A fair share?

A fair share - direct funding for individual artists from UK arts councils

The key finding of this study reveals that shockingly few individual artists apply for funding in their own right, and even fewer are successful. What this means is 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.


Based on figures for 2008-09 and 2009-10, and looking at England in particular, on average each artist would make one funding application as an individual to Arts Council England every twenty years, and has a 50% probability of that application being successful. Analysis suggests a broadly similar picture for artists in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Why aren't more artists applying for grants in their own name? What are the barriers, perceptual or otherwise? How can they be reduced? Does the offer of grant aid need to be made in a more user-friendly way? Is greater support and guidance required at the basic level of completing the application form? If so, how can arts councils find ways of providing this in a fair and transparent manner, whilst operating with considerably fewer staff?

The aim here is to provide something of a rallying cry. Yes, this is something that ought to 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. As Geoff Molyneux - an artist who has applied for funding as he has needed it over the years, and never been unsuccessful - says: "You can't complain when you don't play the game."

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.

Aims of this research

Specifically, this report aims to:

  • Quantify the levels of funding awarded directly to visual artists over a two-year period.
  • Contextualise these figures against funding awarded to organisations and other artforms
  • Compare figures across the four UK arts councils.
  • Identify future trends and possible changes that will be made affecting visual artists and any developments that may provide support to individual artists from 2012/13.
  • Provide relevant analysis and commentary to the data and evidence collected.
  • Summarise the various funding streams that are available for individual artists to bid into for the 2011-2012 financial year.
  • Give up-to-date information on the visual arts priorities of each arts council.

Although this report is aimed specifically at artists, by summarising and commenting on the availability of funding for individual artists across the four UK arts councils, it holds information of wider interest to all involved in advocacy, or in developing or implementing strategies that are designed to support innovation and enterprise within the arts.

How many artists?

How many practising visual artists are there in the UK? It's a figure that is hard to pin down and is often calculated by drawing on a number of different sources. The Visual Arts Blueprint1 for workforce development drawn up by Creative and Cultural Skills (CCS) suggested there were 28,490 visual artists in 2009. The Office of National Statistics thinks it was 41,000 in 2010, 37,000 in 2009 and 34,000 in 2008. Membership of AIR - the artist-as-activist organisation - stands at 16,300 (August 2011), 89% of whom live in England.

From this data, it is possible to assume that 28,500 is a conservative estimate of the number of practising visual artists across the UK. From this overall figure, a rough estimate of "artist populations" per nation can be extrapolated:

  Number of visual artists
England 20,000 - 22,000
Northern Ireland 1,300 - 1,700
Scotland 3,250 - 4,250
Wales 1,950 - 2,550
Total estimated volume range 26,500 - 30,500


1 The Visual Arts Blueprint - a workforce development plan for the visual arts in the UK 2009 ccskills.org.uk

How many applications?

Looking at England, there were only 1,033 applications from individual artists to Arts Council England's (ACE) Grants for the Arts (GFTA) fund in the 2009-10 financial year, and 1,390 in 2008-09. This means that only 5% of artists applied for a grant on their own behalf. Of those who did apply, 485 were successful in 2009-10 and 434 in 2008-09. In other words, less than 2.5% of artists in 2009-10 were directly funded by ACE, and the figure is even lower for 2008-09.

These low figures are typically repeated across all the four UK arts councils, although Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) comes out the best, with approximately 6.5% of artists receiving funding in their own name in 2009-10. At the very least, this suggests that there is a sophisticated conversation to be had between arts councils and artists about why more individual artists are not applying directly for grants, and what might be done about it. Comments in response to this study would be a welcome starting point.

Please note that whilst this study has looked solely at funding available directly to individual artists, it is acknowledged that all arts councils provide significant additional funding and other support,  through other routes and to arts organisations, that contribute to sustaining and developing artists' practice directly and indirectly.

 “If you asked me what I would like to put money into, we would like to put more into any individual artform, and we would like to put more into individual artists because then you empower people to make a difference”. Venu Dhupa, Director of Creative Development, Creative Scotland

“If you asked me what I would like to put money into, we would like to put more into any individual artform, and we would like to put more into individual artists because then you empower people to make a difference”. Venu Dhupa, Director of Creative Development, Creative Scotland

Funding climate

Although times are tough, there is still considerable funding available through the four UK arts councils. Clearly there are more artists who would benefit from knowing what funding streams are available to them and who would benefit from encouragement and appropriate levels of advice and support about how to submit the best possible application, knowing that they have a decent chance of success. 

