The Quest for a Guggenheim – History, Application and Process Timeline


The Quest for a Guggenheim – History, Application and the Process

Part 2 in a 4 part series…

A little history of the Guggenheim Foundation…

Established in 1925 by former United States Senator and Mrs. Simon Guggenheim, in memory of seventeen-year-old John Simon Guggenheim, the elder of their two sons, who died April 26, 1922, the Foundation has sought from its inception to “add to the educational, literary, artistic, and scientific power of this country, and also to provide for the cause of better international understanding,” as the Senator explained in his initial Letter of Gift (March 26, 1925).

About the Fellowship…

Often characterized as “midcareer” awards, Guggenheim Fellowships are intended for men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.

Fellowships are awarded through two annual competitions: one open to citizens and permanent residents of the United States and Canada, and the other open to citizens and permanent residents of Latin America and the Caribbean. Candidates must apply to the Guggenheim Foundation in order to be considered in either of these competitions.

The Foundation receives between 3,500 and 4,000 applications each year. Although no one who applies is guaranteed success in the competition, there is no prescreening: all applications are reviewed. Approximately 200 Fellowships are awarded each year.

During the rigorous selection process, applicants will first be pooled with others working in the same field, and examined by experts in that field: the work of artists will be reviewed by artists, that of scientists by scientists, that of historians by historians, and so on. The Foundation has a network of several hundred advisers, who either meet at the Foundation offices to look at applicants’ work, or receive application materials to read offsite.

These advisers, all of whom are themselves former Guggenheim Fellows, then submit reports critiquing and ranking the applications in their respective fields. Their recommendations are then forwarded to and weighed by a Committee of Selection, which then determines the number of awards to be made in each area. Occasionally, no application in a given area is considered strong enough to merit a Fellowship.

The Committee of Selection then forwards its recommendations to the Board of Trustees for final approval. The successful candidates in the United States and Canada competition are announced in early April; those in the Latin America and Caribbean competition, in early June.

We guarantee our advisers and Committee of Selection members, as well as those who submit letters of reference, absolute confidentiality. Therefore, under no circumstances will the reasons for the rejection of an application be provided.

Here is an example 2016 Guggenheim Competition Timeline…

July 2015:  2016 United States & Canada Competition applications and information available online.

September 18, 2015:  Deadline to submit applications for the 2016 competition. After your application is submitted, you will receive an email confirmation, along with a PDF copy of your application. You may also receive a separate email at a later date with further instructions about when to submit examples of your work. Please do not send work examples until you receive these further instructions.

November 2015:  References contacted for recommendations.

November 16, 2015:  Work example submission deadline. Our email regarding submission of examples will include your username and password, which will allow you to log in to our competition website to complete our Work Example Registry System. Follow the directions on the registry page to supply the requested information regarding the work examples you are submitting in support of your application. Note that you cannot send or upload the actual work examples to the Foundation via this system. All items must be sent to the Foundation via postal mail or courier delivery. If you would like your material to be returned, please indicate this on the list that should accompany the work you submit.

Mid-December 2015:  If you do not receive an acknowledgment of the receipt of your submitted work via email, please contact the Foundation.

April 2016:  Notification of competition results sent to all applicants via email.

April-June 2016:  Return of work examples to applicants. If applicants for the 2016 competition do not make arrangements for the return of their supporting materials by May 31, the Foundation may at its discretion dispose of those materials. The Foundation will not return any supporting material unless payment arrangements have been made, nor will it retain material once the competition is over.

The Foundation offers Fellowships in a huge number of areas…

Drama & Performance Art

Fine Arts Research



Music Composition


Music Research




Anthropology & Cultural Studies





Environmental Studies


Political Science


Fine Arts


Literary Criticism

Computer Science





The specialty areas are much more detailed than my list. Check out their website for a detailed listing. Here are the Guggenheim Trustees that give the final say to any Fellowships that are awarded. You can take some time to read about their background.

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William P. Kelly

  • Chairman
  • Trustee since 2011

Full Profile >>

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Joseph Rice

  • Chairman Emeritus
  • Trustee since 1985

Full Profile >>

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Edward Hirsch

  • Trustee since 2002

Full Profile >>

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Joel Conarroe

  • Trustee since 1985

Full Profile >>


Robert A. Caro

  • Trustee since 2006

Full Profile >>


Dorothy Tapper Goldman

  • Trustee since 2007

Full Profile >>

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Michael Hegarty

  • Trustee since 2001

Full Profile >>


Dwight E. Lee

  • Trustee since 2012

Full Profile >>

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Joyce Carol Oates

  • Trustee since 1997

Full Profile >>

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Richard A. Rifkind

  • Trustee since 1991

Full Profile >>

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Stacy Schiff

  • Trustee since 2013

Full Profile >>

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Charles P. Stevenson Jr.

  • Trustee since 1994

Full Profile >>

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Waddell W. Stillman

  • Trustee since 2006

Full Profile >>

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Benjamin Taylor

  • Trustee since 2015

Full Profile >>

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Patrick J. Waide Jr.

