Arts applications - why so difficult?

Edward Barrett, 3 October 2012

Called by: Barny.

Present: Richard; Annie; Abbie; Leroy; Victoria; Erica; Denise; Ed. Joining later: Patricia.

BARNY: Currently on 3rd application - first two failed. ‘As an artist, I have no problem budgeting - but the Arts Council application process is difficult.’ Now have a ‘relationship manager’ - Leroy (also at this session).

LEROY: Is it the process, or the guidance that's causing problems? Richard (also from the Arts Council): We recognise there are aspects that are difficult. There's a limited pot of money, so some applications will always be unsuccessful. So what does ‘difficult’ actually mean? We pride ourselves on giving feedback, and we recognise creative people are not always project managers.

LEROY: What do people think are the difficulties, having been through the process?

ANNIE: Is the ‘box-ticking’ idea a myth, and one that can throw your application off?

BARNY: Or even change the direction of the company?

ANNIE: Being told not to ‘chase the money’ was liberating! We’re still interested in finding diverse audiences.

RICHARD: Yeah, keep it real. Don’t dilute the application. Some work by its nature won’t be about finding new audiences.

LEROY: Arts Council can usually see through ‘tacked on’ elements.

DENISE: There is a misconception out there; but feedback does sometimes address ‘lack of reach’.

RICHARD: The criteria we look at include ‘engagement’. Have you thought about where it’s going? What’s the public value? With some visual arts projects, for example, finding a public audience isn’t the aim.

LEROY: Are artists’ perceptions of the Arts Council accurate? Artists have to find a way of articulating their vision in a way that the Arts Council can interpret.

ANNIE: Yes, you need to learn the language.

DENISE: A relationship that develops, perhaps leading to the artist being ‘freer’ . . .

BARNY: One of the problems with our 2nd application was that we booked a tour – which has to be done before the application is considered – so we already have an audience lined up. Venues go to print. Then, when funding didn’t materialise, we had to pull the project. Very difficult to maintain good relationships with venues and others involved in the project under those circumstances.

RICHARD: Does the ‘architecture’ support artists? Timing? Should be planning projects that may go ahead without support.

LEROY: (Echoes print deadlines being out of sync with the Arts Council).

ANNIE: Venues and the Arts Council not talking to each other . . .

PATRICIA: We have three projects planned per year, but we sometimes end up taking cancellations (venues freed up by other shows being pulled).

RICHARD: ‘Phasing’ – looking from a very early stage where the work is going – at R&D phase, planning for a two-week run, for eg.

LEROY: But funding for one phase does not guarantee funding for a further phase or phases. 

What could be different?

PATRICIA:: There’s no face-to-face with the Arts Council during the ‘Grants for Arts’ procedure.

LEROY: Support is available – I do it – but there isn’t a specific structure.

ANNIE: With face-to-face meetings there’s a possibility of building relationships. With phone-calls, I try to get a wider perspective by ringing several times, rephrasing the question and talking to different people.

PATRICIA: We need support.

RICHARD: Does it need to be from the Arts Council?



PATRICIA: Otherwise it’s not directly useful.

RICHARD: But we need to retain neutrality. ‘Relationship’ is a difficult idea.

PATRICIA: For me, it isn’t a relationship until I can ring and talk to a particular person.

RICHARD: People like having the Arts Council ‘brand’ – but support applies to the project, not the orgsnisation.

LEROY: As Barny’s ‘Relationship Manager’, this is a very different role.

RICHARD: For us, it’s not about an on-going relationship.

LEROY: There are extra points if you haven’t received funding before.

DENISE: Is it slightly naïve to suggest a relationship won’t play a part?

PATRICIA: If I were being commissioned, I’d never not meet the commissioner.

RICHARD: Where has that perception grown from?

PATRICIA: That’s the way it works. I find it strange not to do this with the Arts Council.

RICHARD: But it’s simply a funding relationship.

