Don’t Panic’s How To… series aims to educate, inspire and inform readers on a range of different topics within the arts and creative industries – drawing on anecdotal insights, hints, tips and tricks taken directly from those in the know.
In so many ways, art and culture contribute unending value to society.
Art and culture give life its colour. They provide relief, stimulation and life satisfaction. They promote self-expression and empathy, and provide invaluable tools for making sense of the world.
On a societal level, art and culture encourage community building and social cohesion, and contribute massively to a healthy economy. Studies show that a cultural education helps to produce happy, well-rounded adults, who perform better at school, contribute more to society, and enjoy a higher overall quality of life; and in 2015, cultural organisations contributed $27 billion to the economy, making the creative industries the fastest growing sector in the UK.
Despite this, art and culture are under threat in the UK. Government spending cuts since 2010 have placed huge financial pressures on local arts organisations, and parallel cuts to education have led to the arts being increasingly sidelined in school budgets. Artists and cultural institutions face financial hardships from all directions, with rocketing property prices regularly pushing creative companies out of their homes, and an ever shape-shifting economy making it increasingly unclear how artists should hope to monetize their efforts.
For these reasons, funding platforms like Arts Council England are important now more than ever.
Using money from the Government and National Lottery fund, the Arts Council is responsible for distributing nearly £445 million a year to art and culture projects across the UK.
Of this sum, around £100 million is accessible to the public via the open access Grants for the Arts fund, which provides individuals and organisations with the opportunity to apply for awards of between £1,000 and £100,000 for arts-related projects of all shapes and sizes.
Each year, the Grants for the Arts fund provides invaluable financial assistance to thousands of individuals and organisations across a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines.
Whether you’re looking to launch a new record label, hold a boutique music festival, or open a community arts centre in your neighbourhood, there are tonnes of funding options available.
But what does the application process involve, and what sort of chances do you stand of being successful?
“We want projects to be well planned, well managed and financially viable”
Abigail Knell, Arts Council England
Arts Council England works to help support thousands of individual artists, community and cultural organisations to provide and produce great art and culture for everyone. Grants for the Arts is an open access funding programme funded through the National Lottery that supports fresh talent, individual artists, communities and organisations. From music to visual arts, theatre to literature, and dance to combined arts, Grants for the Arts can provide between £1,000 to £100,000 to support a project.
In the year April 2016 – Mar 2017 we received 10,941 applications to Grants for the Arts – and offered in total £100,160,376 to 5,411 grants to individuals and organisations. Over the past three years, individuals received between 41-46% of the Grants for the Arts awards.
Through Grants for the Arts we can support large and small scale projects, from thought-provoking to challenging, stimulating to engaging. All the projects we support must meet our four criteria for the programme: quality, public engagement, management and finance. As well as delivering stimulating and exciting work and engaging a wide range of people, we want the projects we support to be well planned, well managed and financially viable to make the most of our funding.
“It has to be more than purely a commercial venture”
David Hine, Author of Arts Council-funded graphic novel Lip Hook
I knew in general terms that there were Arts Council Funds available but it didn’t occur to me that they would be available for graphic novels until I started to see the acknowledgments at the front of a lot of books coming out from Jonathan Cape and SelfMadeHero.
The application process is actually quite complex. You have to supply a lot of detail about your target audience and all the peripheral activities you will be involved in. These would include blogging about the creative process, appearing at conventions to publicise the book and going to school, colleges and universities to lecture and conduct workshops related to the book. This has to be more than purely a commercial venture.
It’s all about how you present the project. The Arts Council is there to distribute public money to projects that will benefit the public. They need to know that we will be engaging with as wide a cross section of the public as possible, particularly when a project is not aimed at a minority group.
Lip Hook is a graphic novel that we described as “…a coming-of-age story propelled by the clash between traditional patriarchy and a group of powerful women.” It raises important social questions, particularly about defining gender roles. To that end we set up discussions and workshops where we will be talking with the public and students about those issues. One of the key elements of any application is to make clear how your work engages the public on many levels.
It’s very helpful if you have a history of working professionally, can plan schedules of work and budget efficiently. I imagine it would be much harder for someone working on their first major project to show that they can produce the project as planned.
Get help and advice on filling out the form. Be realistic about the time you will need to complete your project and demonstrate your ability to follow a schedule. Define your target audience and explain how you will find and engage that audience. It’s very useful to have a blog that includes samples of past work as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts with as many followers as possible to show that you are keeping in touch with your potential audience. Know what you are aiming to achieve and communicate that as honestly as possible. If the aims are worthwhile and realistic the Arts Council is there for you.”
“Funding allows artists to take creative risks that might not pay off financially but could have exciting results”
Jacob Thompson-Bell, Composer and producer of Arts Council-funded project ONE
To apply you need to clearly express what you’re doing. Avoid hyperbole and press language (which can often be used to mask weaknesses in creative ideas) and then identify in some detail who you hope to reach as an audience or group of participants (including artists) and how you’re going to reach them, i.e. marketing, communications, etc.
Take time over your application – keep thinking about whether someone completely separate from the project would understand what it is you’re writing about, and keep asking yourself if there is a clear idea expressed in each part of the application. Try to make sure the different sections match up and support each other – for example, if you say your project is about reaching different types of audiences but don’t have a clear marketing plan for how to reach them then there’s a missing link.
Funding is extremely important to the creative industries. It allows artists to take creative risks that might not pay off financially but could have exciting artistic results. I think that public funding has a very important role to play alongside other forms of creative enterprise. It can also be a kind of seal of approval – to say that someone else believes in your work, and in that sense it’s very helpful – working alone as a freelancer on projects, you sometimes need to know that people outside of your own bubble support what you’re trying to achieve.