants must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Emerging, mid-career and established artists, working in any discipline, who have evidence of artistic practice respective of their career stage.
  • Have resided in the seven-county metro area during the entire year prior to the deadline (January 27, 2019 – January 27, 2020). Projects do NOT need to take place within the seven-county metro area but applicants MUST reside in the seven-county metro area.
  • 18 years of age or older.

Applicants cannot be:

  • Individuals seeking to begin a career as an artist, or make a professional transition to the arts.
  • Individuals whose portfolio only reflects client or freelance work.
  • Artists currently enrolled in a degree or certification program in their respective art form, unless the applicant can demonstrate they maintain a career as a professional artist outside of their educational program.
  • Arts administrators seeking support for their administrative profession.

This program does NOT fund:

  • Projects where the applicant is applying on behalf of a duo, group, or organization. This program provides support for the professional and artistic development of an artist independent from their organizational identity. For example, a choreographer may apply for an independent study, but not to produce or stage a work marketed as a production of their dance company. MRAC has other grant programs to fund arts projects of groups and organizations.
  • Projects that include expenses that will be paid or incurred before the earliest grant expenditure date (May 27, 2020). Examples: airline tickets, registration fees, etc. This is not a reimbursement program.
  • Support to sustain an established artist’s ongoing profession. There must be a clearly defined project that helps an artist take the “Next Step” in their career.
  • Activities that engage in political lobbying, serve the religious socialization of participants, or discriminate against persons or groups.

How many Next Step Fund Grants may an individual receive?

  • Individuals may submit just one Next Step grant application per MRAC fiscal year (July 1 – June 30).
  • Recipients of a Next Step Fund grant in MRAC’s three previous fiscal years (FY17, FY18, and FY19) are not eligible to apply in this fiscal year.
  • Next Step grant recipients of fiscal years before the last three are eligible to apply if their previously funded project is complete and their final report is submitted before the deadline.

Stage One Program Requirements

Stage One Program Requirements for all Next Step Fund applicants.

Completing the Online Application Form

TIP: The online application form allows you to periodically save your work. Once saved, you may log off and return at a later time to complete the application. The “Save As Draft” button is located at the bottom of the form.

Checklist of Requirements

  • Project Description: Provide a brief description of your project (e.g. first solo exhibition, creation of a business plan, purchase a new kiln, etc.). This information will only be used as a quick reference for panel reviewers and MRAC staff.
  • Amount Requested: Amount requested may not exceed $5,000.
  • Location of Permanent Residence: Applicants must have resided in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott or Washington County during the entire year prior to the deadline.
  • Artistic Discipline: Select the discipline that best describes your work as an artist. This is for internal use to determine if this grant program is reaching all types of artists and is not shared with panelists.
  • Project Expenditure Date: Activities and expenses described in the proposal may not begin before May 27, 2020.
  • Project End Date: There is no requirement that projects be completed by a predetermined date. The date you provide will determine when your final report is due. Final reports are due two months after the conclusion of the project’s activities. Projects with extended timelines (i.e. over one year from date of award) may be required to submit an interim report.
  • Criteria: The Artist and The Project (see details below)
  • Résumé or CV upload (2 pages maximum)
  • Demographic Information (Optional- only used internally, not shared with panelists)
  • Certification Signature (electronic check box)
    You must certify that the statements contained in this application and the information detailed in your resume are true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. You also certify that you are at least 18 years of age as of January 27, 2020, and were a permanent resident of the seven-county metro area between January 27, 2019 – January 27, 2020.


The narrative portion of the application is the foundation for the panel’s review of your application. Each criteria will be submitted as a text field on the online application form. You may prepare your responses in another software program (e.g. Microsoft Word or Google Docs), and cut-and-paste your responses. Please note, the 4,000 character limit includes spaces.

The Artist

No more than 4,000 characters, which is approximately one page.

Use this section to describe your artistic vision, your body of work, and your professional goals. This section may be very similar to an artist statement, but should emphasize a self-reflection of your artistic and professional accomplishments to date, particularly as they relate to a clearly defined path towards the future.

  1. Describe your work and your artistic vision. Briefly note any significant accomplishments that demonstrate achievement in your artistic field. (This will also be evidenced in your résumé or CV).
  2. What are your career goals, both professional and artistic? Where are you in meeting those goals?
  3. What significant barriers or unique opportunities exist that hinder or would help you in achieving your goals? Instead of focusing on “a lack of money,” reframe the discussion on those opportunities that would be available were money not a factor.

The Project

No more than 4,000 characters, which is approximately one page.

This section should focus on the project for which you are seeking funding. Be as specific as possible, and be sure to make a strong connection between the proposed project and your unique needs as an artist. Ideal projects are those that support your goals and vision outlined in the Artist section.

  1. Describe the project for which you are seeking funding. Please be specific. Not all panelists will be familiar with your discipline – be sure to avoid technical jargon or assume familiarity with projects of this type.
  2. How will this project help you advance artistically and professionally? Please be sure to relate this discussion to your artistic and professional goals. The panel’s evaluation will focus on the project’s potential impact on you as an individual artist, as opposed to an external community or broader audience.
  3. Projects should be manageable in scope relative to the $5,000 award. Although a formal budget is not required, the panel has found it very helpful when applicants note the major expenses and timeline related to their project. If more than $5,000 is required, what additional sources of income will be secured?

