You should always include a cover letter whenever you send a grant, project proposal, or a portfolio. A cover letter is a general letter of introduction that identifies what you are asking for and what is included in the packet you are sending. If you are asking for money, the cover letter should state clearly in the first or second sentence exactly what you are asking for. Never bury this request deep in the letter as it should be easy to find. A cover letter can be short, only describing what materials are enclosed and why. A cover letter should never be more than a single page, anymore would inconvenience your reader. A cover letter should set a pleasant tone and introduce the reader to your project and/or practice and your reason for contacting them. Generally a cover letter has three parts: the opening, the middle, and the closing.
Some of the reasons you might need a cover letter include:
An application following a personal meeting
Responding to an advertised position
Looking for a job at a specific company
An information seeking letter, asking for a meeting
A grant or funding application
Seeking in-kind donations
Sending a portfolio
Responding to a gallery or curator
Applying for a teaching job
Proposing a class or a workshop
Applying for a residency
Submitting an article or writing samples
Applying for an internship
The Opening / Introduction
This should get the reader’s attention. “Dear Sir” will get you a low score from women; however, if you use the correct person’s name, you will score high points. Use the opening to describe your intentions, provide an overview, or to follow up on any previous communication with the recipient. Use this part of the cover letter to introduce yourself and clearly state what the cover letter is concerning.
The Middle / "The Meat"
This should include a more detailed, though not overly-long, description of the project or information about the work. You could have a summary of your artist’s statement here, or something important about your request. Include any pertinent information you think would help you “sell” the project, such as a list of goals and accomplishments. This is the section of the cover letter where you convince the recipient how she/he will benefit from you and/or your work.
The Closing / Summation
This is a great place to leave a personal impression on your reader. Make her/him want to contact you. Always suggest further contact, whether an appointment, a phone call, or a studio visit. Always mention how the materials can be returned. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). This could also be where you mention how your reader can see and learn about more of your work, such as your professional website. Always include your address and phone number, as well as your email.
Formatting: Details in Writing
There are differences in how you would send an email cover letter vs. a hard copy you print.
For a hard copy letter, your address etc. (also called the signature block in an email) goes at the top of the letter. For email, it goes below your name in the email.
Emails require a subject line which is read first. This is very important as it may determine whether the recipient opens it or not. For a hard copy letter, the subject is in the letter itself. It is seen after it is opened. It might be the first sentence in the letter.
A hard copy is hand signed, while an email has a signature (which you should always double check, as your normal signature might not be appropriate for the email you are sending).
All cover letters should include the following, when applicable:
The reason you are contacting the person or company. A résumé should never be sent without a cover letter, for instance. Ask for what you want right up front, not buried in the text. Be as specific as possible.
You might want to include how you found this person or company, whether it was a referral or an ad, Internet research, or you have a friend who works there.
Convince the reader to look at the materials you have included with the cover letter. This is also why you write materials for a specific person, organization, funder, or company. Never send boilerplate materials.
Call attention to any elements of your background, project, or specific experience that will let the reader know that you know what you are doing.
The style you write in should be enthusiastic, genuine, and professional.
If there is something that you feel might encourage her/him to take you seriously, do not hesitate to include it.
Indicate how you will follow up. This can include a phone call, a follow up email, or a request for a meeting. This lets them know you are serious and not just sending out a bunch of letters to see what happens.
There are many sample letters for job searching and business on the Internet. You can adapt most of them for artistic activity.
You can also get our popular book for artists which includes all of this information and more here.