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Funding Opportunities

Making Big Things Happen

Do you have a project or idea that will advance the performing arts?

Does your chamber ensemble want to go pro?

Do you want to organize a dance festival or bring new plays to the stage?

Maybe you have an idea for a killer smartphone app that will enhance the audience experience?

Whatever your dream, the EXCEL program can help put your ideas into action. We provide $100,000 in funding support annually for current U-M students through three different funding pools.

Our funding guidelines have been impacted by COVID-19, and all school-sponsored engaged learning activities (including any activity funded by EXCEL sources, such as projects, ventures, and/or internships) are subject to both University and state regulations. Below are important additional steps you will need to take if your project includes any in-person activity. 

Remote projects: Proposals for fully remotely (no in-person contact) activities (projects, ventures, internships) will be considered as normal, and are not subject to the additional steps listed below. A question indicating whether your project is designed to be fully remote will be included in our application forms, but applicants are also advised to provide confirmation and clarification within their proposal narratives. We highly recommend that students prioritize activities that can be realized in a fully remote format.

Additional steps for projects with in-person elements:

Projects with in-person elements: Proposed activities (projects, ventures, internships) that intend to include some in-person activity must adhere to the following steps, which include limitations tied to UM and state regulation.

On Campus: As always, funding from EXCEL does not in any way guarantee access to campus spaces or facilities; any proposed project that intends to use a campus space must apply through the appropriate channel and adhere to facility safety plans.

These are the steps we recommend you take PRIOR to applying for EXCEL funding:

  • Review the SMTD safety plan for information on usage restrictions updated for COVID-19. 
  • Use this link to request SMTD space via the SMTD scheduling system; note that requests for UPROD spaces should be made by email to Paul Feeny at feenyp@umich.edu. Please note: under Phase Four of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan, indoor theatres and performance venues are closed to the public.
  • Include confirmation of the status of your request for space usage in your narrative, and detail on its adherence to the relevant safety plan
  • Funding applications that include documentation of adherence to the relevant safety plans and, when possible, confirmation of approval for space usage by the appropriate facility/events managers will be more successful

Note: All space usage requests are subject to approval by the respective facilities/events managers. SMTD does not administer safety plans for spaces beyond those controlled by the school, and access for performing arts activities over 2020-21 in those spaces will likely be restricted or forbidden.

Off Campus: Activities with in-person elements that intend to use off campus facilities or locations require that students complete additional steps AFTER they have applied for EXCEL funding and have received notice of their award status. EXCEL funding awarded for projects with off campus, in-person elements are CONTINGENT upon approval from Engaged Michigan. EXCEL will notify you upon confirmation of your (preliminary) award status whether you must take additional steps. 

These are the steps you may have to take AFTER having received preliminary notice from EXCEL on your award status:

  • For any in-person, U-M-related engaged learning activity that takes place outside of the state in which they are residing or entails at least one overnight away from home, students will need to complete the Student Registration for Engaged Learning Activity form.
  • If there is a travel component, students must register travel in the U-M Travel Registry.
  • Following the U-M suspension of domestic travel, students may not use U-M funding for non-essential travel.

These steps enable the university to know the locations of U-M students and communicate public health updates as needed. Details are provided here.

Note: ALL students (e.g. every UM student member of the project team) will need to complete the following steps for projects that meet the criteria above.

Note 2: If the activity reoccurs multiple times, students should register only once, indicating the date of the first possible occurrence and the date of the last overnight travel.

Note 3: Sponsored Student Organizations are prohibited from travel outside of Michigan and overnight travel. Visit the Center for Campus Involvement site for details.

 

Retired Ambassador Ronald N. Weiser (BBA ’66) and Eileen Weiser (MMus’75) have designated a $1 million gift which will establish the Meta Weiser EXCEL fund in honor of Ron Weiser’s mother. The Meta Weiser EXCEL Fund will support EXCEL’s extensive programming, including workshops, guest residencies, and the distribution of $100,000 in project, venture, and internship funding annually.

The EXCEL Enterprise Fund is a new funding resource for SMTD students. It offers micro grants of up to $1,000 for students to support individual or team projects that have significant professional development and community impact. In exceptional cases proposals may be awarded up to $1,500.

The Performing Arts EXCELerator is an entrepreneurial fellowship program open to all U-M students with early-stage performing arts ventures as individuals or teams. There is no limit on team size, however we recommend 2 to 4 members, and encourage interdisciplinary projects involving two or more U-M departments. Fellows are chosen by application and receive mentoring and support, will have access to up to $1,000 seed money for their projects during Winter 2018. Each team will also have the chance to pitch for up to $4,000 in additional seed money. Additionally, teams will be featured on the SMTD EXCEL website and will be considered for additional external engagements with EXCEL partners.

EXCEL’s partnership with National Sawdust will enable SMTD students the opportunity to perform, workshop, or be in residence at the Brooklyn-based venue. Students interested in the National Sawdust partnership should apply through the Performing Arts EXCELerator.


The School of Music, Theatre & Dance EXCEL Prize recognizes extraordinary excellence in performing arts entrepreneurship, leadership and social impact. It is awarded at the annual EXCELebration in April to a University of Michigan student or student team that has established a standout performing arts venture. Beyond the cash prize of $10,000, the awardee will receive mentorship by EXCEL staff.


The EXCEL Internship Fund provides students grant awards up to $1,000 to cover living and travel expenses related to a summer internship. In special cases, students may receive awards above $1,000.


