Arts funding home
Little or large?
The arts sector is awash with news about arts funding and a-n has led the debate with two important pieces of research. Gillian Bates explores the complexities and hurdles individual visual artists face if they want to lever grants, and questions whether the funding dice is loaded against the artist in favour of arts organisations.
‘A Fair Share’ by Dany Louise revealed the shocking fact that individual artists just don’t apply for funding in their own right – and when they do, their chances of success are not good. The Big Artists Survey 2011, meanwhile, pointed out that more and more artists are taking up paid employment and generally speaking get less than 25% of their income from what they love doing: creating art.
These two pieces of research have unleashed a genuinely enthralling debate which includes the 'Don’t complain if you don’t play the game' argument, quoted by artist Geoff Molyneux to Dany Louise. In other words, if individual artists don’t actually apply for funding, then why the heck should they whinge if they feel excluded from the process?
Alongside this, another argument has emerged that seems to be remarkably Thatcherite (the real one from the 80s – not the Meryl Streep version). This espouses that art will survive no matter what – i.e. cut art and instead of a bleeding heart you get more – and even better - artistic activity. This argument was, rather surprisingly, revisited by blogger and Guardian arts writer Tom Service at a recent Paul Hamlyn arts award presentation (vimeo.com/31545815). The speech at first seemed to be quite a clarion call to artists to get more funding. Indeed, Service entitled it ‘We need to celebrate, nurture - and pay- creatives’ on his Guardian page. However, he ends with a kind of ‘creativity will out - no matter what’ message:
“The essential point is this – the impression of a depressed or malnourished time for contemporary creativity, just because of a depressed financial climate for our biggest cultural institutions and funders, is a damaging fiction …
Then he adds:
"the breathtaking, humbling generosity of the creative impulse is something that lies outside the remit of financial conditions good or bad”.
But is this strictly true? Yes art will, and does, survive through economic depression, but the artists who ‘fall by the wayside’ and end up getting ‘proper jobs’ are never quantified, or quantifiable, in the way that the closure of a theatre or arts centre can be. Just because we say artists survive and create no matter what, doesn’t mean this is actually true.
Looking at Dany Louise’s research, it does seem that, throughout the UK, very few individual artists even try to get funding:
“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.
"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.
"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.
"Arts Council Northern Ireland 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.”
Two problems here: Take a look at the actual figures of people who got the money. 485 out of an estimated 22,000 English artists; 77 out of an estimated 2,550 Welsh artists; 76 out of an estimated 4,250 Scottish artists and 99 out of an estimated 1,700 Northern Irish artists. Secondly, look at the money the ‘winners’ received. If, as an artist, you are prepared to play the funding game you may come out of it with between £2,000 and £5,000. Useful, but hardly life changing money is it? You’ve got to be better off facilitating that art centre workshop on a permanent basis if you want to keep the howling and hungry wolf from your door. Or even selling one, or many, of your pieces of art, depending on your funding structures.
Contrast the amounts individual artists get with the amounts arts organisations regularly receive, and you have to question whether the difficulties, far from being about individual artist reticence, are in fact systemic.
A big ‘off put’ for artists applying for funding appears to be the funding process itself, which offers a bewildering array of strategic aims and ambitions. Recently, Arts Council England (ACE) introduced ‘Key Project Milestones’ for its National Portfolio Organisations which seemed bad enough. But consider how such ‘jargon’ comes over to individual visual artists wanting to apply for funds to further their work.
But it is the rules to applying for funding which seem to be the biggest barrier. ACE has released a new document www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/strategic-funding, which sets out its funding priorities up to 2015. There has been an interesting lack of fanfare to its publication. It divides funding up into seven key areas:
The Space will be a new ‘pop up service’ created in partnership with the BBC. It will launch in May and run until the end of October 2012, and will use the same technology as the BBC iPlayer. The Space will “challenge artists, arts and cultural organisations to collaborate with each other and partners to capture and create a wealth of cultural experiences, drawing on the richness of the summer of arts in the Olympic year”.
Catalyst is all about fundraising, which you’d think could be useful for artists? However, this “£100m culture sector wide private giving investment programme” is aimed at helping cultural organisations diversify their income streams and access more funding from private sources. This programme, made up of investment from Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), hopes to attract “creative and innovative applications that will test a range of fundraising approaches, from bottom-up audience development and other fundraising techniques, to the development, for those who are ready, of an endowment fund”. Crikey – that’s not going to keep any individual artist in paint or clay, is it?
Capital - this £180m capital investment programme will support organisations to “develop resilience by giving them the right buildings and equipment to deliver their work, and to become more sustainable and resilient businesses”. ACE goes on to say, “this programme is one of a number of measures we are putting in place to help make the arts more sustainable, resilient and innovative”. Amazingly, this massive fund has a really tight turnaround – applications for the first round have to been in by 6 December – although a second round will open up sometime next year. Obviously don’t bother to apply unless you are, or can turn yourself into, an ‘organisation’.
