"Create Your Own Project" series - Writing Your Own Budget

In the first two parts of our Create Your Own Project series, I talked about gaining fiscal sponsorship in order to accept tax-deductible donations and how to write a fundraising letter to obtain those investments. For the third part of this series, I will go into detail on how to write a budget for your project. As a dancer, you rarely have to worry about funding beyond, “Am I going to get paid by this presenter?” Now that you have decided to make art on your own, you have a lot more to worry about then simply collecting a salary. If you are following my series as a step-by-step process, you may find things a little backwards, as you will likely need to determine your budget in order to apply for fiscal sponsorship. In the end, there is no correct order to execute these items. But in order to gain the trust of donors and sponsors alike, you will need some semblance of a budget in place.

You want me to write a budget?
Where does one start when writing a budget? Again, I don’t think there is a proper place to start, but this is how I went about it. First, I looked at my project and picked apart major aspects of production that will require funding. Core-ography has a multitude of parts that need financing in order to execute the project fully. It involves dancers, film, editing, travel, choreography, and more. To make life easier, I broke my budget down into 7 categories. These areas that can't be executed without cost include equipment, artist fees, travel, legal fees, facility rental, salary, and unexpected costs. Each of these areas are important to the quality of my final product, so I took these broader subjects and broke them down a bit further.

One of the most difficult parts of writing a budget is the unknown. While there are methods to writing the financial requirements to fulfill your vision, it can be challenging to determine exactly how much money to seek out. If you create a plan that seems way out of proportion, you may turn off any larger-scale donors, grant-makers, or sponsors that see your financial plan as impractical. Especially for first time project-makers, if you create a budget that appears grossly over-projected, you may threaten losing the trust of those that want to see your project come to fruition. While funders give to artists because they want to share in their art, they also want to see the proposed product come to fruition.

Be practical when adding up the sum of your expenses, but don’t go too far in the opposite direction. If you plan for too little within your budget and later find that your expenses are much greater than you expected, you are going to run into some tight spots or risk failing to complete your vision altogether. Find a middle ground and try to come from a practical standpoint in your projections.

Now that I have shared the broader list of places that I need to raise money for Core-ography, let’s talk about how I broke down these categories. Since this project relies on my ability to film high-quality content, I know that I need a professional camera, lens, microphone, and tripod. There may also be additional accessories necessary; like an additional battery or travel case. Beyond this, I need a computer with high-quality editing software that can also handle loads of video footage.

In determining my needs, I didn’t suddenly become an expert on the essentials of a filmmaker. I reached out to my gloriously talented friend, Pacific Northwest Ballet videographer Lindsay Thomas (she is responsible for most of the videos from the PNB channel, like the one seen below), who is quite the expert at dance and film. She offered me suggestions for equipment, as well as less expensive second options in the event that I don’t meet my budget for costs. Whenever you find that you lack knowledge in an area of your project, brainstorm within your network to find friends and colleagues with expertise that can help guide you. The best projections come from somebody that has already been through what you are about to experience. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

Next, a major part of my Core-ography project is traveling on-site to work with each artist. My breakdown for this includes transport and accommodations. While I haven’t yet purchased my tickets for travel, I did a search on Orbitz of round-trip airfares to the cities I plan to visit. For some, traveling by bus or train is more feasible and much less expensive. Taking a general look at fares on plane, train, and bus, I projected that most round-trip plane tickets would cost about $500. Since 6 of my artists are outside of the northeast corridor, I must fly to work with them. When it comes to the other 6, it will probably be more financially responsible and even, possibly, easier to travel via train or bus. Beyond travel, I also researched the average cost of one week in a hotel room on-site. I may be able to defray costs by staying with friends. But I can’t project the possibility of this happening until I solidify travel plans. So, I included the cost of hotel accommodations with 8 of the 12 artists with whom I will be collaborating. Taking into consideration that I live in Philadelphia, have plenty of friends to stay with in New York and Seattle, and will likely figure out one more place, I projected 8 weeks worth of hotel stays.

From here, my next costs are artist fees, legal costs, and facility rentals. Obviously, you want to provide your dancers incentive beyond sharing their art and getting exposure. If an artist is providing you their time and skill, then you should be providing them with some compensation. Now, to get your artists on board and to make sure that they are committed to you and you to them, you need to have a contractual obligation between each other. Since this is your first time creating a project, it is highly unlikely that you understand how to write a legally binding contract. I do have a lot of experience with contracts, especially since I prepared and negotiated a three year contract at PNB. But this was with the assistance of AGMA personnel who negotiates contracts for a living. Even with my substantial experience with AGMA and working as a freelancer, I am still planning on reaching out to have an outside party take care of these documents. Lastly, I took into consideration that I need appropriate studio space to work with my artists throughout the weeks that we work together.

The final two areas that artists surprisingly leave out of their budget are salary for themselves and unexpected costs. If a dancer/choreographer is creating art and investing a great deal of time into their work, they must plan to pay themselves. Yes, artists often have passion projects. But passion doesn’t put food on your table or a roof over your head. It can feel selfish and pretentious to include a livable wage in your costs, but it is, perhaps, the most important part of your budget. Beyond this, I feel one should always include a bit of wiggle room for emergencies. Perhaps, I need to change my flight or the camera lens breaks after an accidental grand battement. For this reason, I would suggest that you always leave room for unexpected costs in your budget. Again, don’t be outrageous, but allow some wiggle room to assure yourself that a minor snafu doesn’t become a full-fledged crisis.

Keep your head from spinning and plan for unexpected costs (Photo: J.J. Tiziou)
One thing I keep in mind when sharing my budget with potential funders is that costs can be offset by donated equipment and space, shared accommodations, crowd-sourced funding campaigns, and grants. Rarely will an artist fund the entirety of their project through private donations. For this reason, it is important to project your budget to be fulfilled by an array of funding options. Just like a 401(k), the more diverse your portfolio of funding possibilities is, the more likely you will be able to meet or exceed your budget goals. Now, go ahead and project your financial needs and start figuring out how to get people and organizations invested in your art.

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