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Summer Funding for Duke Students Pursuing Arts Training, Research, or Projects

The Benenson Awards in the Arts provide funding for fees, travel and other educational expenses for arts-centered projects proposed by undergraduates, including graduating seniors. Students who plan to pursue a career in the arts or creative industries are especially encouraged to apply. Approximately 20 awards are made each year; recent awards have ranged from $600-$4500 with an average award size of $1800.

To complete a Benenson application, you will need…

  • A copy of your official Duke transcript to upload (here’s how to get it)
  • A clear description of your project covering its scope, purpose, and a tentative timeline (500 words or less)
  • A clear explanation of how your previous experience both inside and outside of the classroom has prepared you for this project (500 words or less)
  • A budget
  • Email addresses for two people (at least one of them Duke faculty) who have agreed to write recommendations for you

Please look through the FAQ below before you apply. In particular, you would do well to read about the kind of portfolio materials you should submit, what you can and can’t include in your budget (key point: Benenson funds don’t cover equipment), and (especially if you are an international student) potential tax liabilities.

You are encouraged to have a faculty mentor review your proposal before submission to help you refine your narrative and budgeting, especially if you have never before written a grant.

The application deadline for Benenson Awards in the Arts is Friday, March 6, 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can students apply multiple times for a Benenson?

Yes. If you do not receive funding one year, you are encouraged to apply again the next year. There is no guarantee that repeat applications will be funded and it’s wise to address how funding for a repeated aspect of a previous project will have a different impact. Graduating seniors who have received funding previously should expect to be competitive especially if they are clear about how their proposal relates to their overall arts goals.

The application requires you to identify other sources of funding you are pursuing and you are encouraged to find other lines of funding such as competitive of end-of-year awards within your major/minor/certificate departments or programs; competitive awards outside of Duke; awards from Duke Libraries for creative writing; or Dean’s Summer Research Awards from the Undergraduate Research Support Office. If you do not know if your major/minor/certificate department or program has awards for student work, contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Program Coordinator for details. Some departments list competitive awards information on their website (including English and Theater Studies).

What projects have been funded in the past?

You can browse Benenson projects completed in Summer 2019 and afterwards here. Other recently funded projects include:

  • Student artist participation in creative writing intensive programs such as Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, Clarion Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop.
  • Student artist participation in performance/training intensive programs such as the Dance for Parkinson’s Program, the National Theatre Institute at the O’Neill Center, Second City, Michael Howard Studios Acting Intensive, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the World Youth Wind Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Festival, the Stevenson Gallery of Cape Town, Kuchipudi Dance study in New Delhi, the Clazz Festival, the NY Film Academy of France.
  • Student artist research towards or the creation of visual art installations or exhibits (in mediums like photography, digital video, environmental sculpture); documentary, experimental, or narrative film; creative or non-fiction writing (short or long form, including plays or musicals).

Can students apply for a Benenson if planned project details (such as workshop acceptance) have not been confirmed?

Yes, but you should be clear about your status in your application and have a contingency plan, one that you describe in the application itself or one you can have ready upon request if you receive an award but the original plans fall through. Students are required to alert the awards chairperson if your plans change. If a student receives a Benenson Award but is not accepted into their proposed program and do not have a viable alternative arranged, they must return the funding.

I’m an international student, can I apply for a Benenson? What kind of tax impact does the award have?

Absolutely, but both US and international students should consider state and federal tax impact when budgeting. Be aware that tax penalties to the award for international students could be significant (from 10 to 40% depending on your country of origin). For example, you may receive a total grant of $4000 but might only be able to use $3000 of it towards your project because the other must be paid for taxes. Read here for more information and support.

Can Benenson funds be used during the academic year?

No.

Must Benenson awarded projects be completed by end of summer?

The Benenson funded portion of an art project must be completed by end of the calendar year in which it is granted. Project development can continue past the summer but at the start of the fall semester you will be asked to submit a reflection and related media. This will be used to create a project webpage (see samples here), which will be shared with the Benenson family and the Duke Arts community.

Can I apply to Benenson in support of an internship?

Benenson funds cannot be used to support internships that are required for majors (like Public Policy, which has its own Leadership in Arts Policy Internship program) or that are part of Duke In programs (like Duke in NY, Duke in LA) or other study away or summer coursework.

Proposals to support internships or apprenticeships in arts fields or with institutions that are arts practice in nature (such as theater companies, museums, galleries, recording companies, dance festivals, music festivals to gain training/experience in acting, directing, writing, producing, filmmaking, curation, performance) can be competitive Benenson applications.

If you have applied to an opportunity but do not know your status yet (see the second question above), you can make a proposal to Benenson but you should outline a back-up plan within your proposal and keep the committee chair (Jules Odendahl-James, jao@duke.edu) updated as to your status.

Proposals to support internships in arts marketing, fundraising/development, and arts management typically are not competitive for Benenson awards. If you have interests in those domains, you should check out:

What kind of portfolio materials should I submit in support of my application?

This varies from arts discipline to arts discipline. It is a good question to ask of your faculty recommender or an arts faculty who has knowledge of your work. Portfolio materials are not required; however, examples of work can help make the case for your preparedness to achieve the project you are proposing.

If you have already submitted your work/a portfolio to an outside entity (say, you have submitted a film reel and resume to an Acting for the Camera workshop) and you’ve been admitted, it is less critical that you submit that same material to the Benenson committee.

If you are proposing a more independent plan of work – creating your own series of photographs to display at an on-campus gallery – then it might be more relevant for you to show the Benenson committee some examples of your work in that vein to demonstrate your ability to conceive of and complete a project.

Your letters of recommendation will speak to your artistic work and skills; however, portfolio materials can be wise supplements to include particularly if you haven’t yet had a chance to interface with many arts faculty at Duke because you are a rising Sophomore or you’ve just started taking arts coursework.

Suggested portfolio types and length for Benenson proposals:

  • Writers: a piece or pieces totaling no more than 500 words, any genre (poetry, short story, novel, non-fiction, play, screenplay).
  • Performers (dance, music, theatre): two contrasting pieces, any genre, each no longer than 3 minutes in length
  • Visual artists: three examples of work with no more than 100 words of context
  • Filmmakers: a treatment (no longer than 500 words in length) or scene no longer than 5 minutes in length.

My professor says she’ll write me a recommendation, but how is she supposed to submit it?

Send this link to each of your recommenders: https://arts.duke.edu/benenson-recommendation/

I need a new camera to work on the film I want to propose for a Benenson award. I also need to travel to Philadelphia for four days of shooting. Can I include those types of expenses in my budget?

Equipment expenses (this includes computers, cameras, phones, props) should not be part of your budget. Travel expenses can be part of a budget; however, remember that the focus of your budgeting should be arts-centered and frugally conceived. Think hostel stays and red-eye flights so that you can do more with less.

If you always wanted to take a trip to the Amazon and you’d like to take some nature photographs while you’re there, even if you’re an excellent photographer, that on its own will not make a competitive Benenson proposal. If the rapidly changing landscape of the Amazon is the focus of an independent study course you’ve done as a photography minor you’d have a stronger rationale for Benenson funds to be used to travel to the Amazon to capture events on the ground.

If you’ve never created a budget for an arts project, it’s wise to consult your faculty recommender(s) or another mentor or peer for advice. There’s also this helpful step-by-step guide from Format. (Step 7 includes other hyperlinks to budgeting strategies for artists in different fields.) And this article from the Canadian Broadcasting Company might help you think through the artist grant application process overall.

If you have additional questions, please contact the Chair of the Benenson Award in the Arts, Jules Odendahl-James at jao@duke.edu.