Short Guide: cultural grants – Finland – gaming

I was looking for blogging topics, and got a constructive suggestion: why do therapeutic writing when you could be writing something somebody might have an use for? To that end, I’ll write about a topic I probably know better than most other game designers. Namely, how to get cultural grants for your game projects here in Finland. I’ve written some successful applications for cultural grants during the last couple of years, most lately for a little game club here in Northern Savo. It’s a good way to get some loose money for culturally significant projects otherwise on the edge of profitability.

This is a short guide, so no tarrying. I still need to write a couple of applications today (the inspiration for this post, obviously), for October is the month when Finnish cultural grants are prowling, as we’ll soon see. For added brevity, kneel in awe of my FAQ format for laying it out:

Why cultural grants for gaming?

Games are culture, so obviously it’s applicable. Institutions do not yet have a separate category or review panels for games, though, so that hampers it a bit. I’ve tried to get a grant for “circus & performance arts” from the Arts Council of Finland for various roleplaying projects for a couple of times (roleplaying is a performance art, right?), but as they haven’t bitten, I’ve not been too keen to bother lately. On the other hand, translation grants for game texts can be gained just like for other prose, as well as writing grants for the game development process itself. This latter veritably works for roleplaying games, other games might be rather more difficult, as the design process cannot be couched in the form of a book-writing process as easily. Never hurts to try, though. In addition to these art grants it’s also quite possible to get youth culture grants for simply starting a game club or organizing a larp or other such projects – games are cultural activities, so the rule of the thumb is that anything a choreographer could get money for should work for you and me as well.

I said it three times that games are culture, so it must be true. I hope that in the future we might also have specific grant categories for games, perhaps disguised by some loftier name. Interactive art as accepted in art galleries is a pale imitation of the cultural depth, power and tradition of gaming, so keeping games out of the public cultural support system is not an acceptable solution in the long term. (Whether those very same systems of public support for art are acceptable is, of course, a whole other question.) Personally I can say that I’ve never felt left out by our system as it is, though; I go to great lengths to explain my work as a variant of the writer’s craft or youth culture, of course, but that’s just because I know that the institutions are not equipped to evaluate the merits of pure game design projects right now. So I know that the “system” has nothing against the game, we just don’t have the cultural institutions in place yet for properly evaluating gaming stuff for cultural significance. Perhaps I’ll myself spend my twilight years in some foundation panels, going through projects and CVs and evaluating them for merit years from now, when the system has adapted. Not such a bad future, that.

What you need to do to get grant money?

What you need to get grant money:

  • A project plan: describe in layman terms what you are doing, and why it is culturally significant. Explain the cultural background of what you’re doing if necessary, and how it connects to former efforts. Define the goals of your project, and if at all possible, how they’re going to be evaluated. All the better if you have a concrete goal, rather than a vague goal of “doing activity” with no discernible results. Extra, extra good if your project creates lasting benefits or financing that makes it self-supporting (or at least supported by something else than continuous grant money) in the long term. Don’t forget to include variable financing levels so the institution you’re applying with can give you less money than you asked for, instead of not giving any at all.
  • Curriculum Vitae: make it concise, make it focused. I myself use at least three different CVs, for example: one that depicts my career as a series of authorship achievements for cultural grants, one that depicts my technical prowess, education and whatever else I’ve done, and one that depicts me as a game designer, to apply for jobs in that field. For cultural grants you want the first one, focusing on whatever details of your life prove that you can get things done, that you are culturally influential, and that you have a progressing artistic career.
  • Recommendations: if you can get believable contacts to check out your project plan and recommend it, that’s very useful for a certain kind of grant. Even forgoing scientific grants (for which this is often mandatory), a cultural board will often put great weight on third party evaluation; if not exactly neutral, at least it’s another professional of the same field agreeing with you on the usefulness of the project.

That’s it. Really simple, takes only one night to compose, and even a beginner may get a couple of thousand euros for a good project. Definitely helps the finances of a struggling artist. That’s of course assuming that your project is actually worthwhile.

Where do you get those sweet, sweet grants?

Here’s my “grant calendar” which I composed a while back. These are heavily triaged to only include institutions relevant for the kind of things I do, so there might be others, and other folks might need different institutions. I’ve categorized them according to season, because I mostly worry about grants three or so times a year. Usually I also miss 90% of the deadlines because I’m busy with actually doing something; if you’re shooting for a grant from a particular source, by all means check their submission dates and don’t be late.

Winter grants

Arts Council of Finland: I haven’t personally had any luck with these, but they definitely do have a wide variety of grant programs. Also, they process grants several times during the year, so you don’t have to wait.

Kansan sivistysrahasto: “The People’s Culture Fund” would be a rough translation, I guess. A working class cultural fund where I fully intent to submit an application when I have a project that could be said to explore or substantiate working class culture. I have this roleplaying game idea about log driving that would be a perfect fit, for instance.

