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“The most exciting projects for me are those where you can fully focus on the idea, the best response and have the control to go with your own vision.” Cici Blumstein, filmmaker, choreographer, installation artist

This new report, commissioned from me by a-n The Artists Information Company, is now published online and downloadable from here.

What’s it about?

A Fair Share? Direct Funding to Artists, quantifies the amount of funding given directly to artists from each of the four UK arts councils in the years 2009-2010, and 2008-2009. It also summarises the funding streams available to individual artists and the current visual arts priorities of the UK arts councils.

The key finding reveals that surprisingly few individual artists apply for funding in their own right, and even fewer are successful. In England, less than 5% of artists apply in their own name every year, and of those, less than 2.5% are successful. This means that there is little direct funding being given to artists to pursue and develop their own projects, under their own control – under 20% of available funding for the visual arts in England, 14% for Northern Ireland and around 18% for Scotland and Wales in 2009-2010.

The aim of the research  is to provide something of a rallying cry. Yes, this is a situation that should be addressed by the various arts councils that seek to support artists’ development within their overall policies. But it is arguably also the responsibility of individual artists to overcome feelings of disinclination, demotivation and whatever else may be preventing them, and to put together more and better applications for the considerable funding that is still available.

It is not radical to suggest that individual artists could and should get a bigger slice of the funding cake than they currently do, and that many more of them should be directly funded because of the value their practice brings to arts policy delivery. But the fact that they don’t highlights the urgent need to properly understand and address what isn’t working with the current systems, and take any actions necessary to improve them.

There is a request for comments in response to this research, particularly if you are an artist, about your own experience of the arts funding systems and your perceptions of it. Feel free to use this blog, or comment directly onto the a-n site immediately underneath the report.

Also published this week is Understanding Turning Point, originally a national visual arts initiative from ACE, devolved to regional groups.  Understanding Turning Points is a briefing paper is for anyone interested in understanding more about what Turning Point is and does.

Friday 11th November: I was delighted to hear that the Guardian’s Tom Service cited A Fair Share and AIR’s Big Artists Survey in his quite magnificent speech at the recent Paul Hamlyn Awards for Artists and Composers, republished on his Guardian blog here.  This research is meant to be used –  as information, advocacy and encouragement for intervention and change. That it exists at all is entirely down to the brilliant strategic thinking, intelligence, drive and passion of Susan Jones, the director and publisher of a-n The Artist Information Company. That the research is needed is demonstrated by its use in this instance, (and other instances that won’t  make the  pages of a national newspaper). But the significance lies in the fact that in a speech whose focus was musicians and composers, visual arts research was used, suggesting that the evidence has not been compiled for other art-forms.  Susan Jones has had the foresight and skill to commission this and other pieces of work almost before the sector – and other art form sectors – know that it’s needed. I’d say that right now a-n is ahead of the field, with more insight to come.  I’d recommend that anyone with an interest in the visual arts sector should watch the a-n virtual and magazine space.

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51 thoughts on “A Fair Share? Direct Funding to Artists

  1. Thank you for the rallying cry, you’ve persuaded me to take another look at Grants for the Arts, perhaps for my site artcritiqued.com. However there are two main reasons that have put me, at least, off from applying in the past. Firstly GftA seems very project driven – there have to be tangible outcomes and demonstrable benefits for the Arts Council. Whilst performing arts will usually be working on developing a performance or show, I believe most visual artists work in a more research or exploratory based manner. Also if you have Arts Council funding to develop a production you are pretty likely to find a theatre somewhere in the country you can hire to put it on in, whilst obtaining an exhibition (or public art) opportunity as a visual artist is a bit more hit and miss, but a group can create a venue or hire somewhere if they are acting as a gallery with funding. The second reason I see as putting visual artists off applying is that they are generally expected to demonstrate they will have further sources of funding for developing the said project.

    • Hi Bradley. Thank you for taking the trouble to read and leave your comments. Your analysis of GFA is fairly close I would say. It has become very project and outcome based, although ACE do look at, and even encourage, applications for R&D. But these can be tricky to write and they receive a lot of discussion at the decision-making stage, as the potential for outcomes that meet criteria are still required, for example, for future public engagement of some kind.

      Regarding match funding, it can certainly be awkward; ACE require a minimum of 10% and more is desirable. But they will accept in-kind contributions as part of the match funding. Some local authorities have a fund specifically to provide the 10% ACE match – worth checking out – although whether these are and will continue remains to be seen.

  2. The number of hoops you have to jump through and the criteria for applications are daunting. I have often thought about applying for a grant for equipment or to do a project , called my local arts council for help and they told me that there were no grants available ‘in my area’ . So it’s location, location, location ! Buckinghamshire is apparently so wealthy that no-one needs assistance. I think it would be helpful if grants were assessed upon the merits of the individual.

  3. Hi Lucinda, thank you for this comment. You report a surprising scenario if you are talking about Arts Council England, since Grants for the Arts (GFA) is an open application process available to everyone. To get such a discouraging response at the enquiry stage and for the reason of location is unusual I would think (or hope), especially if it wasn’t accompanied with an explanation of how you might frame an application to meet some arts council priorities.