  • Trustee since 2002

Full Profile >>


Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

  • Trustee since 1997

Full Profile >>

The initial application and work samples are reviewed by past Fellows and experts in their field. (As I have read on the Guggenheim website.) The final decision comes from the Trustees.

Application Process Notes:

My rundown herewith is for the photography competition. Other fields will need their own special application requirements. Whatever the area you work in, an application for a Guggenheim Fellowship is free, so if you feel you are even slightly qualified why on earth would you not apply for one?

The application process is very straightforward and actually pretty easy. It helps if you have all your information at hand.

First thing you do is register. You pick a username and password. There is no cost for the application other than the return postage fee for your work samples. (If they are requested.)

You submit your bio, you submit your pitch, you submit your work samples (if asked) That about sums it up. You will need a list of 4 references, a listing of your past shows, placements etc. In my own case I have had very few public shows since the type of work I do gets labeled ‘not fit for public exhibition.’

I also put very little work in transitory shows, almost all my work is in permanent collection acquisitions which I am highly successful at with 130+ institutional placements. So I used those placements in the application in lieu of the few shows I’ve been in.

If you have a long bio or CV you will have to cut it down most likely as it wont fit their size requirements. Everything as to be submitted as a PDF file. You can do that with your word processor – just save the file as PDF and upload on the Guggenheim site.

If you need help wording your pitch or CV I’d advise you to hire a consultant to help. You can do it online or in person. Solicit past Guggenheim fellows and ask if they will advise you. There is nothing better than going to people that have been successful in the past for help. While consulting with past Fellows it is no guarantee of your success, it is better than just guessing and being advised by people that have no experience.

When Robert Frank applied for a Guggenheim he was advised by Walker Evans (a 1940 Guggenheim Fellow) as well as a few other established photogs. When Frank needed a second Guggenheim to finish the Americans project, he again used consultants to help him.

Here is a rough draft (1954) of Frank’s pitch to the Guggenheim Foundation.

Robert Frank Americans Guggenheim application draft 1954

Below is a copy of Frank’s application. (I do not vouch for its authenticity.  I found it like anything else…on the internet and do not know its provenance.)

Robert Frank's Guggenheim Application 1954

You will need to supply 4 references with your application….

“The application provides a section for references. We ask applicants to list the names and addresses of four persons who are familiar with your work and to whom the Foundation may write for judgment concerning your abilities, especially in relation to your proposal. All statements by references to the Foundation are held in the strictest confidence and will not be provided to the applicant.

Those who are familiar with your recent work and can comment on the course of your career as a whole will make the best references. Individuals who have a business or financial interest in your work — such as dealers, agents, and editors – would not be the most impartial references to provide, and would not be considered especially useful.

Please request the permission of each person whom you list as a reference before so listing them. Although requests for evaluations will be sent to the four persons you list, they are not obligated to reply. The Foundation cannot inform you whether the people you list actually submit their evaluations; those whose permission has been sought in advance by the applicant are most likely to respond. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure the accuracy of a reference’s email or mailing address.

The Foundation does not bring forward letters of reference from previous years. (But applicants may, if they wish, name the same references they have named before, and those references may of course choose to send us the same letters they sent before.)”

The Guggenheim Foundation does not like multiple project pitches.

Even though I knew this, I still pitched two projects to them – The Americans…60 years after Frank and Piercing Darkness as joint projects.

The reason I pitched two projects was the two are inseparable for me. By day I shoot for The Americans…60 years after Frank and by night I shoot for Piercing Darkness. The budget for the two projects I would submit would be exactly the same whether I shot for one project or two. In addition, some of the photos from the Piercing Darkness project would be used in The Americans…60 years after Frank project. I felt I should offer the Foundation the most bang for the buck if they made an investment in me.

The other reason I pitched two projects was I seldom follow instructions and do exactly as I like. When you are at something for nearly 50 years like I have been with my photography you get set in your ways. If I followed instructions I would not have a fraction of the photos I do have.

A natural trait most artists have is to work outside of normal convention. This lack of ability to follow instructions has its benefits as well as drawbacks for the artist. If you can be at peace with the extremes of basking in the glory of success or burning in the failure of following your self-will, you will be OK and can move on.

In any case, if your seriously want to be on the safe side, you may want to be a little more anal. Follow the rules and just submit one pitch to them, but that is for you to decide. If I had to do it all over again…I’d still submit the same two project pitch.

Here is another area that I didn’t do as prescribed…

Please request the permission of each person whom you list as a reference before so listing them. Although requests for evaluations will be sent to the four persons you list, they are not obligated to reply. The Foundation cannot inform you whether the people you list actually submit their evaluations; those whose permission has been sought in advance by the applicant are most likely to respond.

I didn’t ask permission or follow-up. I just listed 4 references and didn’t do the rest. In this day and age you know how poor people are at answering emails and snail mail. Who knows if they even responded?

Once you are done with your initial application you just have to wait to see if they request your work samples. That is discussed in the next post in this series.

To be continued in part 3…


Women of the Beat Generation Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection

Girls of the Beat Generation

A forthcoming six volume artists’ book series by social documentary photographer Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

A complete list of artists’ books by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.