ANNIE: Could it just be numbers? There’s only one Arts Council for the whole country. Also, there needs to be a plan (when applying) for making the work happen.

BARNY: New blood is obviously important – but what about track record?

RICHARD: Things that are important: commitment to practice; a compelling idea; a planning framework; financial plan; etc. That way we can assess risk.

BARNY: Surely everyone who applies is committed and passionate. Why doesn’t experience count for more?

RICHARD: It’s a balance. Does the project move their practice forward? It’s not a ‘stand-still’ fund. In fact new applicants often feel their lack of experience is the hurdle.

DENISE: In terms of applying as an individual, can feel at a disadvantage vs ‘slick’ group applications.

ANNIE: But is this just a perception?

BARNY: The problem with not having long-term funding is that it inhibits development. Northern Broadsides started on ‘per project’ funding, and found it very difficult. For me – I’ve found myself falling into being a ‘mid career’ artist – a sort of no-mans-land.

RICHARD: I don’t feel there’s a ‘mid-career’ hole people fall into. My personal vision includes inter-generationalism.

ABBIE: At Contact, we support emerging artists, but they need to find alternative funding too. Need some sort of ‘tool kit’.

BARNY: Refs Lynn Gardner’s vision of funding allowing artistic development of an organisation.

DENISE: Ticking boxes does sometimes gain funding.

ANNIE: Is it hard for the Arts Council to say why one project fails when another doesn’t?

RICHARD: We assess very evenly – not an exact science – tools applied honestly. Work under Grants for Arts goes to a regional panel who assess all art-forms.

BARNY: In Cornwall, Kneehigh had little competition.

RICHARD: Why not move out of London? Having locally-based producing companies is vital.

ED: Difficult to look outside that ‘fight’ if you’re involved in it, perhaps.

ABBIE: Will applications always remain written?

RICHARD: Grants for Arts is paper-and-process-driven. Difficult to imagine an artistic approach, though who knows? The Canadian Arts Council has more of a ‘journey’ vision of development.

BARNY: Perhaps bigger theatres with Arts Council links can take some collective responsibility.

ABBIE: The way you work as an organisation isn’t easily transferred to paper.

RICHARD: Does the artist have to be the applicant?

ANNIE: A producer might do certain aspects.

RICHARD: Producers and the local ‘producer culture’ are becoming more important.

ANNIE: When making your work, your head is a ‘different shape’.

BARNY: We didn’t have an ‘Admin Dept’ – well, we did – it was me. We have one now.

RICHARD: Getting the messages out early in people’s careers is important.

ED: Some people find themselves in a black hole at the end of a creative course, unsure how to make work happen.

RICHARD: It may not be appropriate for all; but surely some would benefit (from having some course content around this issue).

ANNIE: Sometimes collaboration is the key. The three core members of Peepolykus, for example, have a good mix of skills between them.

BARNY: I’ve had some mentoring from Northern Broadsides and Spymonkey. Networking is important.

ED: Does competition hold that back? A danger of people thinking ‘If I help you get your funding, we might not get ours’?

ANNIE: It all falls apart if no-one helps anyone.

RICHARD: People do need help. Networks exist, but not always easy to get into. Do NPOs help access? How to deliver support?

PATRICIA: Re Grants for Arts – I’m lucky, have some contacts. But where’s the advice for those without?

BARNY: There can be some limited support in areas with strong arts hubs.

ABBIE: People are often left to fend for themselves.

BARNY: Few people who become artists use business-speak like ‘USP’, etc.

RICHARD: I’m ambivalent about that – it is in some ways a learned game.

ANNIE: It is sometimes worth contacting venues very early, before they’ve even got things pencilled in – but it can throw some venues. Difficult to manage, as the venue’s own time-frames may be rigid.

RICHARD: Yeah, you’ve got to manage conversations with venues to some extent. It’s also about venues welcoming people in. But it’s possible to think outside that – site-specific working is far more advanced in London, for example.


Arts Council, arts council, applications, Arts council, grants, Grants for Arts