Applying for an OAC Grant, Part 1: Chaz O’Neil

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Show Notes

Chaz O’Neil, the Individual Artist Programs & Percent for Art Coordinator for the Ohio Arts Council, offers behind-the-scenes tips for Ohio writers applying for the $5,000 OAC Individual Excellent Awards. He discusses eligibility, types of writing accepted, submission guidelines, narrative and philosophy statements, the judging process, and how writers can prepare the strongest application possible. Laura also shares a bit about her own application that won her one of these grants in 2022. Learn more about O’Neil at his website and on Instagram.

The Individual Excellence Award application deadline is September 1, 2023. Be sure to check out Part 2 of this series to hear from past OAC panelists who offer advice to applicants.

Additional OAC Resources:

Following this episode, we offer a preview of “Revising Nancy Drew,” our episode featuring Nancy Drew expert and collector Jennifer Fisher. This episode will drop a day early on July 3. Stay tuned!

Page Count is produced by Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. For full show notes and a transcript of this episode, visit the episode page. To get in touch, email (put “podcast” in the subject line) or follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.



Laura Maylene Walter (00:00):
Welcome to a special two-part series about applying for an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Excellence Award. In this episode, Chaz O'Neil of the Ohio Arts Council offers a behind the scenes look at the application process. In part two, which also goes live today, three former panelists weigh in on what it was like to judge the grant applications. So be sure to listen to that next. Finally, we will release our next episode revising Nancy Drew a day early on July 3 in advance of the holiday. Stay tuned at the end of this episode for a short preview of our deep dive into the world of all things Nancy Drew.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:38):
Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, book sellers, literary advocates, and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're speaking with Chaz O'Neil, the individual Artist Programs and Percent for Art Coordinator for the Ohio Arts Council. Chaz, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for being here.

Chaz O'Neil (01:09):
Hi Laura. Thank you for having me.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:11):
We're going to be talking today about the Individual Excellence Awards, which are $5,000 grants available to Ohio artists and writers. But before we get to that, I would love to hear a bit more about the Ohio Arts Council, which administers these grants, but I know does so much more, has so many other programs and opportunities throughout the state. So can you tell us a bit about OAC?

Chaz O'Neil (01:35):
Sure. The Ohio Arts Council is the state art agency for Ohio. As you mentioned, we provide grants and resources to organizations and individuals. We have a lot of grants that we offer to organizations through arts learning, through project support, through sustainability, just a myriad, a lot of different grant programs. And then my department in the individual artists programs department, we have four or five grant programs that we offer for individuals, you know, such as writers, painters, musicians, you name it, artists with disabilities, and for folk and traditional as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (02:13):
Let's talk about these individual excellence awards. Can you, just broadly speaking, tell us a bit about the awards, what kind of artists can apply and why does OAC offer this kind of opportunity for individual artists?

Chaz O'Neil (02:26):
We are fortunate enough in Ohio to have so many creative writers, poets, musicians, and choreographers in our state, as well as painters and craft people and sculptures and glass artists. We define a creative artist as the originator of the artistic idea. This means we support the playwright, not the actor, the choreographer, not the dancer, the composer, and not the musician. So for this year, we are offering the award for writers. This is for FY24. We're offering this award for writers, musicians, and choreographers. Next year in FY25, we will offer the award for the visual arts. That's painting, crafts, media, photography, and the like. So we alternate the disciplines every other year, so everybody kind of gets a chance to apply and you know, hopefully get awarded at some point.

Laura Maylene Walter (03:18):
Yeah, I think that's a great point. So writers who are listening to this right now, generally when you're a writer, you can apply every other year and the application will be due in an odd number year. And as this is 2023, that means this is your year writers that you can apply for this grant. Can you share a bit about the different types of writing that you accept?

Chaz O'Neil (03:39):
In the writing categories, there's poetry, non-fiction, fiction, playwriting, and criticism. Now, generally, you can only submit one application per person. There is one exception to that, and that is for criticism. So if you want to write an application for poetry and for criticism, you are allowed to do that. For criticism, there are really two types of writing that we deem eligible. There's a journalistic approach where you could write about a contemporary art in your community or region. So an exhibition or a museum show that you want to review, and that goes into maybe a national publication or a local paper, or it can be for online or print. And then there's the writing that you do for art theory where writers talk about broad topics in the art world or current events. In the art world. What we don't want is research papers because we really want to support current artists current approaches and events.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:36):
I see there's also a category for collaborations. Can you talk a bit about that? What that would mean for writers and how that would work? For the application process?