All the arts councils are addressing how to manage with less funding and are reviewing programmes and processes. All four UK arts councils have been going through this process for the last year or more. There are opportunities as well as threats to funds aimed at individual artists. Outcomes are starting to become visible, and where they are relevant for individual artists, they are summarised here:

  • Arts Council England (ACE) has the largest sums to invest, but possibly what appears to artists to be the most opaque system.
  • Arts Council of Wales (ACW) and Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) have lesser funds - and fewer artists to share them around -. but have structured their programmes in ways that are clearly designed to support the development trajectory of individual artists.
  • Creative Scotland has a unique agenda to champion the arts and creative industries across Scotland, and is the only arts council to have this broader, more entrepreneurial and commercial remit. Its structure and the allocation of funding reflects this joined-up approach, although how it will work in practice remains to be seen given the organisation is still so young.

However, because arts councils are now prioritising something called Talent Development (see below for more details) with specific allocations of funding to this area, there could soon be some excellent opportunities for artists. By  taking advantage of these funds, artists should gain better levels of support individually to enhance their ideas and develop their practice.

 “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

“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

Why is direct funding to artists important?

Direct funding to artists gives the artist-as-originator greater authority over their own production, artistic direction, budgets, timescales, collaboration partners and project management. It is empowering to the artist, not only giving them control over how and what they make, but also in enabling a more equitable set of relationships with their partners. Whilst it may not be appropriate for every artist and every project, it is a valued, significant and important component of art production.

It is also important to acknowledge that a variable percentage of funding which goes to organisations is spent on supporting and paying artists for a range of services including new work development, important presentation opportunities, education work, talks, residencies, artist publicity and other activity that significantly contributes to artists' income and careers. See Ladders for development report for how small-scale artist-led and production organisations are contributing to the overall arts ecology,  

Whilst it is clearly important to fund arts organisations for a range of reasons, it is not radical to suggest that individual artists could and should get a fairer share of arts funding than they currently do. The figures revealed here are shocking, and should to be seen as a call to action, not just by the arts councils, but by artists themselves.

About the arts councils

The four UK arts councils are separate entities operating independently of each other, each with different backgrounds, priorities and funding programmes. Arts Council of Great Britain was established by Royal Charter back in 1940 and then oversaw arts spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It evolved into Arts Council England in 1994, along with creation of Arts Council of Wales and Scottish Arts Council following political devolution. Creative Scotland has been created from a merger of the Scottish Arts Council with Scottish Screen, and was formally established in July 2010.

Although their remits are generally widening, their core activity is distributing funding to the arts, with a sincere commitment to developing artists and the arts infrastructure. However they all do this within very specific and quite different geographical and consequently demographic contexts. ACE has a sphere of operations that encompasses over 50m people - the population of England - with many large urban centres. It has what can sometimes appear to be an overriding remit to reach as many of those people via art as is possible. By contrast, ACNI covers a province with just 1.8m people, and is particularly concerned with developing the arts ecology as well as artists. The population of Wales is slightly less than 3m with large rural areas. Scotland has about 5.2m residents - a third less than the population of London.

What each have in common is an allocation of funding from their respective governments - known as Treasury money and/or Grant in Aid - along with a responsibility to distribute lottery money to the arts. These are their two main sources of income, although all arts councils raise smaller amounts from other sources and partnerships. In general, each arts council has three main methods of distributing money:

  • 2-3 year funding to organisations, under various headings such as 'Foundation grants', 'Flexible funding', 'Annual Support for Organisations', 'Regularly Funded Organisation' (RFO) grants ('National Portfolio Organisation' grants from 1 April 2012) and 'Mainline Grants'.
  • Managed funds - cash used for development of strategic projects or themes that is spent at the discretion of each arts council against their policies and plans. These are generally not open access funds.
  • Open access direct grants available to individuals as well as organisations.

In England, ACE uses Treasury money to fund its administration, develop strategic priorities and fund key institutions and organisations. Lottery money tends to have restrictions on it, and is generally used for open access public funding, for example the Grants for the Arts scheme administered by ACE.

Creative Scotland has a greater ability to mix and match the two funding streams. Open access funding means that providing they meet the fund criteria, any organisation, artist or member of the public can apply for lottery funding to make an arts project happen. In practice, there is not enough cash to fund all good projects, even when they meet published criteria. Finely tuned considerations and judgements are used to determine outcomes of applications, which are also considered within a strategic context - an area that artists generally find harder to access and understand. Competition is fierce, as the statistics here demonstrate. Funding from all the councils is largely demand-led, with Creative Scotland planning to allocate against specific themes on a yearly basis.

All the arts councils are non-departmental government bodies (NDPBs) with delivery agreements with their respective government departments. These outline broad policy and specify targets to be achieved, hence the significant emphasis on monitoring and quantitative evidence, passed on to recipients of funding.