Who is eligible to apply for EXCEL Funding?
EXCEL funding is available to all current School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) students — those who are enrolled in an SMTD degree program at the undergraduate or graduate level. Students may apply as individuals or in teams for Enterprise Fund, EXCELerator, and EXCEL Prize grants. EXCEL does encourage collaborative projects involving students from multiple units and colleges, and/or projects that involve professionals (e.g. a team that includes UM students from other campus units and/or alumni or professionals are encouraged to apply, etc.). However, an SMTD student must be listed as the lead applicant on any team application. Lead applicants must be core members of the planning and implementation team (leading the project or venture, rather than just providing ancillary support, e.g. hired musicians for a performance or tour, etc.). Especially in cases where most team members are non-SMTD students, it is important that the proposal clarifies the ways in which the lead applicant serves as a core member of the planning team, who the other core members are, and how the team’s makeup maximizes the project or venture’s capacity for success.

All current SMTD students are also eligible to apply as individuals for funding to offset the costs of unpaid internships through the EXCEL Internship Fund. We do not currently fund internship-related costs for non-SMTD students.

What sort of projects and ventures have been funded in the past?

EXCEL has funded a wide variety of projects and ventures. Click here to see a list of past EXCELerator Fellows, here to see a sampling of recently-funded Enterprise Fund projects, and here to see the past recipients of the annual EXCEL Prize. Proposals that clearly and concisely address the fund’s criteria in concrete detail are typically most successful. Complete criteria for each fund can be found at our funding webpage

Click here to see a list of the organizations that have hosted internships supported by the EXCEL Internship Fund.

What makes a successful application?
Successful applications must fully address the specific fund criteria and adhere to the relevant submission requirements. Generally, an EXCEL project or venture funding application should also speak to 1) the quality and goals of the project, 2) its relevance to the applicant’s (or team’s) professional development, and 3) the specific ways the project catalyzes community impact (whether on campus, in a local community, or to the field-at-large). It is also imperative to clarify how the requested funds will be used to implement the proposed project or venture. Applications that do not include a budget and/or show indications that the requested funding may be used for items that are beyond our criteria will not be funded.

Are there any types of expenses EXCEL does not fund?
Yes. Enterprise Fund, EXCELerator, and EXCEL Prize awards WILL NOT typically fund attendance and/or travel expenses for conferences, festivals, competitions, apprenticeships, internships, or routine costs associated with curricular study abroad activities.

EXCEL project or venture funding should not be used to pay students for their creative work. For example, we will not award funding for the purposes of paying peers who are members of a project team (e.g. chamber musicians, dancers, theatre troupe team members, etc.) for their labor. However, other expenses that are critical to the proposed project (e.g. production costs, supplies, materials, advertising, fees to non-UM professional collaborators, etc.) will be considered. Similarly, we will not provide Internship Fund awards to compensate students for their internship work hours. Rather, those funds must be used to cover costs associated with the internship (e.g. travel, lodging, food, general living expenses during the internship, etc.), and proposals should clearly indicate these needs.

We also typically do not fund recurring, annual activities that are hosted by UM student organizations (e.g. annual fundraising events, performances, or other regular programs, etc.), as the aim of these funds are to catalyze activities that stretch professional development skills and enhance, expand, or create new learning opportunities that would not otherwise occur.

Similarly, we generally do not fund “typical and ordinary” costs for curricular activities. For example, we will not award funding to cover the basic costs of a senior recital or performance (e.g. the fee for a collaborative pianist, instrument or parts rental, recording/documentation costs, reception food, etc.) and typically do not award funding for the purposes of compensating U-M students involved in such activities. Costs that go beyond the “typical and ordinary” expenses of a curricular project, enhancing it in a significant way with regard to professional development and community impact, may be considered. For example, Enterprise Fund proposals that request funding to cover the costs associated with taking a senior recital on tour, collaborating with an external organization to host a special research project, or engaging other collaborators or resources to broaden the scope and impact of a performing arts project might be considered. Similarly, funding requests that maximize the criteria of the EXCELerator and EXCEL Prize criteria will have the greatest potential for success.

Many of the applicants who have been successful in their funding applications have received advance feedback on their applications from a member of the EXCEL team one-on-one or in a workshop. You can schedule a 1:1 appointment with a member of the EXCEL team here.

Where can I get help with my application?
SMTD students can register for 1:1 meetings with an EXCEL representative via Handshake. We also periodically offer free funding workshops designed to help potential funding applicants prepare their materials for our various funding options. You can search for those events after logging in to Handshake. Just click on the Events button on the left-hand menu, and search “EXCEL” to see all of our upcoming events. SMTD students also receive a weekly email newsletter from EXCEL with relevant information on all of our upcoming events.

What are some other funding options for UM students?
Check out EXCEL’s UM Library Research guide, which includes links to both UM and external funding resources!

When are funding applications due?
All of the funding deadlines are listed on the Enterprise Fund, EXCELerator, EXCEL Prize, and EXCEL Internship Fund webpages.

When will I hear back about my application?
All notification dates are listed on the Enterprise Fund, EXCELerator, EXCEL Prize, and EXCEL Internship Fund webpages.

The Enterprise Fund offers funding over several cycles each academic year. After a specific application deadline passes (e.g. in early October, for example), the EXCEL Funding Committee meets soon thereafter to review all submitted applications for that cycle. Typically this meeting occurs 7-10 days after the application deadline, to ensure the committee has time to thoroughly review all applications. Award notifications are then sent out by the deadlines listed on the individual fund webpage, typically two weeks after the posted application deadline.

How many projects get funded every year?
Each academic year EXCEL typically funds between 60-70 Enterprise Fund projects, 4 EXCELerator teams, 1 EXCEL Prize, and 10-20 Internship Fund applications.

Note: EXCEL cannot guarantee space availability in U-M facilities, and any project funded by EXCEL must request space usage according to SMTD scheduling guidelines. All requests from funded projects for SMTD instrument usage must be approved by respective faculty supervisors.