  4. Well, arts and business aspect of arts are two very different fields that require different qualities. Researching, applying for, following up with funding opportunities is almost a full time occupation in and of itself, the process often test the determination and patience of the applicant. Sometimes getting 2nd, 3rd jobs to raise for money is easier than following thru with a grant application but getting a grant is more prestigious than self funding and could lead to future funding so determined artists follow through with it. Even when a highly motivated and organized artist wants to pursue funding, they still can’t do it on their own. Oftentimes, they need to forge a relationship with an institution who’ll serve as the fiscal receiver of the funds and manage the money on the artists behalf. Artists are very seldom trusted as fiscally responsible to directly receive and manage funds.

  5. If we take into account the amounts available for most individual artist grants and the amount of time to write the application (research & development included), produce the work and record the outcomes, send in the report etc it just doesn’t make much mathematical sense. It is especially discouraging when the majority of work is often in the development stage and with such a small percentage actually receiving funding. I’m surprised as many artists actually apply but then it is clear that many of these grants are for artists who already have an outcome through an exhibition opportunity and it is back door funding for those institutions that are offering the shows. It makes sense from a funding perspective but it is discouraging for individual artists who are not being supported by art institutions. Is it really any wonder that DIY culture is where many artists are putting their energies?

    • Hi Steve, yes I’ve had other artists say this to me as well. It’s not just the effort and headspace that writing an application takes, but the unpaid time as well, and it does often take artists (considerably) longer to write an application than professional fundraisers. So it can be quite a committment. If you don’t write applications fairly regularly, it can also be a big piece of work to take on, because it involves a lot of learning and getting familiar with what is required. Anecdotally, I suspect that individuals in the various arts councils don’t recognise that writing 2000 very targeted words is quite alien to many artists of whatever discipline (excepting literature I suppose). There is a lot to be said for DIY culture that’s for sure.

  6. I dunno about England but in Ireland, arts funding mainly pays for administrators instead of projects or rather relavant ones done be people outside “the circle”, no one will admit it mind and to apply for funding you need a degree in talking bollox, so an administrator can tick their boxes so it is inline with someones outdated and irrelevant vision for Irish arts. Also having a drinking buddy on the arts council helps; an arts council usually made of political appointees who went to the abbey theatre once to watch some shite play about auld ireland, unmarried mothers and feckin off to americea, set in bog town, co. bog land. Sure thers no feckin money anyway so whats the point. i’m off to sit behind a desk and pretend to administrate something, might actually cover the damn rent for a change.

  7. As an artist developing my own work and looking for exhibition opportunities I’m often desperately short of funds to invest in all aspects of my practise; materials, framing, printing, models. I am employed in the evenings at an unrelated job, which allows me a precarious balance of time and money to survive financially and continue to produce work. I’d be interested in approaching funding bodies but again, I’m under the impression that the successful applications will already have several aspects of a project in place, before really having any chance of receiving financial help and that having the support of an organisation or group is almost essential. I also think that it’s often hard to match the personal aspect of the subjects one chooses to the curated or themed funding opportunities. Like many of the other artists commenting, I’m perfectly capable of writing about my work but I’m put off by the imagined complexity of the paperwork involved in making a funding application, that coupled with stats such as less than 2.5% of individual applicants are successful, means that it doesn’t seem like an efficient use of a limited amount of time available to pursue creative work and opportunities.

    • Hi Simon. Yes you’re right, much funding is project based which does tend to require a lot of pieces in place, and a beginning, middle and end. But its sounds as though you might benefit from framing an application as Professional Development, asking for the type of support which would help you develop as an artist; or Research and Development, which is useful to buy you time and access to get the pieces in place for a specific project. You need to make a good argument, and in some ways that’s the hardest part – why should your development be funded and not someone elses (or everybody elses). It is risky, in terms of time spent against probable reward, and your analysis that it’s not a good use of your time is understandable. Good luck!

  8. My issue with funding has more to do with an institutional critique problematic. If you’ve set out to do actions and interventions in what looks to be more and more privately endorsed art projects such as the ‘Future for a Promise’ collateral exhibition at the Venice Biennale for example, then you’d have to think twice before applying for grants and support from institutions that have board members whose interests for art you’re questioning in the first place. There are ways to do projects with little or no funding, and I have managed to do that with the Lebanese Pavilion in Venice. The question still stands however, and the point made by Sarah Charlesworth’s ‘Declaration of Dependence’ is more pressing than ever.

    • Thank you for this comment which talks about a really important issue. My experience – in Britain at least – is that public funders recognise that art is often challenging of accepted norms and that this is one of its most important strengths. Is this so much the case with private funding? I don’t know and I suppose it depends where it comes from and on what terms it’s given. What is others’ experience of this? I accept though that even with public funding, integrity is not necessarily the case everywhere and I would be very interested to hear more about your experience. Will you email me?

