Are You Sending Wimpy Cover Letters?

Guest Blogger: Debby L. Williams
When you respond to a call for entries or apply for a residency or grant, do you quickly jot off a few words for a cover letter or just slap a form letter on top of your submission?
After reading hundreds of cover letters (yes, committees do read them), I am certain that they are often written at the last minute. They lack substance. They’re, yes, wimpy.
shocked man with glasses
I have received submissions with cover letters addressed to some unknown arts administrator in a different state! I assume this is the result of using the last cover letter and forgetting to change the name and address.
This error is unfortunate on many levels, not the least of which is that the artist insulted me by addressing me by the wrong name.

First Impressions Matter

The cover letter is a chance to introduce yourself, show that you are a well-educated and articulate person, and that you have a real interest in the project.
You might have a basic template for cover letters, but it must be personalized for each project.
Remember, you are making your first impression with the cover letter. Your cover letter should be neat, well organized, and professional. Proper grammar and correct spelling are always important.
Since you are applying for an artistic commission or opportunity, the aesthetics of your submission is crucial—it must be appropriately professional.

Missed Opportunity

But it is a huge missed opportunity if you are not taking advantage of the extra information you can convey in a letter.
You can make a positive impact on a committee by conveying in the cover letter that you are aware of the organization and how you, personally, are already connected to their project. If possible, include information about how you have an affinity or personal relationship to their organization, business, mission, or location.
Many committee members believe that if the artist already has a personal connection to the project, then they will be more committed to its success. A succinct statement telling them of your connection will also give them a bit of an insight to you.

Cover Letter Checklist

Use this list as a check against the content of your next cover letter.

  • Correct date
  • Your contact information: Name, Address, Phone(s), Email
  • Salutation addressed to correct name and organization
  • Evidence of awareness of organization and project
  • Mention of personal connection to organization, project, or location
  • Signature

I hope it helps you to stop sending wimpy cover letters and start taking advantage of the opportunity to connect for a successful submission.

Debby L. WilliamsAbout Our Guest Blogger
Debby L. Williams is the Director of Oklahoma Art in Public Places. She’s been a curator, museum director, and arts administrator. You’ll run into her frequently on this blog.

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11 thoughts on “Are You Sending Wimpy Cover Letters?”

  1. A cover letter for a Call for Entries? Most calls I see specifically say something like “do not include additional information. It will not be read”. My philosophy is to read the prospectus and send them exactly what is required. You may stand out with a cover letter and you may end up in the trash for not following the directions! I was just juried into a show that had 2100 entries. Imagine if each one had included “extras” what an additional burden that would be on the organization.

    1. Debby Williams

      Good morning! Yes, you are exactly right. If they specifically say to not include additional information, then by all means, don’t. Following the instructions is crucial. However, there are many times when a cover letter is requested especially for residencies, public art commissions, and grant applications. When it is permitted or requested, take advantage of the opportunity.
      And congratulations on being juried into that show!

  2. Bravo! And it’s so nice to see a bulleted list done right: no punctuation at the end of each phrase (who needs it?), and no pretending that each line is an alternative ending to a sentence fragment that’s hanging out somewhere up above.
    The bulleted layout tells readers that they have their choice of a few independent little nuggets — certainly not a list that needs to be read in order — and that each nugget fits the description set out in the introductory sentence.
    Sorry for the soapbox, but so many people (professionals and amateurs alike) put their energy into making a bulleted list wearisome to read rather than just a quick list of parallel possibilities. Anyone reading your cover letter (other than our mother) is looking for a reason to put the letter down and get on with the next one — and you don’t want to give them that excuse.

  3. Agreed Debby.
    Letters give you the opportunity to increase your overall presentation, but frequently add a lot of questions. We have so little to go on when reviewing applications, every word is important!

  4. This is a valuable article on writing an effective cover letter. I never realized that a cover letter should be more than just simple facts and an introduction. I always relied on the resume to do the work. My eyes have been opened! I wish I had read this eight years ago when I tried for my dream job. Thank you!

    1. reveille Kennedy

      Hi Debby and Alyson,
      Is it ever advisable to put a photo of yourself or your artwork on a cover letter? Since it was not mentioned, I am guessing that it is not a good idea.
      Thanks, Reveille

    2. Debby Williams

      Hello Reveille, I wouldn’t endorse putting your photo on a cover letter. You want the folks who are reading it to concentrate on your words. Also, think about having your letter look clean and professional. If your artwork is part of the design of your letterhead and it works as such, then that would be a different issue. But remember, they will be looking at images of your work in your submittal.

  5. Amanda Christine

    I just sent off a letter with a submission before I read this! agh! definitely bookmarking for next time!

  6. Interesting read. As more and more of the public art requests move online to sites like Cafe, it become extremely important that you are concise and to the point, telling the reviewers why you are interested and what you can offer. One of my last submission asked the letter of interest be 1000 characters. Not words but characters or each key stroke. As an example, this posting is 403 characters. 🙂

  7. Pingback: What To Include In An Art Exhibition Proposal - Art Biz Success

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