Amongst other things, being an NDPB gives each council devolved power to develop top-level arts policy for the UK, making them the single most important and influential policy decision-makers and funders for the arts. Although founded on the "the arms length principle", all arts councils are influenced by broad directives from their respective ministers for culture and have growing obligations to align arts policy to wider social, economic and political agendas. Each arts council consults on and subsequently sets out its arts policy for a defined period with associated goals, priorities and expectations. These underpin all funding schemes and thus must be addressed by any organisation or individual applying for or receiving grant aid.

It is also worth re-stating the macro-financial context in which the arts councils are now operating. Specifically, each arts council has received the following cuts to their Treasury funding:

Arts Council England

Grant in aid will be reduced to £349.4m by 2014/15 = 29.6% cut - broken down as:
2011/12 - £387.7m;
2012/13 - £359.2m;
2013/14 - £351.6m;
2014/15 - £349.4m

Arts Council of Wales

4% reduction in funds for the arts over three years, and 12% reduction in administrative costs in 2011-2013. As it receives annual settlements, the situation after March 2012 is not yet known. It has requested a three-year settlement from the Welsh Assembly; it is not yet known if this will be awarded.

Arts Council Northern Ireland

Proposed £1.4 million budget cut over the period 2011-2015. Additional £1.4m for capital made available.

Creative Scotland

2011-2012 standstill funding. On 22 September, a 2% cut in Creative Scotland's budget for 2012-2013 was announced (3.49% in real terms).

The consequences have included reductions in regular funding to organisations. It is expected that this will put extra pressure on direct application open access grants, as organisations attempt to make up the shortfall through this route. ACE estimates that an extra £12m will become available to GFTA from 2012 (as new National Portfolio Organisations will be ineligible), and that extra cash will become available as lottery proceeds are returned to their four original good causes. Whether this genuinely offsets cuts to and increased competition for GFTA remains to be seen.

How much direct funding went to artists?

Looking at Arts Council England GFTA application figures for the visual arts, 485 successful applications by individual artists in 2009-2010 shared a total of £2,836,152. The average award was therefore just £5,848. A useful amount certainly, but it doesn't suggest that many significantly ambitious artist-led projects were enabled. The total amount GFTA awarded to individuals was 19.45% of the total GFTA spend on visual arts, with the balance going to organisations - this excludes Treasury funding to ACE's Regularly Funded Organisations (RFO).

How do these figures look against other arts councils? Arts Council of Wales had a total open-access visual arts spend of £1,010,985 of which £182,789 went to individual artists, a comparable 18%. Of the 114 applications from individual artists, 77 were successful, receiving an average of £2,373 each. This means 3.4% of Wales' artists received direct funding from ACW.

Creative Scotland - or Scottish Arts Council as it then was - received 466 applications from individual artists in 2009-10 - a much more respectable figure than ACE for the same year given the population differences (approximately 10% against 5%). However of these, only 76 were successful, a poor 16%. They shared £386,500, an average of £5,085 each. In the years 2009-10 and 2008-09 the visual arts in Scotland fared poorly against other art forms from open access funding, averaging 5% as its share. Thus just 2% of Scotland's artists received direct support from its arts council.

ACNI figures for direct financial support to artists are the healthiest. It received 135 applications from artists in 2009-10 - an application rate between 8-10% of the province's artists, and a repeat of 2008-09. Some 99 of them were successful, reflecting a significant increase in the availability of lottery money to the visual arts from the previous year. This translates to approximately 6-7.5% of Northern Ireland's artists being funded directly in 2009-10, although the figure for 2008-09 was less good at 4-5%. The successful applicants received an average of £2,100 each. Equally importantly, ACNI has been prioritising funding for individual artists, ring-fencing 20-30% of this budget for first-time applicants. Its better figures show that this approach has been working, although it seems there is still some distance to travel.

Focus on talent development


Perceived as a more holistic term than 'professional development', Talent Development is becoming a major focus for both Creative Scotland and ACE. It represents a formal recognition that artists as creative originators need development time and resource and is generally planned as a targeted investment in the artists of the future. The rhetoric suggests that it aims to create a more coherent support route from graduation to mid-career. Consequently, this is now being translated from principle to practice with each arts council having created or planning to create, Talent Development programmes into which individuals can apply.

With a Talent Development programme already up and running, Creative Scotland is ahead of the curve with its three-strand 2011-2012 programme:

1. Creative futures residency programme

2. Professional development

3. Talent hubs and incubators

The Creative Futures programme alone is £1.1m and aims to support and add to the artist in residence programme already operating in Scotland, while networking and connecting organisations and artists involved across the nation.  There will be 200 multi-artform residencies a year funded at levels from £5k to £110k.