Résumé or CV

Your résumé or CV may be no more than two (2) pages in length. You will submit your résumé via a file upload to the online application form. Document uploads must be a MS Word, MS Excel, or PDF document. Additional pages beyond the 2-page limit will be deleted and not shared with panelists. Since all finalist applications are public and have potential to be shared with future applicants, you may choose to keep personal information off your résumé or CV.

Please include a résumé or CV that lists your professional experience and successes, achievements, publications, honors, credentials, education, work experience (if relevant), etc. This document should evidence achievement in your artistic discipline, and demonstrate a history of public presentation or community contribution. The panel will use this document to help evaluate:

  1. Your degree of achievement in your artistic discipline;
  2. Your history of public presentation or community contribution, respective of your career stage;
  3. Your artistic and professional goals in the context of your career stage;
  4. Whether your proposed project is appropriate, given your professional history.

To upload your résumé or CV:

  • Open your draft online application form.
  • Scroll down to the application form’s section titled “Résumé”.
  • In the section titled “Résumé upload,” click the button titled “Upload a File”.
  • Select your document as you would when attaching a document to an email.
  • You can replace this uploaded document at any time before submitting.

Reviewing Your Application

It is highly recommended that you review your application before submitting. To do so, click on the Application Packet button at the top of the Application page. This will download a PDF of your application including all uploaded files. Please check that all information is correct and all uploaded files are included. If an uploaded file does not appear on the application packet PDF, please contact your program director, as applications with incorrect or missing file uploads are ineligible. You may save this file for your records.

Submitting Your Completed Application

When finished, click the Submit Application button located at the bottom of the page.

IMPORTANT! Your application will not be eligible if you do not officially submit your application by 11:59 p.m. on the day of the deadline. Do note that MRAC technical assistance is only available until 5:00 p.m. on deadline day. Once you click “Submit Application” you will no longer be able to edit your application. However, if you find that you accidentally submitted an application before it was ready and it is before the deadline, you may contact MRAC staff to revert the application to draft so you can continue to work.

An automated submission confirmation email will be sent to your login email address from

Stage One Review and Decision Process

  • MRAC staff reviews all applications for eligibility. Applications that do not follow format (e.g. submitting a résumé longer than two pages) may be deemed ineligible.
  • A peer review panel reviews all eligible applications based upon the program criteria. Panelists will rate each application on a scale of 1-10 (10 being high). Scores are available to applicants upon request; there are no additional comments collected at this stage of review.
  • Applicants will be notified around March 25, 2020 whether or not their applications will advance to the next stage.

Stage Two Program Requirements for Finalists

Work Samples

Required only of finalists.

  1. Only those applicants who are invited to the second round of review will be asked to submit a work sample. Finalists will have about 2 weeks to submit work samples.
  2. Your narrative response to the grant criteria will remain the foundation for the panel’s review of your request, and your work sample should correspond as closely as possible to the application request. Generally, samples should be of work completed within the past four years.
  3. All work samples must be submitted electronically through the MRAC Dropbox account. Dropbox is a file hosting service that allows MRAC to manage files in a web-based folder. Detailed instructions as to how to submit using Dropbox will be sent to finalists.
  4. Specifics about formats for work samples will be sent to all finalists.

Retention of Work Samples

  • All work samples remain the property of the artist.
  • Work samples will be deleted from the MRAC Dropbox once the MRAC board has approved panel recommendations.
  • If a work sample is not available, contact the program director to discuss alternatives.

Stage Two Final Review Process

  1. Panel: A peer review panel reviews all final applications. The panel meetings are open to the public; and applicants will be notified of the meeting; and are encouraged to attend. Panel recordings are shared in your grant record within one-week of review.
  2. MRAC Board of Directors: The panel submits its recommendations to the MRAC board of directors who make the final decision on funding.
  3. Appeal: Appeals should be made in writing within 30 days of the notification of the board decision. Contact MRAC for a copy of the appeal process.

Instructions: Samples and Draft Reviews

MRAC can email up to two successful applications submitted in previous years. Visit the MRAC website to view the previously awarded grants in this program.

To request copies of successful Next Step Fund proposals:

  1. Send email request to or
  2. Subject line should read “Request Next Step Fund sample proposals”
  3. The body of the email: Include names of up to two Next Step Fund grant recipients to receive a copy of their successful proposals.
  4. Staff will reply with the respective proposals attached.

See website for the past 2 years of grant awards.

To receive feedback on your application before submitting:

  1. Send email to before noon on Friday, January 24, 2020. 
  2. Attach your completed The Artist section and The Project section as a Word document, as a pdf, or in the body of the email. Links to Google docs are also acceptable. Resumes/CVs can be reviewed if the applicant chooses.

Staff will send written feedback via email only, unless you are a person with a disability and you request other accommodations. Drafts will be reviewed in the order they are received. Feedback will be provided through end-of-business-day on January 27, 2020; there is a chance that applications will not have time for review, so submit a request for review as early as possible.

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