  9. it has become obvious no organisation would fund other project than direct interest for itself (which includes the options of getting the money back). The main problem is itself the funding medium which is money. I don’t think they would be usefull in individual projects as just assistance and team working is. i feel inspired by the open minded individuals that creates 0budget or diy projects, i’m inspired by ideas & surroundings and the method of creative materialising the freedom of ideas… I just feel like the problem is that individuals aren’t more conected than the relation of institution – individual. I wouldn’t like an institutional space in which i have the money and devices but no fellows to make a joke with or just doodle something. The most creative periods i get when i am surrounded by creative friendly people which i resonate with….i am interested in interdisciplinarity, no artist knows “how to” everything (techniques, assemblage, mechanisms of materialising ideas). so maybe the ideal space & funding should go in the direction of a shell that gathers different individual artists, where no one is discriminated in the favour of other because the criteria of quality in artist work is THE SELF which is the most exigent critic… that may give you nightmares if you don’t do it right… the situation goes out of controll because art changed in a stock exchange in which the most popular individual brings money and so on (like in the VIP culture is the name not the art that contains the value), is a battle of promoting same faces as exchange values, so the official art market is already locked in a way… maybe it’s just natural to have in nature some locked layers as are cultures/ subcultures/ and even folk legends…. now as i see is a certain tendency of breaking this closed layered order(kind of a constraint freedom) bringing them all together, i just hope that institutional laws and rules will follow the flow. + no artist i know that constantly creates fresh inspiring works is one that sells his works. is rather the one that have different jobs from which can support his daily needs also buying materials & investing in his art (someone conected with the out-art environment). This is the art that for me matters and get me inspired, not the one that you do industrial because you noticed it sells…that is just stock exchange… As an individual artist i will continue not to apply in institutional offers, as a form of protest against the stock exchange market which isn’t at least opened to all it’s contributors, which is preferential and VIP oriented, which is rather quantity oriented rather that value oriented (in which value isn’t something some jury judge but the self in relation with it’s environment) … good luck to every fellow artist in reaching their goals with or without institutional funding ;)

  10. As a practicing artist of some 30 – odd years I have a distinct feeling that I have been ‘put out to grass’ as far as arts funding is concerned. I can’t complain as I myself have received several awards over the years but now I feel it is a waste of time applying for the following reasons: Fashion is the keyword to applying for arts funding in Scotland and if my practice was installation-based , or video or performance then frankly I would be in with a much better chance of an award. I actually served on the old SAC committee a few years’ back and it was my experience that lens- based work and installation always received a far more favourable response compared to more tradition-based skills – regardless of quality in some cases. There is also the factor that I work in print (dinosaur that I am ) and the fine art bods see this as craft based and vice- versa so I am caught between two camps. Might also be worth mentioning that perhaps a fund for the more ‘mature’ amongst us would be an idea as so many awards are geared to the ‘under 30’s etc. I would like to make people out there aware that artists never cease to work no matter how old they are – look at Louise Bourgeois for one brilliant example. Either that or video installation here I come !

    • Elspeth, I think you are entirely correct in your analysis here. “Traditional” artists do have to work harder to get funding unless they have established a decent profile for themselves. There is most definitely an emphasis on the contemporary and new media, and inevitably this often adds up to being a generation or two younger than artists practising pre-1990; or an unspoken requirement to ‘reinvent’ or at least ‘refresh’ practice. I know several very good artists in this position, successful abroad but finding it harder in the UK.

      Brighton and Hove City Council had a visual arts project called “50 over 50″ a few years ago, and I always wished it could be an annual or biennial project.

  11. Political pay offs to arts organizations. Individual artists don’t count, just the organizations with connections in the political circles.

  12. I have been a practising artist for more than 20 years, and during 10 of those years I have applied to Grants for the Arts on five occasions for various different projects: I was successful once, for an R&D project. I am pretty organised and do have the skills to write the proposals, but I still feel the process is far too difficult and convoluted, and requires unreasonable amounts of artistic compromise to achieve funding success. Often during the process of application and discussion with an Arts Officer, the project changes beyond recognition from the original concept – claims that the Arts Council will accept “in kind” match funding are largely unfounded (they tend to get very twitchy, regardless of the value, and say they really only count actual money). Another knotty problem is paying yourself: we are told to take ourselves seriously as artists and pay ourselves properly, yet – even when paying a meagre rate, backed up with evidence for the calculation, I have still been told by salaried arts officers that I should “be realistic”, or even work for nothing “because it’s good experience”.
    I don’t apply for Arts Council Grants anymore, principally because it is far too complicated, takes far too much time: time spent making applications is time not spent making your own work. It kills creativity, and doesn’t pay. I stopped when I realised most of my time was being spent as an unpaid arts administrator devising projects to further other artists careers, and sometimes my own, if I was lucky. I need to be able to make my own work. GfTheA is largely counter-productive. Feedback after failure is non-existent.

  13. I think the range of responses here touch on many of the issues/reasons for this. I am a visual artist and, personally, have been successful in applying for and receiving funding from ACE and ACW, for both professional development/open-ended research and also specific projects. One of the many things I do to support myself is working with the WARP professional development programme attached to g39 gallery in Cardiff. Through this I regularly meet artists to discuss their current concerns within their practice – strategic planning being one of them. I am constantly surprised how many people say, “Well, I looked at the forms but it all seemed like a lot of effort” or, even more baffling, “I’ve heard it’s really hard to fill out the forms so I haven’t bothered”. Yes, fair enough, artists are more likely to be put off by form-filling than many other professional sectors (sounds like a cliche, but we all know it’s true), but to not even bother based on a perception that it will be hard seems crazy. I am always very happy to go through the process with the people I meet and do my best to demystify it. I think it’s a valid point that there’s a certain kind of language that is most appropriate for these forms, but in my experience it isn’t flowery ‘arty’ language, quite the opposite; a simple and informative approach which spells out why, how and what you hope to achieve, even if it’s an unknown outcome. A key piece of advice I offer is to talk to the arts council before making the application. I have always found the officers I have dealt with to be very helpful and supportive in making suggestions prior to an application being finally submitted (even, on one occasion, being advised to increase my budget to make the project of greater benefit, over a longer period of time). Maybe the various council’s need to take more responsibility for demystifying this process for individual artists, so people can see that it actually isn’t that hard to apply? Whether you get the money or not is a different matter, it is a competitive process afterall. There are unquestionably issues with the process, but the majority of artists not applying, in my experience, appear to be making an active choice not to do so.