Chaz O'Neil (04:45):
Any two artists can come together for a collaboration. So they both had to have a hand in the making of the work, whether it's the music, the lead sheet, the writing, or the dance. But we often see it most commonly used in the choreography field. So they'll both be applying with the same application, the same narrative, and the same philosophy. So those things will be the exact same and they will name each other in each other's application. I'm collaborating with this person and I'm collaborating with the other person, so they'll make two separate applications. If those artists are awarded, they would split the $5,000 in half.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:21):
We actually recently had an episode of Page Count about writing collaboratively, and so who knows, maybe this is something that you'll see more of in the future from writers as well. But I find that really interesting and I think it's great that OAC has a variety of entry points for how people work, how they might work together, different types of projects to really kind of cover a greater expanse of artistic disciplines. So I think that's fantastic. And is there anything, since we're talking about different types of writing, about playwriting you'd like to add, I know the fiction, non-fiction and poetry seem to be some of the more popular categories, but with playwriting, is there any other tips, anything you can share about playwriting?

Chaz O'Neil (06:01):
We often get questions about proper screenplay format, and that's one of the big things that's the stickler for the panelists who are professionals in the field, they view these as a set of directions for a director or dramaturge. So your application should be in proper format. It's also very important to let the panelists know again, the audience and the venue, where is this being performed in an ideal setting.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:27):
And about how many grants does this change from year to year? How many grants you have available per discipline? How do those numbers break down?

Chaz O'Neil (06:34):
We award 75 individual excellence awards every year at $5,000 each. That is a total of $375,000 in awards that is spread out between the seven disciplines. For instance, in FY22, we had a total of 430 applications. So poetry is always the winner. In terms of applications submitted, there was 129 applicants. Fiction was the second. It came in with 108 applications, and third was non-fiction, which is 57. So we try to award the top 10 to 15% of each discipline.

Laura Maylene Walter (07:09):
Yeah, and I don't know how our listeners might feel about those numbers, but as a writer, I actually feel like those numbers sound encouraging. They sound much more possible than it seems like many things in the writing world when you're submitting. And I should say here, full disclosure, I did receive an OAC grant for 2022 for fiction. I will share that this was not my first time applying for an OAC grant. I had been applying for years and sometimes I got really close but did not get it. And so this was the first year I actually received the grant, which was really wonderful. So that's just a quick plug for persistence to anyone out there who's applying for a grant. If you don't get it your first time, that doesn't mean you won't get it in the future.

Chaz O'Neil (07:48):

Laura Maylene Walter (07:49):
I have to thank OAC definitely for that grant, which was really fantastic. But we'll get into some of the nitty gritty of applying the application deadline for this year is September 1. Maybe we should start with eligibility too. What makes a writer actually eligible to apply?

Chaz O'Neil (08:03):
In order to be eligible, you must be a resident of Ohio living and working in the state for a one year period prior to the September 1st deadline. So that means you have to have been living in Ohio on or before September 1st, 2022 to be eligible. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age. Students attending high school or students pursuing an undergraduate or a master's degree or PhD at the time of application may not apply. Awards are, again, $5,000 that may be used for a variety of expense related to the artistic growth of the artist and the development of the artist. Awards cannot be used for enrolling in or continuing a grant degree program, and recipients must remain in the state during the grant year. The body of work that you will be submitting must have been completed within the last three calendar years, and there are a few exceptions to the timing.

Chaz O'Neil (08:56):
So make sure you read the full guidelines that are on the website for this program and for your discipline. So you might be asking yourself, well, you know, what qualifies as a body of work? A grouping of pieces that are related either through material or concept. Judges like to see a clear commitment to a particular idea or a material exploration. Use the narrative and the philosophy statement that you'll be writing to make these connections if you think it might not be immediately understood through your support materials. We're also happy to help you talk through the concept of work a little bit. You know, we're not experts in your work. Only you are, you know, maybe you know other people in your peer group might be as well. So we do encourage you to have your mentors and your peers look at your application as well to make sure it all looks good and make sure it makes sense. That this is the body of work you should be applying with. Focus on the one thing that you do best.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:54):
Now you mentioned the philosophy statement. Can you talk about that a bit? This is a place for writers to share a bit about their work. What do you recommend writers focus on when they're preparing that part of the application?

Chaz O'Neil (10:07):
The statement overall is a 500-word narrative statement. It is broken into two parts, which is the narrative statement and the philosophy. So the narrative statement, it is not an artist's statement, but instead a literal description of the work you are submitting. It's the panel is only viewing the documentation of your work. You want to use this statement to fill them in on what they they're reading in your manuscripts. There's some things you should include in your narrative statement to help direct panelists to certain works in your support materials. So you should include the intended audience. Who is this written for? Is it young adults? Is it non-fiction writers? You know, those kind of things. It really does inform the panelists on how they should be reading your application because they tend to read it like how you tell them to. You should tell the panelists if the chapters you are submitting, if it say it's a fiction entry, if the chapters you are submitting are separate or they're continuous. If they are separated, you should fill them in on what they missed in those missing chapters.