£500k will be devolved to partners who will advertise and recruit to their own residency project, with £500k remaining available for artists to apply into, with a partner organisation, to create their own residency. The residencies will have fairly broad and open criteria with match funding not necessarily required, but with an emphasis on learning and collaboration. The programme is not available to foundations, flexibly-funded organisations or to national collections. They will not be artform specific, and although they will not be monitored for balance between artforms CS will "Keep an eye but mostly allow partners to choose their own (artists). Key is trusting the external hosts to manage the project".

The professional development strand is aimed at artists with a strong track record and has a budget of £1.25m for 2011/12 with 75% available through an open application process (£937,500).

"This is for talented individuals and Creative Scotland is interested in the calibre of the applicant and the creativity of their ideas. The investment is for personal professional development, to accelerate individual talent and release potential. It is for individuals with a track record who can make the case that their best work is ahead of them. Proposals may be for projects as long as you are able to articulate how this will enhance your development."

Whilst the third strand - to develop four talent hubs and incubators - is not applicable to individual artists and is likely to have a creative industries focus, there may "possibly be room for one hub for quality early career-emerging artists".


Arts Council England is planning a new programme of Strategic Funds for April 2012, that are currently intended to  prioritise four areas of work, of which one will be Talent development. How these funds will be structured, distributed and what shape they will take is still subject to internal discussion and decision by ACE's Executive Board. An announcement is planned for autumn 2011.


ACW has a programme that covers a range of career stages from recent graduate to its £25k Major award for established artists with a strong track record. It set up the Brian Ross Award in 2010, awarding two £3,000 grants to recent graduates in which Welsh universities each nominate one artist. At the other end of the scale is G39's WARP programme of structured professional development for artists, which ACW rates highly and hopes to expand. It has also identified a skills gap for artists and hopes to partner with the Creative and Cultural Skills in Wales to develop a programme to address this. It should be noted however, that grant aid direct to artists' organisations and programmes in England and Scotland serve similar purposes in terms of specifically supporting artists' professional development.


ACNI has been running its Support for Individual Artists Programme (SIAP) since 2001. Within this theme are a number of programmes that support artist costs for travel, making new work, training, self-arranged residencies, international awards and major individual awards. Most have deadlines with two rounds a year.

Funding streams available for individual artists

Note that many of these are multi-purpose and thus are open also to applications from organisations.


Arts Council England
Creative Scotland Investment Programmes*
Arts Council Wales
Arts Council Northern Ireland
Grants for the Arts awards - £1k-£30k. One size fits all rolling fund. R&D - total fund £135k
International presentation + engagement - total fund £135k
EU networks - total fund £135k
Conferences - total fund £50k
Small Project Grants - up to £5k Support for the Individual Artist programme - specific deadlines for each award, usually two rounds per year:
Strategic Development funds** prioritising:
- Touring
- Audience development
- Children and young people
- Talent Development
Talent Development:
- Creative Futures (100-200 residencies with budget £1.1m)
- Professional development
- Talent hubs + incubators
Small Training Grants of £250-£2k
General Arts Award up to £1500
  Quality Production – Arts, up to £60k - total fund £1.8m Mainline Production & Development Grants of £5001-£20k Self-arranged residencies, up to £5k
To be announced:
4-year £20m fund for Digital Innovation & Development
Touring, Festivals & Events, up to £60k - total fund £1.59m for:
- Distribution of existing work
- Arts programming
- Festivals + site specific events.
Creative Wales Awards
- £5001 - £12k
- Major £20k - £25k
- £25k
Ambassador Award
Major individual awards (2 x £15k awards)

Artists Career Enhancement Scheme (up to £5k)
    International Opportunities fund Travel Awards (up to £650)

* £ = 2011-12 financial year
** from April 2012

Visual arts priorities by arts council

Creative Scotland

It's good news if you live in Scotland, as Creative Scotland would appear to have the most sophisticated and thought-through funding programme - and certainly the most transparent one. It has made cash allocations towards specific objectives that it publishes on its website, making it as clear as possible what it wants to achieve from each funding stream and therefore how applicants should focus their bids.  Although it is early days for Creative Scotland, it is likely that this specificity and clarity will be welcomed by practitioners.

Its funding programmes have moved away from artform-led to thematically-based; that is, practitioners of any artform can apply into specific themes according to how best these match the work they do. This is a significant difference from the other arts councils:

"Previously, the Scottish Arts Council had 109 separate budgets, largely parcelled up into artform budgets, which mixed up lottery and treasury. Creative Scotland has moved to larger strategic budgets that are clearly directed against our objectives. We wanted to be able to make them meaningful and to invite a 'conversation'. Our only fund specific to artform is film." - Andrew Dixon, Chief Executive, Creative Scotland, July 2011

Creative Scotland's visual arts review will be finished early in 2012 with a new set of visual arts priorities being defined as a result - so Scottish artists should expect change to the criteria set against each programme, whilst the programmes themselves will not change. The review's aim is to map and understand the visual arts ecology in terms of genre and geography. The intention is to be more strategic in terms of which agencies and services are commissioned in future and it intends to address gaps in provision, for example, need for an agency to deliver curatorial development or small-scale touring. One outcome of the review of immediate significance to artists is the new £1.1m Creative Futures programme, a key part of the Talent Development programme, previously mentioned.