    • You make good points here Mark. if you have the knowledge, are comfortable with words, and/or have done it before, it is arguably not such a mysterious and difficult process. Sadly, comments suggest that the level of support required is not available everywhere – although very good to hear about the effectiveness of g39.

    • I’d like to second a lot of what Mark said. I know many artists are (for obvious reasons) operating in a visual mindset and not necessarily very articulate or confident in their communication skills, but presumably there aren’t many artists who baulk at learning how to do other non-visual things necessary to their life. It’s possible to learn how to talk about yourself and your work without relying on pretentious artspeak and without just telling people what you think they want to hear. There seem to be a lot of artists who take a perverse pride in not being able to clearly communicate their ideas and ambitions. There’s nothing noble about banging your head against a wall when the door’s standing ajar, three feet to your left.

  14. I applied for Arts Council funding and followed the rubric to the letter…. I thought. When my application was unsuccessful they highlighted something they had thought I had filled in incorrectly. I hadn’t filled it in incorrectly. But I had failed to align that bit of the form with a bit in the notes that meant something else. Confused? Me too. I don’t know if I can bothered applying again. It took me so long to do it the first time, I lost a day’s work.

    • Cathy – you are so close, make it all line up and bung it in again! It’ll only take a couple of hours and may well pay off, and if you don’t, you’ve definitely lost all the work and time you put in. Dany

  15. Dear Dany,

    This is an all too familiar story.

    I am a Librettist, and last year attempted to find funding to write the first Opera to raise awareness of Sex Trafficking in the UK, ‘Anya17′.

    It seemed that over 99% of funding was unavailable to individuals, and my ludicrous attempts to ‘engage’ with Arts Council South West would form the material for a sizeable article alone.

    Still with not a penny of funding and determined not to have my vision stifled, I persevered… and persevered.

    Now with the official backing from 10 NGOs including The United Nations, two Documentaries underway, a recent awards nomination at The House of Lords and a visit to 10 Downing Street, I still have no funding whatsoever.

    I do however have a premiere with The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Ensemble 10/10 in March, a cast from the RNCM, a second performance in Manchester and the tantalising possibility of a performance in Strasbourg a part of the UK’s Presidency of The Council of Europe.

    All parts of the project are fully funded except for me. Not a single… solitary… penny.

    If anyone is interested in the project, please do visit http://www.anya17.co.uk, and if someone actually fancies funding the ‘writer and project manager’, please do let me know!

    I will write a new Opera next year. I suspect I will report back with a similar tale.

    All the best,

    Ben Kaye

    • Ben – what a fantastic story of perseverence you tell. I really hope you find some sponsorship for yourself – maybe some form of commercial arrangement (share of box office receipts? Not likely to be much on two performances but better than nothing…Please do send me the PR when the time comes. All best, Dany

  16. Thank you for this article. It reminds me of an interview I saw a few years ago with an independent director who had struggled to fund finding. He stated in a television interview that the reason for this, is that a lot of the time getting funding for your project boils down to who you know and who is involved (for example an A-list actor). My experience of grant writing, which I rarely do now, has been a mixed bag of; that there is no funding available in my region, my proposal deviates too greatly from the application criteria (indicating that I would need to fit my project to the grant criteria rather than using it for what I need it for), I’ve been beaten to the punch by a number of middle class raahaa’s who’s parents provide them with start up funding or have money in the first place so they could send a full on trailer with their proposal (ensuring their project to be a sure thing for the council to be proud of when their logo appears on the credits).

    I’ve also had my brains picked by some seriously big hitters in the UK and been left out in the cold. And gotten seriously fed up with reading articles written by journalists about their brave friend who used to be a producer at th BBC and has left to write a screenplay (like that person didn’t make sure they had somekind of deal before doing so). I’ve been informed of bias and friends of friends putting in recommendations, which given how hard it is to find funding wouldn’t surprise me.

    To raise funding independently I have participated in medical trails, sold personal property and sold remnants of past work for future funding. Such as selling props or equipment to fund the purchase of another item or travel costs, sat down with politicians (who also said no but sent me a nice letter from Westminster saying so). What else I can or need to do to show how committed I am to my work I do not know.