Chaz O'Neil (11:03):
The philosophy statement tells panelists why you created the work you are submitting. If this is a continuation of a body work you've done for a while, or if this is a kind of a new exploration or et cetera, you should really add extra content. The other important thing is that our panelists will not know your name. It is a blind jury. The narrative statement, the narrative you submit should not include any biographical information. We do want to provide panelists with works of art and not bios. If there's any biographical or resume information in these statements, we will take them out. Now, it is important that it's necessary for an understanding for the work. For example, if it's necessary for the panelists to understand that, say this work explores your Latino heritage, then it's fine to state that in your narrative. But just don't go into further detail.

Chaz O'Neil (11:55):
For non-fiction we do tend to see a lot of autobiographical stories, as you can imagine. So the most common question we do get is, do I have to take my name out, since this process is anonymous? So we don't want you to change the work. If your name is in all throughout the manuscript and it's about your life, we want you to leave that the way. It's okay. The panelists will just have to read it and they'll be out of state. They probably won't know you, good chance they won't know you. But we don't want you to change the work in any way. Don't delete anything, don't alter the work. Just don't put any biographical information into the narrative.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:29):
Right. Yeah, I think that's important to keep in mind writers that your work is being judged without your name, without seeing your, for example, publication history. So doesn't matter if you've published ten novels or if you've never published anything, really, it's about the strength of your sample. Is that right?

Chaz O'Neil (12:46):
That's right. You could have not published anything ever. This could be your first time out. You just have exceptional work right off the bat and the panelists love it, and you'd be recommended for an award.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:55):
And I will share as an example for my narrative statement and philosophy. When I won a grant, I submitted a short story, but I was working on developing that short story into a novel. And so I told the panel that. Essentially I said, this is a standalone short story. You can read this sample on its own, but here are my plans for developing it into a novel. Here's why I want to develop it into a novel, and here are some of the themes that you'll see on the story that I think warrant more exploration. So by putting that all in my statements that gave the panelists, I think, some extra context, and I imagine it hopefully helped them understand my work and maybe get excited about what I was trying to do. So I think whatever you're submitting, whether it's short stories or poetry or novel excerpts, is to kind of put it into context and let the panel know really why you're working on it and why it matters to you.

Chaz O'Neil (13:50):
Yeah. The one thing, we don't want the writers to be glib about their work either. In other words, you don't want to think that your work speaks for itself and not make the case for it in your narrative. The panelists will be reading somewhere between 50 to 60 manuscripts, 30 pages each. So if you don't think your explanation in the work is important, then they won't think much of it either.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:11):
Well, let's talk about the panelists and the judging process. So once a writer submits their materials, their poetry, or whatever they're submitting, it goes to OAC for processing. What happens to their work from there? And how does the judging process work?

Chaz O'Neil (14:28):
We train the panelists who are different every year. We don't use the same panelists over and over. We use panelists from around the country who are from a variety of different backgrounds, disciplines, ethnicities, and geographical areas. So we try to create these perfect panels where we try to get a different genre of writer to review these applications for us. So say in poetry, we have the most applications where we might have the most 60 to 70 applications per panel. And so only those three panelists will review those applications for day one. The next set will review for day two and day three if it's needed, so that they're not all reviewing all the applications. We will be holding the panel meetings in December to review the submitted applications. You know, we promise to keep you up to date with all the details as they become available of when your panel meeting will take place.