Not appearing in the table above, but of great interest to recent graduates and early career artists is a modest fund of £130k devolved to and matched by thirteen Local Authorities across Scotland - from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Shetlands and Western Isles - that enables small grants of £500-£1500 to support artist practice and quality of work, with no other agenda attached. This is based on the principle that local authority officers know their grass-roots artistic community better than a centralised organisation, and that each participating local authority adds to the pot. CS is hoping to develop and expand this strand - according to Venu Dhupa, Director of Creative Development "the budget is there for two years".

Currently the participating local authorities, or clusters of authorities are: Edinburgh, Glasgow, East Lothian, Fife, Dundee, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire (two separate local authorities working as one), South of Scotland (Borders and Dumfries and Galloway), Forth Valley (Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire) Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles), and two arts agencies - Shetland Arts and Hi-Arts.

Continuation of the £85k Craft curatorial fund as allocated for 2010-2011 will be decided by the visual arts review.

The future: Creative Scotland is not expecting any major changes to its funding programmes for individual artists in the near future, although the results of its visual arts review is likely to mean a change in the criteria used to assess applications.  As a general principle, it wants to make more of its funds openly accessible than in previous years. For this reason, it has been reducing the amount spent as Managed Funds, and putting more into open access. However this is dependent on their Government settlement, recently announced as a 2% reduction for 2012-2013.

Arts Council England

Arts Council England has well-publicised priorities across artforms of which the most relevant for individual visual artists are:

Talent and artistic excellence are thriving and celebrated

  • Using our investment to ensure excellent art happens
  • Establishing a coherent, nationwide approach to the development of artistic talent, particularly for emerging and mid-career artists
  • Supporting an artistically-led approach to diversity in the arts

ACE appears to have the simplest gateway - one programme with one application form for all artforms, agencies and touring. This was introduced with the aim that a simpler application process would be more accessible to more people. However anecdotal evidence suggests that its non-specificity gives rise to some anxiety as applicants feel a need for more guidance, a less time-consuming and resource-heavy process, and more information generally about what will be funded and by how much. There is also a perception in the sector that the format makes it difficult for complex, highly original and/or unusual projects to be successful.

In reality, GFTA is a fairly flexible programme, allowing for applications covering all the aspects specified in other individual schemes from the other arts councils; for example, R&D, project realisation, CPD, education and audience development, including complex and original applications. Developing areas that are relatively new to ACE as an organisation, such as the digital and creative economy, are not best served by the GFTA assessment process which has not caught up with the overlap between public and commercial projects that do not necessarily have development of an artform product or infrastructure at their heart. But otherwise I would suggest - from my own experience as a former ACE officer - that the GFTA assessment process is detailed, well-developed, and incorporates expertise and judgement from a range of experienced people throughout an ACE regional office.

But the perception that GFTA as a funding stream is opaque and/or has limitations may be one reason why there are so few applications from individuals. Some research comparing perceptions of the "single gateway" approach with the more structured and specific approach of Creative Scotland would be useful.

The future: a major development slated to come on-stream for April 2012 is the new Strategic Funds that will prioritise four areas of work, of which the most relevant for artists is that of Talent Development. How these funds will be structured and distributed and what shape they will take is still subject to internal discussion and decision by ACE's Executive Board. An announcement is planned for autumn 2011.

ACE is intending to undertake a review of GFTA in order to better align it with the objectives of its ten-year plan: Great Art for Everyone. This is likely to result in minor changes made in 2012-2013, with further probably major changes made for the 2013 financial year onwards, in part to ensure no duplication with new Strategic funds. However, Arts Council England suggests that more funding will be available via GFTA from April 2012: "As portfolio organisations are no longer eligible, it is estimated that £12 million a year will be freed up, making it readily responsive to new ideas, and to spot and nurture new talent. The annual budget is £48m". - www.artscouncil.org.uk

This may be good news for individual artists, but it is also likely that organisations unsuccessful in their NPO applications - of whom there are 637 - will continue to apply for and be supported by GFTA. In other words, it is likely that there will continue to be great competition for GFTA funding.