  17. Through the 1990s I dreamed up numerous projects, carefully structured so as to be attractive to the Arts Council. I read the 1990 Arts Council strategic review from cover to cover, made notes, assimilated and acted thereon. Knowing funding is a bit of lottery, I always set up projects so they could do *something* useful without funding. In 1998 I finally struck gold – a £20k grant for a project involving 40 artists. Part of the condition for such a large grant was that trustees should be found to administer the funds and project from arms length. My final share was £5k for 2 days a week admin for 2 years, plus £500 for my artistic contribution. When I added up all the time I had spent on the project, I was remunerated at the rate of £1 per hour. When I added up all the time I had spent fundraising in those 8 years, I was remunerated at the rate of approximately 25p per hour. There are easier ways to earn and save that money, such as sweeping streets, wiping peoples’ bottoms, shovelling manure on a farm, etc. etc. After that experience I started my own little business (one that didn’t require any capital) which I now run part time. I’ve now got bags more time, and money, for art than I had back in the 90s. I’ve applied for funds twice since then, and always regretted it on account of the patronising attitude of the arts council admin staff – always helpful, but always with the undertone: “who the f**k do you think you are?” Basically, you only apply for arts council money if you’re already a success so that funding is almost guaranteed, or if you can’t do anything else except art and form filling.

  18. Just last week I asked a friend how easy it was to get funding for a concerto to be written. She has had success through funding but told me about all the loops and so and so forth that it just makes it sound not worth it.
    I once funded a new work for an ensemble I ran and funded it straight from my pocket purely to avoid the ridiculous rules, forms and people who make it too difficult.
    I have a wonderful English composer all ready to compose a concerto, which is bound to be exciting, and I said I’d be back in touch when I have more information about funding… I don’t even know where to start!

  19. My daughter wanted to do Perfoming arts at College but only managed one year being a learning disabled. The courses where too hard and support so little. After that, myself as her carer embarked on a search for other courses everywhere. We found many of the courses which she would need funding for were all for other disabilites other then learning. We finally found Mind the Gap which she went to for one week but they took on a few people yearly and my daughter had already completed a BTEC 2. She wasn’t chosen.apart from that they it was for much higher disabilites and she felt it wasn’t for her. She came in the middle not disabled enough but could not manage University courses.

    The Arts Council told me there was funding for disabled but nobody applied. Da Da south told me that many young disabled didn’t get in through the normal channels because of Literacy Levels. She wanted to study Drama but had nowhere to go.

    The support wasn’t there neither was anything directed at milder disabilites or how to get advice for those that wanted a career in the arts.We wrote to the Arts Council and informed them but they never gave us an answer. I recently tried again as I know many young disabled with a learning disability would have liked to learn theatre but there is no support of things in place. My daughter was also different she wanted to be included in Society and not go to a disabled group. She wanted real theatre work and not just working towards just shouting about the unfairness of Disability.

    She gave up but is still singing but nowhere for her to advance only does it as a pass time and goes to karaoke. She is now reaching a high C which proves they can learn but gave up on searching for courses after writing several hundred emails up and down the country. She has a vocal teacher and has done that for thrree years. She pays for it.

    We found nothing. She stil has so much passion for the Arts the choices or help not only to apply for funding but to find someone to help her.In 2008 she gave up trying.

    It is a shame because there are many jobs young disabled could do within the Arts and they are under represented in the media.

    • This is a sad story Simone. Has she looked at what her local FE college has to offer? They usually have a range of courses at varying levels and good support systems in place. Wishing her all the best.

  20. Is it a good idea to encourage individual artists to apply for direct funding? The pot is limited and diminishing, it will only mean a greater proportion of applicants will be disappointed. Since this is almost 90% already, why on earth encourage people to apply? It’s a big undertaking making a 10k application (most of which is materials, transport, publicity and equipment budget), researching costs, gathering quotes, preparing cash-flow projections, feasibility studies, health and safety assessments, etc. etc., it takes all my spare time for one or two months (in between earning a crust and looking after my kids). Also, the whole grant-funding system is incredibly family-unfriendly (search for “artist parents talking” on a-n website). With a 10% hit rate, that’s more than a year’s worth of spare time (that I should be spending making art) for 3 months of salary, half of which is spent on administration – report writing, accounting, documentation, etc. So 6 weeks of actually making art. You have to be off your head to go down this road.

    • Jon, I truly do think more artists should apply for funding, despite the worse-case scenario of large amounts of time spent for no gain. Although several people have commented that in real terms ‘personal pay’ is negligible, (although this isn’t always the case), the advantages of being funded are, I would say, worthwhile:

      It enables you to make a project happen that you may well not otherwise be able to
      You can be more ambitious in formulating and realising a project
      You can move yourself and your practice on with real personal and professional benefit
      You are in control of your project/work once you have the funding

      And perhaps more intangibly:
      Public funding acts as a quality kitemark – you and your work are considered good enough to receive public funds
      A big/bigger project markets your ability and qualities as an artist – you become visible and on the radar of your professional peers and the public
      You add to your track record in a way that is portable, unarguable and carries weight next time you apply for funding
      You have paid-for marketing documentation

      The key is to give yourself the best possible chance of success –
      to learn and understand what is required
      to take advice from people who have already applied and/or your peers and/or a professional organisation (including ACE)
      to formulate a bloody good project or ‘piece of work’ and take the time to articulate it in writing.
      And yes, it helps if you can understand or make an argument about where your work fits in to a broader context (which is I think the hardest thing for artists) because that is the kind of discussion that will take place during the decision making about your application.

      I think a £10k bid only requires a 1500 word proposal – carefully chosen words that require a considerable amount of thought, true – but that is basically only three sides of A4 to explain what you want to do, why you want to do it, why it should be funded, and how you are going to go about doing it – 300 words per section. For £10k I’m pretty certain that feasibility studies are unnecessary, and theoretically, depending on the work or project, you would anyway carry out a H&S risk assessment at some stage – and not all work or applications will require one. Getting quotes can take a bit of time, (but really, not that much for a £10k budget) – the harder aspect is formulating what should go in the budget and, if over £10k, where the rest is going to come from.