Laura Maylene Walter (15:22):
These are really good things to keep in mind. So your work is being judged on an anonymous level by three unbiased panelists who are most likely from outside of Ohio, and they're experts in their field and they are coming together: three panelists per grouping of work to rank the submissions in their view. Of course, everything is subjective. If you're a writer or an artist of any kind, you know, everything is subjective. So let's talk about the panel selections because one thing about grants like this that is so fascinating or maybe useful or informative to writers is that sometimes you can actually watch and observe the deliberation process. So I started applying for OAC grants back when it was all only in person, and you could go in person in Columbus and watch the panel, discuss the work. And I actually went a few times with some of my writer friends.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:15):
We would make a day of it and drive from Cleveland down to Columbus and just, you know, see what would happen. So I've definitely been in the room watching my work eventually get thrown out of the pile, which is, it feels like a rite of passage. But last year it was streamed. Usually as a writer you submit your work to maybe a journal or an agent or wherever you're sending it and you have to just wait and wait and wait and then you might... I mean, let's be honest, the most realistic end result for writers is to get a rejection. We've all been there. So then you get a rejection and then that's kind of it. You can't get feedback, there's no time. You can't do that. So this is such a rare opportunity, not that you know your work will necessarily be discussed at length, in depth, but you do get to observe the process and see what the panelists, how they might be ranking things.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:59):
And then they do get into a discussion of the work. I always found it almost too tempting to think they're going to be discussing my work, how could I not be there? Which is why I would drive down to Columbus with friends sometimes some years to observe it. And it's really funny, this past year, the first time it was streamed virtually, I was so glad I thought, oh, thank goodness, like I can watch it but don't have to make the decision about whether I want to drive and take a whole day. This is so great. And then I think I was in a place, you know, mentally or creatively if I felt a little bit drained, I think on some level I just couldn't handle watching anyone discuss my work at that time. So I slept in and then started working on my own writing and I completely forgot about it. So I missed the panel the one time I actually got the award. So I just thought that was funny. I mean it was fine because I received some notes from the judges at the end, which I also really appreciated. I do advise writers if you are applying, maybe don't be like me. Maybe watch.

Chaz O'Neil (17:56):
Yeah, it really does help future applications. If you hear the feedback about what they're saying, how you submitted it, if there was little things that they've nitpicked on, maybe you about to correct those for the next time.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:07):
What would you like to say to the writers or artists who are applying who maybe don't get the grant when they apply this year? What kind of advice or insight could you offer them?

Chaz O'Neil (18:17):
Keep trying, really do make it a point to attend the panel meeting to hear what the panels have to say about your work live. If you cannot attend and you don't get selected for funding, you can request the panel comments that were made about your work from myself or Kathy. We'd be happy to send those comments to you. We just kind of summarize what the panelist said during your application. Look at your score when you do get that and see where it ranked among the other scores in your panel. See how maybe like, oh, it was good, but you know, it just needed something else to kind of get me over to that top. If you were kind of in the bottom half, then you might need a lot more work. And sometimes panelists will say that, you know, I can tell this person's just beginning their journey, but I want to encourage them to keep working. They might have glowing comments about your work, but then you ultimately didn't get funded. Don't take that personally. It's a very slim margin that these awards are decided.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:11):
And I know you also have a background as an artist. Would you like to tell us a little bit about your own art and how this work here at the Ohio Arts Council, how those two things might compliment each other or how your own artistic background might influence your work, especially as you're helping other artists and writers make these applications?

Chaz O'Neil (19:30):
I received my Bachelors of Art from Otterbein University in 2006, and then I received my Master's degree in 2D studies from Bowling Green State University in 2013. As a professional artist myself, you can look at my work on my website, which is, it's just on my Instagram, which is C-h-z-ONeil, my last name, and then 12. chzoneil12. I've received grants from my own work in the past through the Greater Columbus Arts Council Professional Artist Grant program. And this was prior to my time joining the Ohio Arts Council, and I was even selected to participate in the Dresden Artist Residency Exchange program in 2019.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:07):
Oh, that's amazing.

Chaz O'Neil (20:09):
Yeah, so I got to go to Dresden for two months at the end of 2019. I was really fortunate.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:13):
Yeah, it's really great that you know what it's like on the artist side applying for grants and what that process is like. So that's, that's helpful.

Chaz O'Neil (20:20):
I didn't have a lot of experience applying for grants. I applied to the Excellence Awards myself, like maybe like twice. I didn't take in the recommendations that were given to me when it came to making my application. I was kind of like, I know how to do this, I got it. And you know, and I submitted work from different areas. Like these were drawings, these were paintings, these were prints, and of course my application went nowhere. So now I kind of see it on the other side. I really understand what the staff here at the Arts Council was trying to get me to do or trying to tell me, you know, like read these guidelines, you know, I kind of thought I had it all together myself.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:55):
Well that's a good lesson learned and good for our listeners to hear right now. If someone does win a grant, what happens after that? Are there any specific expectations for the writer in terms of either how they use their money or anything they need to do? Within the granting period.