Importantly, and less publicised: "The Arts Council's share of the lottery allocation to support Good Causes will increase from 2013. Some of that money will be used for strategic funding, but it is unlikely that the money available for Grants for the Arts will be reduced as a consequence, and indeed it is possible that more money will be available in future for project funding." - Paul Glinkowski, Senior Officer, Visual Arts, Arts Council England

This suggests there is a real possibility that money available through GFTA will not be increased, given that Strategic Funds will be targeted towards ACE's priorities. In other words, ACE may choose to allocate more cash towards meeting its stated priorities directly rather than through the less predictable GFTA format.

Also to be announced this autumn is a new digital innovation and development fund, worth £20m over four years. However this is largely driven by the desire to see arts organisations develop greater use of digital platforms to reach new audiences. It is unlikely to be a fund to enable the use of technology to make art, or to make more digital media art.

Visual arts priorities by arts council 2


Arts Council of Wales

 "Several independent reports that Council has commissioned over the years have highlighted significant under-investment in the Visual Arts and Craft sectors in Wales in comparison with other artforms." - Delivering our Vision, A Strategy for Success, Arts Council Wales, December 2010.

Arts Council Wales has now completed an investment review in which visual arts Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) received increased investment which according to Lindsay Hughes, Head of Visual Arts, "took [the level of investment] to where it should have been in the first place."

They concentrated on ensuring that those galleries and organisations that had benefited from a capital project would be sustainable through revenue funding. The expectation of those galleries is that they will now work together as a visual arts network, stimulating creative debate, collaborating together and helping to shape policy development. They will also be expected to provide more opportunities than they have previously done to contribute to the development of individual artists and curators at key career stages.

ACW visual arts strategy 2008-2013 recognised that: "artists need continuing support in training, mentoring, exposure to new work and most fundamentally of all, in secure career pathways and structures which enable them to focus on their work, and not on cross-subsidising this work via other and often unconnected employment."

It has succeeded in creating a structured programme with a number of specific funds aimed at supporting artists from recent graduate level to mid-career and beyond. An example is the Brian Roth award set up in 2010, which makes two £2000 grants to recent graduates, with universities each nominating one student. This structure is promising but amounts available are relatively limited.

Having withdrawn investment from SAFLE, (the public art consultancy for Wales), this money has been ring-fenced for three years for a public art fund that will be administered in-house. It is intended that the new programme will be "more strategic and delivered in partnership with, for example, the National Trust, a Health Authority etc with ACW remaining an active partner in terms of guidance and expertise".

The fund is a modest £135k, and partners will be expected to match fund significantly. ACW hopes to launch the new programme and guidelines in autumn 2011. It is likely it will have three strands: ideas, place and people, with up to twelve public art projects/residencies a year lasting from three to twelve months.

New professional development opportunities for artists and local authorities are expected to be a part of the programme, along with an emphasis on 'brokering' - matching new opportunities with knowledgeable freelancers operating in Wales.

The future: although ACW has a visual arts strategy that runs to 2013, it is currently under review in light of funding cuts and the investment review. Future priorities are likely to be in the area of skills development, in partnership with Creative and Cultural Skills, and measures that address the lack of a contemporary art market for Wales. It is intended to link this with the Creative Industries Strategy under development by the Welsh Government Creative Industries Board.

Details of a new Creative Steps investment fund are due to be announced. This aims "to encourage culturally diverse arts" and will be open to application from individuals and organisations. Still being worked up are details of a fund for developmental projects in digital arts and new media.

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

"In light of the report that showed that artists earn an average of £7500 a year, supporting artist's living standards is a priority. The aim is that artists have access to the things they need across the province, for example, selling, funding and heading abroad." Susannah Lyle, Head of Visual Arts, ACNI

ACNI created the SIAP (Support for Individual Artists Programme) in 2001, and this remains an overall organisational priority. Within this theme are a number of programmes that support artist costs for travel, making new work, training, self-arranged residencies, international awards and major individual awards. Most have deadlines with two rounds a year. For three years until April 2011, 20% of the funding was ring-fenced for applicants that hadn't previously received awards under this programme. The target for 2011-2012 is 30% ring-fenced for artists who have not previously received an award. If you live in Northern Ireland, this is a very good encouragement to apply.

Consultation with the sector suggested that artists wanted an award that would be significant in terms of career advancement. This has lead to the Career Enhancement grant of £5k currently being piloted, and provision of two Major Artists Awards each of £15k. Although this funding stream is specific to individual artists and comprehensive in coverage, awards tend to be small, with 84% valued at less than £3000. Interestingly though research published by ACNI in 20102 suggests that ACNI funding provides 11% of artists' incomes on average, which is a fairly high percentage, although this needs to be set within the context of the generally low earnings of artists there.