      Once you have the money, ACE is quite light on end of project reports. Yes, they would like something, but I’ve seen (and submitted) reports of varying lengths, complexity and quality. I’ve never sent one back or had one sent back for improvement!

      In other words, for a £10k individual grant, I think you are exagerating the complexity and difficulty. Some people will find it easier or harder than others, but basically, it really is very doable. And the more artists who do it, and do it well, the more money will go to artists. Now really is a good time to go for it (that is, from the next financial year), as all the arts councils are trying to prioritise talent development and to support artists at all stages of their careers.

      • PS I’m not sure the pot is diminishing: as far as I can gather from the new ACE plans recently published, £202m of Lottery funding is ringfenced for Grants for the Arts till 2015. With inflation this is about the same as the last three year period.

      • Hi Dany – I agree with what you write about “intangibles”. If you *are* lucky enough to put forward one of the 10% successful bids, then it truly helps. On the other hand, the point you make ” … carries weight next time you apply for funding” is very true – ACE tends to fund people that it’s already funded. So if you *haven’t* had funding before, your odds are more like 1% rather than 10%.
        Having watched arts council funding since the early ’80s, your assertion ” … the more artists who do it, and do it well, the more money will go to artists” is clearly untrue.
        Most people I know who have received funding have taken considerable advice on their application – both pre-application advice from ACE, and advice from arts development organisations. This takes hours, and hours, of phoning and meetings, let alone getting to and from the meetings.
        One application I made had a considerable budget for equipment. Now, I know ACE are reluctant to fund equipment, so I spent hours on the phone to them *in advance* trying to get an idea of what they would, or wouldn’t fund. When I received feedback for the (failed) application, the ACE administrator was virtually laughing at me for having included the items in the budget. Very unpleasant, quite sarcastic, and all but accusing me of trying to line my pockets from the public purse. That kind of attitude really *doesn’t* encourage people either to revise their application and resubmit, or to apply again. Honestly, apart from my one successful bid, all other applications have been treated as though I’m a known fraudster trying to hoodwink the public treasury once again.
        Another bid I made included a significant amount of research. The feedback I received that time was that the *bulk* of the research I wished to conduct – identifying the people I wanted to interview, and from the results of those interviews identifying the precise issues on which to focus – needed to be done in *advance* of the application. Well, that’s 75% of the research effort – what’s the point of doing all that donkey work in advance, for an application with a 1% to 10% chance of success, for the final 25%? Why not just spend the time doing the last little bit of research instead of making the application?
        I understand why you’re enthusiastic: Isn’t it great we’ve got a government that funds development in the arts, partly by making funds available directly to artists?
        Yes, it *is* great. But remember that art is a political issue. Different politicians want to see different kinds of art, and ACE is ultimately a political instrument. You say: “You are in control of your project/work once you have the funding”. This is true. But the funding system is controlling artists before they even begin to submit an application: applying for anything that’s too challenging or too far outside current funding priorities will result in the last piece of advice I received from an ACE administrator: “Don’t bother submitting another application”.
        If you want to raise your profile and develop your career you’re much better off spending your time as follows:
        a) Earning money from a non-arts or a commercial arts source and self-funding your projects.
        b) Developing your website
        c) Blogging on the a-n website
        d) Writing articles about your practice and getting them published in local or national press, and of course, publish them on your website.
        e) Joining promotional websites such as AXIS and ArtSelector
        f) Doing art, and documenting it on your own website, and through a-n.
        g) Developing an audience in your local area with local publicity, and work outwards.
        h) Contributing to discussions such as this one!!!!
        If you take this approach, you’ll have bags more time, and money, for your art, you’ll have more to show on your website and on AXIS etc. Your art should stand on its own impact … it shouldn’t need a kite-mark to draw people in.

      • Hi Jon. Thanks for taking the trouble to write such a long reply. I’m going to be shorter and say that I think artists should certainly be doing all the things you list from a – h, as well as applying for funding when the time, and other factors, are right. You do mention some funding horror stories – and I have one or two myself – and it will always be possible to find examples of good or bad practice to suit any particular argument. But I think it’s important to recognise that many artists ARE funded, that organisations and the people within them change and improve, and that whatever its systemic faults, the various arts councils are the key and most important funders of the arts. It’s what we have to work with in this country. Personally I find a policy of engagement, critical or otherwise, more effective than disengagement. And on a pragmatic basis, if artists don’t apply, they most certainly won’t receive any funding.

        One other point to make, which is that if you are a first time applicant in England, you gain extra points in the ACE scoring assessment. And in Northern Ireland, 30% of the fund for individual artists is ringfenced for first time applicants.