Chaz O'Neil (21:12):
You most likely receive your notification that the board has approved the recommendation from the panel. So that will happen at the end of January of the following year. Then we start then the kind of payment process. So you will kind of get set up in the Ohio supplier database and you get your grant agreement signed and then you get your check either deposited or mailed to you and then you can kind of do what you want with the funds other than going back to school and paying for college tuition. The grant period is technically through the end of the year, December 31st. So you'll be required to submit a final report at the end of the year. So do mark your calendars for December 31st of your grant awarded year. And would you ask that you publicize your award, put it on social media, you know, maybe you give a public appearance or you're going to do a book reading or a book signing or anything like that, or any kind of printed material that go out. You kind of recognize the Ohio Arts Council during the grant year, especially if you use funds to, you know, do that work. So we encourage you to write your state legislature and the governor, thank them for the award and for them to continue to support the Ohio Arts Council and hopefully increase our budget one day. Make these awards even better and make our services even better.

Laura Maylene Walter (22:22):
And I recently just had to do my report and I'll just share with listeners since I've talked a bit about getting the grant myself, is I used part of the grant money on a research trip to go to Florida and watch the Weeki Wachee mermaids and went to the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine. So it was definitely an interesting way to make use of funds and give myself some research experiences that I don't think I would've been able to do otherwise. So I'm really grateful to the Ohio Arts Council and just for supporting writers, supporting artists. And these funds are so important. It can help you take maybe some time off work or let you take a trip you couldn't have done otherwise. Really devote the time. I've known people who've gotten these grants, who've hired childcare so that they can actually get their work done because they have kids at home.

Laura Maylene Walter (23:09):
So it's so valuable and I appreciate it and I know a lot of others throughout Ohio do as well. Writers listening to this, if you are in Ohio and if you are eligible, I hope and encourage that you do apply for one of these grants this year. Take it from me as someone who was rejected, rejected and then got a grant. So it is definitely possible. Keep at it, keep applying. You can never win it if you don't apply. That's what I like to say. So encourage you all to do that. Chaz, thank you so much for being here and for offering this vital information for Ohio writers.

Chaz O'Neil (23:41):
Yeah, thank you for having me Laura.

Laura Maylene Walter (23:46):
Here's a preview of our next episode, "Revising Nancy Drew," which will air on July 3, 2023.

Laura Maylene Walter (23:54):
...Mildred Wirt Benson, who never really had ownership over the Nancy Drew character or books. She was hired, it was like an intellectual property kind of situation, right where she was hired and paid a flat fee. But can you talk about her influence and how she was the one to really shape Nancy Drew?

Jennifer Fisher (24:11):
Yeah, so she had been working for Edward Stratemeyer for a little while writing another one of his series. He had hired her on to write the Ruth Fieldings. So when he kind of came up with a concept for Nancy Drew, you know, he had other ghostwriters that wrote for him. But he had Mildred in mind for Nancy Drew because he liked the way that she wrote in particular, like for young girls and for the way she wrote. She had a lot of short stories that she had written where there was college age girls or teenagers and he liked the way she wrote in that particular style. So he had her in mind for Nancy Drew, he wrote up an outline like he did with all his ghost writers, which he would send out to the ghost writer. It was about two and a half typewritten pages with just the kind of the scenario of the book and the chapter outline and stuff like that.

Jennifer Fisher (24:54):
So she kind of got to tick that concept and just breathe life into this character. And at the time, you know, girls, there were a lot of girls series books, but they didn't have a character quite like Nancy Drew. They tended to be in school or have mothers sometimes, not always, but some things would kind of tie them down to other things or domestic pursuits or other, you know, things that where they couldn't quite have the freedom like Nancy Drew had. And Millie grew up as an only child herself. Well she had an older brother, but she basically grew up having a lot of freedom. She was kind of a tomboy and she would ride around with her dad when he would go on country doctor or visits. He was a doctor and they lived kind of in a rural area near Iowa City called Ladora.

Jennifer Fisher (25:36):
And so she grew up kind of having her own adventures, making her own way and not really getting opposed on it. You know, got to do what she wanted and loved to write. And so I think a lot of her essence of her character and herself kind of went into the character of Nancy Drew. Cause in some ways you would say that Nancy Drew's kind of like a real life, you know, Mildred Wirt Benson, was she Nancy Drew or was Nancy Drew Millie? People talk about. But you know, she kind of had that independence and boldness and zest for getting to the bottom of things. And Millie was very much the same way throughout her life. So she sort of got that chance to kind of breathe that life into Nancy Drew, kind of make her a different kind of character, more up to date, you know, than all American teenage sleuth who didn't have a mom to tie her down. And she did have a housekeeper. And eventually the housekeeper kind of came to worrywart over Nancy's adventures. But in the beginning, you know, her dad treated her like an equal kind of like Millie's father was with her. And so, you know, Nancy had all this freedom to just do things that women didn't typically do back then. And that was kind of like a breakout character for kids at the time.

Laura Maylene Walter (26:45):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at, follow us on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email and put "podcast" in the subject line. Finally, follow me at Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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