The future: the Northern Ireland Assembly mooted a disproportional cut of £4.2m for 2011-15, precipitating a period of great uncertainty for the arts in Northern Ireland, lack of ability to significantly plan ahead and the decision to pull out of the Venice Biennale. That proposal was commuted in March 2011 to a £1.4m cut over four years, and the visual arts strategy is now being reviewed.

2 Living and Working Conditions of Artists, Northern Ireland, ACNI, 2010.


Comparator analyses

This table compares levels of direct open application funding to visual arts in arts councils for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.




  ACA - GFTA lottery only CS (Scottish Arts Council at the time) excluding revenue funding ACW - Lottery only ACNI - Lottery only
Total funding all artforms £55,491,959 £38,492,093 £3,510,502 £10,739,132
Total visual arts spend £14,575,324 £2,174,190 £1,010,985 £1,502,055
Visual arts spend to organisations £11,739,132 £1,787,690 £828,196 £1,293,675
Visual arts spend to individuals £2,836,152 £386,500 £182,789 £208,380
% awards to individual artists against total visual arts 19.45% 17.7% 18% 13.87%
Total VA applications: individual artists 1033 466 114 135
Success rate individuals 485 = 36% 76 = 16% 77 = 67.5% 99 = 73%
Total VA applications: organisations
3945 129 167  
Success rate organisations 1780 = 45% 112 = 87% 148 = 89%
Visual arts spending as % of total all artform 26% 5.6% 28.7% 19%
Visual arts spending to individual artists as % of total all artform 1.98% (GFTA) 0.1% 5.2% 2%
Visual arts spending against all artforms: GIA ACE only 13% RFO & 13% NPO from 2012      



  ACE - GFA lottery only Scottish Arts Council ACW - Lottery only ACNI - Lottery only
Total funding all artforms   £53,021,444 (GFTA) £37,578,340 £3,597,548 £4,829,111
Total visual arts spend   £14,100,482 £1,487,533   £898,084 £932,891
Visual arts spend to organisations     £11,603,061 £1,076,658 = 72.3% £633,777 = 70.5% £772,696 =  83%
Visual arts spend to individuals     £2,497,421 £410,875 = 27.6% £264,307 = 29.4% £159,195
Total VA applications: individual artists 1390 451 114 136
Success rate individuals   434 = 31% 81 = 18% 77 = 65.4% 68 =50%
Total VA applications: organisations  3,748 100 196  
# success rate organisations   1635 = 43.6% 89 = 89% 167 = 85.2%  
Visual arts spending as % of total all artform   26% 4% 25% 19%
Visual arts spending to individuals as % of total all artform   4.7% 1.1% 7% 3.3%
Visual arts spending organisations as % of total all artform 22% 2.9% 17.6% 16%



GFTA is currently the only direct access open application programme from ACE that individual artists can apply into, and it is lottery funded. For this reason, the figures above for ACE exclude the funding allocated to the current RFOs and future NPOs. Individual artists do the best out of this system compared to the other councils, receiving 19.45% of visual arts spending from the lottery. 

In order to compare like with like, figures from the other Arts Councils exclude funding that is not available for individuals to apply for - removing the equivalent of RFO and capital funding.

Sources of Information

Most quantitative information included here has come directly from the arts councils, as a response to requests either answered directly or via published strategies and reports in the public domain. Particularly in relation to the financial information, it has been clear that what might appear to be a simple question, for example, "How much open access funding was awarded to the visual arts in 2009-2010?" has a range of answers, as different and complex budgeting and timelines come into play. There is therefore some tolerance in some figures according to how they have been calculated. However all figures and information have been fact-checked, come from verifiable sources and are evidence-based.

Links and publications


ACE Grants for the arts awards
ACNI: A better deal for the arts
ACNI: Digest of arts statistics
ACNI: The Living and Working Conditions of Artists in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Scottish Arts Annual Review 08-09
Scottish Arts Annual Report 09-10
General Guide to Arts Council of Wales Funding for Individuals 2011-2012
Support for Individual Artists Programme, Guidance Notes, Arts Council Northern Ireland
Annual Report 2009-2010, Arts Council England
Annual Report 2008-2009, Arts Council England
Visual Arts Strategy 2008 - 2013, Arts Council of Wales
Public Art consultation document, Arts Council of Wales
Welsh Government Remit Letter for 2011-12
Annual Reports 2009-2010, Arts Council of Wales
Annual Report 2010-2011, Arts Council of Wales
Interview with Andrew Dixon, Variant Magazine
Public Art Consultation paper, Arts Council of Wales
Renewal and Transformation, Arts Council of Wales
Delivering our Vision, A strategy for success, Arts Council of Wales
Digest of Arts Statistics, Northern Ireland
Living and Working Conditions of Artists, Northern Ireland, ACNI
Freedom of Information Requests: CSfoi11036, FOI.160
Office of National Statistics, Labour Force Survey: April - June 2010 , Labour Force Survey: April - June 2009