      • Dany – you’re still making it sound much easier than it really is, and although I wholeheartedly support the idea of raising peoples’ expectations, I don’t think that’s such a good idea when you’re setting them up for disappointment. Personally, I’m a good writer: I’ve been published in magazines as diverse as A-N (See February “Debate”), New Scientist and Country Life. I’ve got a good head: a Cambridge degree followed by a doctorate. And a creative mind. Every week I meet new people who are more creatively skilled than I am, but who find the funding process impossible to negotiate.
        ACE funds applications on measures of “quality”, and these measures are very broadly defined. What they don’t admit to, but how they clearly act, is that they interpret “quality” in very narrow terms. And because they don’t admit to this, it’s very difficult to know the ways in which one’s project falls short of their requirements. In fact, I suspect, they have at any time an unpublished list of priorities, which allows them unaccountably shift the goal posts as and when their political masters dictate.
        I tried gaining funding for a “live” project which was to have a small immediate audience, but with a strategy for disseminating the results across the web, social networking sites, and through participants’ email contacts, etc. ACE refused the project on the grounds that the audience didn’t justify the level of funding requested. I protested energetically that the potential audience was huge, that the project was not only creatively ground-breaking, but also utilising all the latest technology, etc. etc. But they dug their heels in.
        Now, nowhere in the guidelines is it stated that an audience is measured in terms of people who directly witness a live event. However, this is clearly how ACE interpreted their guidelines, and there was no shifting them from it.
        Now, they might have moved from that position – this was 2 years ago – but how do we know? And if they were to claim that this was some kind of aberration, how can we spot the aberrations and appeal against them? And if funding applications are going to involve a long and tortured process of appeal, doesn’t this make them even less attractive to get involved with?
        But by far the *biggest* disincentive to funding applications is the “project-based” practice that it forces you into. I’ve alluded to this already, but this needs spelling out: When I ran the “Green Gallery” project from 1998 to 2000, the funding only covered me to work very part time, and I had a part time teaching job to pay for the bills and the childrens’ clothing. The final phase of the project – as with most projects – required a full time input, and I had to relinquish my teaching post. Would they employ me again at the end of the project? Of course not.
        ACEs response to this, since 1990, has been to create a plethora of arts admin posts which are more “flexible” than most posts in recognition of the fact that their occupants are artists. But these posts are so appallingly paid (if paid at all) that nobody I know who does such a job can afford any time either to apply for their own funding or to do their own art.
        Squaring this circle makes life very difficult even for young artists who have not yet settled or taken on any life responsibilities. But once you have children, and a home to maintain, it’s utterly pointless trying to make a career out of ambitious projects which are ACE funded.

      • Hi Jon. I think you are making very good points; I simply disagree with your conclusion that artists shouldn’t bother applying for funding. I genuinely believe they should, and that despite the difficulties of the system (which are well discussed here, along with a few things that haven’t been mentioned yet), they should equip themselves for the best chance of success, do it and do it well. To say not to bother is a bit like saying ‘don’t ever bother to apply for a job, there’s only a one in sixty chance of getting it and you have no control over the decision-making’ (that’s a conservative estimate of the numbers applying for each arts post or commission). It’s a defeatist nihilistic attitude. I don’t think artists should endlessly apply, but I do think that when they have something special they want or need to do, have thought it thru and lined up the pieces as best they can, it’s possible to make an informed decision to make an application (or not) and plan that into their workload-life-practice, regardless of the risk of rejection.

        This is the point where I think we agree to disagree, and I open up the discussion by inviting other people to respond to this discussion. Comments anyone?

  21. For me (freelance musician in Sweden) a big part of the problem is that I don’t have the time, skill or motivation to learn all the application processes. I am not very good at writing project descriptions, and I am kinda bad at making budgets for them. I am good at playing. I don’t have enough money to hire someone to write for me, and I don’t know any organisation that you can contact to get help with this.

    I have been talking to some old friends who are now lawyers and such, to help me write applications for percent of the funding, but we havn’t yet explored that path.

    On question I have is how this is measured.. “apply for funding in their own right”, what does that mean? If I apply through an organisation not having to do the paperwork, isn’t that a good thing (if the org is fair)?

    We need more help with the application process, work more with our art and less with the administration.

  22. Hello Dany

    I run a touring theatre company for families and have never had a successfull arts funding application in 20 years.

    There are two issues that stagger me.

    The first is that inclusivity, diversity and accessibility are at the heart of the arts funding requirements from us but the funding guidelines are guarded, cloudy, incomprehensible and unaccessable.

    Secondly, the arts have not as far as I am aware put a little money each year into setting up a support group to help worthy artists put in applications to do really wonderful and creative things for their community.

    I think it should be a local Arts Development Officer’s duty in each council to make contact and find out the wonderful people they have in their own regions and actually help these people to develop their skills and offer advice about how to seek funding. But I have found Arts Development Officers to be very linear and beaurocratic. Perhaps the public sector attracts these kind of people. Perhaps this is the problem. We have beaurocrats telling lateral thinking creative types what they can and can’t do – and we simply won’t play ball!

    I was chatting to a friend today about funding and she mentioned that funding is at its roots, still a victorian principle. The middle class raise funding to take art out to the disadvantaged. I don’t know what the solution is but she has a point.

    I think I will write to the Head of the Arts Council and mention the issue of complexity in the funding guidelines. I can only assume that they make it hideously complicated on purpose.

    Thanks for asking us about these issues. it was great to read your article.