Pohjois-Savon kulttuurirahasto: “The Northern Savo Fund”, more or less. Because I am from and live in Northern Savo, this is a relevant regional fund for me. It’s also possible to get money out of it if your project is local in nature, like a gaming club or some such. The Finnish Cultural Foundation runs regional funds for other regions of Finland as well through-out the year.

Finnish Literature Exchange: A permanent project of the Finnish Literature Society, FILI is dedicated to translation grants of culturally significant literature. This includes roleplaying games, both me and others have successfully procured those. FILI specializes on translations from Finnish to other languages (it’s primarily an export organization, you might say), but it’s also possible to get a grant for translating to Finnish if your project is crucial enough.

Summer grants

Arts Council of Finland: These folks give out money all year long for different purposes. Check where your project falls in their classification and plan accordingly.

Wihuri Foundation: One of the large private foundations in the cultural funding biz, giving out money to everything from science to arts. The slightly unusual application date at the end of May makes me miss this one constantly, which is shame, because Wihuri seems like they might like the things I do.

Autumn grants

Arts Council of Finland: All year long. I just need to figure out what kind of projects they’d like. Their “targeted grants” for specific short-term projects are doled out late in the year and only once per year.

Kordelinin rahasto: “The Kordelin Foundation for progress and culture” would the English name, I guess. A very good foundation, I like all the ones that give me money especially well. Very forward-thinking.

The Finnish Cultural Foundation: The big daddy foundation of Finnish cultural life. This is one application date you don’t want to miss, it’s at the end of this month. One of my big ambitions is a working grant, even a small one, from FCF. We’ve got money from them for translations, but getting a grant for my own work, specifically, would be great, and definitely a boost for the ol’ self-esteem.

Finnish Literature Exhange: Three application dates per year I seem to remember, at least for the foreign language translation grants.

The All-Season team-up

Ministry of Education: You can apply all year long, but I’m still vague as to the exact criteria for funding. As I understand it, the ministry mostly supports organizations, not individuals. I might be all confused, though.

Kalevala Koru Cultural Foundation: A private foundation of the well-known jewelry company, focused on supporting Finnish culture. I’ve never tried them, but I imagine that your project should come with extra Finnish to be relevant. If I were making a game that took some serious inspiration from Kalevala, say, I’d definitely ask these folks for support.

Municipal Funds: Even if none of the above seem interesting (or more likely, you lack the confidence to make a pitch), one shouldn’t forget that for minor or purely local projects the best target is often the municipal cultural office and any local funds, which can be pretty significant for any larger city. And even a small town will be able to pitch in with travel expenses and such if you have a worthy event to arrange or some such.

Finally: what’s the trick to getting the money?

If there is a trick, I haven’t found it out yet. I suspect that the real insiders who get full-time working grants and such wouldn’t tell me, even if I asked. Thus far I’ve just described my project and earlier accomplishments honestly and as clearly as I could; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

If any of my readers happen to have any hints or tips for writing grant applications, or good institutions to approach for grants, feel free to let me know; I’m currently writing applications for game design and translation work, so if somebody knows of a back door to the Finnish Cultural Foundation process, I’m all ears.


4 Responses to “Short Guide: cultural grants – Finland – gaming”

  1. Johannes Kellomäki Says:

    What a great entry! I’m sure this advice is usefull to many aspiring game designers. Hopefully your entry will encourage people to act.

    It seems that at the moment most people think that game design can (should) only be approached like a business venture. In other words a game designers has to be a commercial publisher. It’s like saying that you have to own a gallery to paint portraits.

    Your entry takes another approach as it looks at game design as one cultural activity (artform) among others. This “grant approach” lets the designer be an artist instead of publisher. In a way the focus is more on the product than its commercial success.

    Also, isn’t the Swedish cultural fund of Finland the richest of all. One should consider writing games in sweedish! The they could ofcourse be translated into Finnis – with a grant!

  2. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    Thanks, Johannes! I agree about the financial implications, at least for the cultural support system we have in Finland – if we, as a nation, have determined that there should be a system for the subvention of culture, then game designers are as entitled to that subvention as anybody else. My brother asked me just yesterday whether any electronic game designers request or receive grant money; not that I know of! There are academic support structures and corporation start-up systems for them, but as far as I know only roleplaying game designers have so far asked for and received artistic grant funding. So both boardgame and computer game designers should perhaps be more aware of these possibilities.

  3. ‘Cause I’m worth it « Game Design is about Structure Says:

    […] I’m worth it 28.02.2008 — Eero Tuovinen Last year I wrote about how to get a cultural grant for game design in Finland. Apparently I knew my stuff then, as yesterday The Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded me a 9000 […]

  4. Finland, Finland, Finland! - Tokyo Rain Says:

    […] people don’t know this, but Finland has an amazingly robust role-playing game scene. In fact, you can get a national grant to design role-playing games. So it will come as no surprise that the Finnish group of Petri Leinonen, Mikko Merilainen, and […]

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