Visual Arts Blueprint Creative and Cultural Skills


Dany Louise thanks the following people for their time and help in conducting this research study:

Paul Glinkowski, Senior Officer, Visual Arts, Arts Council England
Lindsay Hughes, Head of Visual Arts, Arts Council of Wales
Andrew Dixon, Director, Creative Scotland
Venu Dhupa, Director of Creative Development, Creative Scotland
Stephen Palmer, Development Officer, Creative Scotland
Suzanne Lyle, Head of Visual Arts, Arts Council of Northern Ireland

First published: a-n.co.uk September 2011

Comments on this article

As the lucky recipient of an ACE grant for 2012, I found the application process via the ACE website to be relatively straight forward. It is useful that you can generate an application and then ‘park’ it; revisiting to fine-tune and gather further evidence, until confident with its content. Also of course with ACE there are no deadlines as such, this means that any pressure is dictated by your own timescale/deadline. Despite the fact that I found the form relatively easy to use and well structured, I did spend many hours preparing my application and the help and support that I received from two of my local arts officers/organizations was invaluable. The success of my application as an independent artist means that I now have creative freedom as I bring my project to fruition.

posted on 2011-12-02 by Deborah Bird

Best wishes with it Clare!

posted on 2011-10-30 by Dany Louise

Hi Susan. Good luck with the ACE application and all power to your elbow! Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts and particularly good to hear a comparison from an artist between the ACW and ACE application process.

posted on 2011-10-30 by Dany Louise

Thanks Dany for this article and the research behind it. I have been umming and ahing about applying for a "practice development grant". Maybe I'll do it!

posted on 2011-10-30 by Clare Smith

Thank you for this research. As an artist currently in the middle of the arduous task of applying to the ACE as an individual, its useful information; on the one hand depressing but encouraging that the seemingly bad deals for individual artist applications is being addressed. Having had the experience of applying and receiving two grants from ACW in the past I am finding that the procedure with ACE is much less user friendly and generally discouraging. However I am more determined, having read your research, to make my application sing out, and not be put off by what sometimes seems like deliberate discouragement in the selection process of ACE. I have had excellent support from my local authority arts officers and will be contacting my regional office in due course. The over-riding feeling is that I am resentful of the time it is taking when I should be in my studio producing work. Susan Milne. Hereford

posted on 2011-10-12 by Susan Milne

I just had a look at the ACE annual review 2010: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/AC_annual_review_a4_online_final.pdf What is the balance of funding between institutions and individuals for 2009-2010? Total income for the ACE: 625 million. Total grants: 418.5 million. Grants to institutions: 417.3 million. Grants to individual recipients: 1.2 million. (see page 87). These figures are for ALL art forms. This means individuals get 0.29% of art funding. The ACE hasn't got targets to get funding to individuals (see page 47)...................

posted on 2011-10-11 by Walter Van Rijn

Dear Stephen - just realising that much of what I wrote in reply to Walter applies to your comment too. Again, the figures are available at least in England via ACE website. There's a diagrammatic summary here: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/npo_by_artform_and_value_pie_charts_290311.pdf Thanks for commenting. Best, Dany

posted on 2011-10-10 by Dany Louise

Hi Walter, thanks for taking the time and effort to read this, and I hope you've found it useful. It would be easy enough to work out the percentages if RFO funding was taken into account - RFO funding is in the public domain via the Arts Council England website. Then some maths required! I'm afraid I don't have the time to do this right now, but suffice to say that the figures would look considerably worse for individual artists. You only need to look at the NPO funding outcomes to see the amounts of money that go to oganisations. I did write a blog post on this a while back if you're interested: http://danylouise.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/bludgeoned/ Best Dany

posted on 2011-10-10 by Dany Louise

Thanks for this enlightning research Dany. As an artist I'll take it on board that we artists need to apply for own projects. I still would like to know what are the percentages of funding to individual artists if the Treasury funding to Arts Council’s RFO is taken into account? http://wvrijn.wordpress.com/

posted on 2011-10-09 by Walter Van Rijn

Is there any research on what organisations get? Because the perception is that the same organisations get the same block funds year in, year out. How anyway do we compare with musicians, writers, actors? I suspect individual practitioners across all artforms in this country are equally disincentivised by the perception that organisations get the icing first and then most of the cake. Plus let's not forget the effects of funding on our unsympathetic benefits system (£7500 was quoted for an average in N.I. - I suspect for many that's housing benefits plus tax credits).

posted on 2011-10-08 by Stephen Kirby

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