    Rosie

    • Hi Rosie, thank you for this. I think you make really good points, especially the one about the funding system being Victorian in origin. I think it was John Holden when he was at Demos who wrote a paper a few years ago saying much the same thing – that the structure and emphasis on inclusion and access perpetuates class divisions and stereotypes. I agree that there does need to be more support around how to write good and successful funding applications. In the past, this has been part of some ADOs roles, and they have taken it very seriously (and been helpful, useful and good at it), but I guess it varies from LA to LA. Currently I think this is very much under threat, as the capacity of both LAs and the Arts Councils shrink.

  23. This is interesting. I am a singer/writer, and I am also mid-way through a practice-led PhD – ‘the singer as creator and co-collaborator.’ Having worked in mainstream opera, I had a change of heart and now write and perform solo shows. My last one was commissioned by Opera North in 2010 and is still touring. When it came to getting funding for my next solo show, I decided to apply to Grants for the Arts. I already had performances booked at the Manchester Royal Exchange and Opera North. I sought extensive advice from the London office before submitting my application. The first time I was turned down because my assessor (a composer herself) was suspicious that I was trying to fund my research – ironic as my research is looking at a professional model for small scale work. She also had the question – who is managing this project? Even though I submitted the application and stated that I would be liaising with the Exchange and Opera North, because I had not written the sentence ‘I will personally manage this project’, she didn’t understand that the project was artist-led. The officer who had advised me in London was upset at the outcome, and actually complained. So, I applied a second time, expunging all mention of my PhD, and engaging with the criticisms. The second time I was asking for only one third of the total budget – I had subsequently got investments from Opera North and a private sponsor. I was turned down again. This time I asked for direct feedback, and was told that my application had been recommended for funding, but there had been too many other projects ahead of mine which met the criteria. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it was harder for me, applying as an individual artist. The experience has put me off applying again. As well as the issues highlighted above, another is the problem in the application form of how to ‘engage with the audience.’ I engage with the audience when they come to see my work, but I am not a large institution with an outreach department. I can say that I will visit schools/ universities and engage in a pre or post-show discussion of my work, but this doesn’t seem to be enough for ACE, given the comments I received. ACE stresses inclusivity, but I don’t really understand what this means. Anyone can book a ticket for one of my shows. They are not high-brow – they are entertainment. However, I am not setting out to work with vulnerable groups, and I suspect that in the box-ticking format of the application forms, this counts against me, too. To sum up, does ACE want to support high calibre, artist- led work, or does it want to support people who are good at filling in forms and slanting the bias towards maximum point-scoring?

    • Hi Jessica,

      This is a story that seems to exemplify the difficulties and frustrations of getting funding even when it is richly deserved. As one ex-ACE officer said to me, once your recommended application reaches discussion around the table, “it’s a lottery”, very much dependent on how many and what other bids are being discussed at the same time in the context of how much money is available that week. I suspect that your application was not rejected for ideological reasons to do with inclusion; more that it was a casualty of an imperfect system.

      Wishing you all the best. D.

  24. I am an artist who has very recently been successful in receiving GFTA funding for the research and development of a body of work/project. This was the second time i had applied to ACE. The first time was back in 2009 and was unsuccessful. I have to say that although my application was successful this time i had spent almost 4 months researching and getting things in place – organisations to support the project, individuals to write essays about the work, match funding etc. As i was applying for Research and Development it was difficult to talk about outcomes and audience engagement and think it is this aspect of the application process that is the most diffficult. Most artists can write about what they want to develop or make, but when it comes to the other bit – the audience engagement – this is an alien concept. For most funding bodies it is not enough to simply make work and exhibit it. There has to be strategies in place to bring people to your work, to enable the audience to engage with your work and then to evaluate all of this. I had no idea how i would reach an audience while i was researching and developing my work. Fortunately i received some excellent support and advice from an ex ACE employee who helped me to see that just simple things would count as audience engagement/development. Things like keeping an online blog, giving talks about the project, running workshops etc. I agree all this is very time consuming but i am very pleased i did it, got the money and now have the luxury of being able to buy the materials i need when i need them and work with people i need to work with.

    • Very interesting Dani

      I have given up on the strategic funding programme. There are actually easier ways of making money, like running a business! I have turned my theatre into a business model and I now earn a wage each year. I wrote to ACE about the frustrations of applying to funding and got a ‘smooth’ answer. I have just tried to find it but I think I deleted in in frustration. What frustrated me most was that the Council was not able to sympathise with my comments. If we write to Marks and Spencer and say that our knicker elastic broke, they will get back to us and say ‘I am sorry to hear that your knicker elastic broke. This is what we can do to help you’. The answer I got from the Arts Council was ‘You say your knicker elastic broke but this is why you are wrong and this is what we do’! Grrrrrrrrrrrr …!

      Rosie

      • Yes, I think it’s a feature of our corporate and privatised age that almost any company that we might contact over an issue finds it difficult if not impossible to understand the customers perspective and experience. Banks, mortgage companies, utitilities, phone and media companies, the list could go on – all have a business model based on quantity not quality I think. Everything is systematised, and has little room for flexibility or to respond to individual cases.

        Thanks for taking the time to comment Rosie.

  25. Im in the process of waiting on the results of an arts application. I will keep my fingers crossed regards the outcome. What I would like to do is thank you for putting this blog together that has brought all these people together to share their expirence in fund raising. After reading the entries on here i have come to the conclusion that I will be probably recieving no joy. Which in turn has made me come up with plan b which is save and self fund . Thanks to all of those above for sharing youre expiriences.

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