Touring - at first glance this fund appears to be for performance – although touring art exhibitions should not be ruled out. Encouragingly, the description includes “across all artforms”. The £45m Touring programme is designed to “encourage collaboration between organisations, so that more people across England experience and are inspired by the arts, particularly in places which rely on touring for much of their arts provision”. Successful applications can be awarded from £10,000 and there is no upper limit. Projects must be “time-limited and take place over a maximum of three years”. The slightly troubling aspect to this one is that if, on past evidence, the successful visual artist gets around £5,000 grant funding from ACE, then a scheme that starts at £10,000 may be a leap too far for most individual artists. In any case, you can’t actually be an individual artist - you have to collaborate in order to apply.
Audience Focus – ACE says it wants “more people to experience and be inspired by the arts, museums and libraries, and to ensure that organisations funded by the Arts Council have an even stronger focus on attracting audiences. The Audience Focus fund is designed to help funded organisations understand, retain and grow their audiences. The fund is intended to address major support needs in the sector; it will support a small number of large-scale national, sector-wide or major cross-regional collaborative activities”. This one, then, seems to be for organisations already funded by ACE.
Artsmark Delivery – “The Arts Council is looking for a national provider to deliver Artsmark - our national programme that enables schools, further education colleges and youth justice settings to evaluate, celebrate and strengthen a quality arts offer”. Don’t all rush at once.
General Strategic Programme - this will be used to realise the priorities set out in Achieving great art for everyone. The programme will allow organisations to deliver work that contributes to one, or more, of the Arts Council 2011-15 priorities. When gaps in delivering the priorities are identified, organisations will be able to apply for general strategic funding to undertake work that addresses these gaps.
Looking through these seven key areas – where does an individual artist fit in and just how complex does it seem to be to apply? The word ‘organisation’ seems to prevail and even the most cursory glance at the criteria would rule out the individual artist from applying to most of these new funding streams. Interestingly though, ACE’s five goals for 2011- 15 have relevance – and resonance - for individual visual artists:
- Goal 1: Talent and artistic excellence are thriving and celebrated
- Goal 2: More people experience and are inspired by the arts
- Goal 3: The arts are sustainable, resilient and innovative
- Goal 4: The arts leadership and workforce are diverse and highly skilled
- Goal 5: Every child and young person has the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts
So, although the goals of ACE and individual artists may have many overlaps, you would be hard pressed to see, as an artist, how you could apply to any of the new funds.
Back to the Grants for the Arts then, where you can apply for between £1k and £30K. These grants are for “individuals, arts organisations and other people who use the arts in their work. They are for activities carried out over a set period and which engage people in England in arts activities and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work”. So far so good except, as we already know from the findings of the recent research, artists can be put off by the complexity of applying for this funding strand and simply don’t know how to make their applications acceptable in order to avail themselves of what is on offer.
Across the UK, the other arts funders, Arts Council Wales, Arts Council Northern Ireland and Creative Scotland, have different criteria for grant funding.
Arts Council Wales, for example, has a mission to “increase the funds that are available for the arts in Wales. Broadly defined, we believe that the creative and cultural industries are a vital engine for Wales’ economy. They contribute directly in terms of job and wealth creation, through the creation, distribution and retail of goods and services”. Their range of grants includes the Small Projects grants whose criteria seem to fit in well with the ambitions of the individual artist, since “this level of grant is to enable individuals to explore project ideas or to build their creative, artistic and professional capability over time”.
Once in receipt of this first grant, and if your work has “an established track record”, you can then presumably progress to higher levels of funding. The next stage is the Creative Wales Awards, which give between £5,001 and £12,000 to enable artists to develop their creative practice. Artists may propose taking time away from their usual commitments in order to concentrate on developing their work. And then, maybe, they will even move upwards to the Major Creative Wales Awards of between £20,000 and £25,000, where “artists should demonstrate a track record of achievement and contribution within their area of professional practice in Wales. The projects must include a strong element of experimentation with production or realisation in some form.”
This seems such a clear and artist centred approach that there must be a catch, right? Well, according to ‘A fair share’, that catch is the amount of money ACW actually gives out. The statistics don’t support the concept of open access visual arts funding. Of 114 applications from individual artists, only 77 were successful in 2010, averaging less than £2.5k each. Plus, the recent news that ACW is about to lay off its own staff due to budgetary restraints, doesn’t help to improve this picture.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, individual artists may apply for funding for international projects or for locally based projects under the Support for the Individual Artist Programme. Unfortunately, I found the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) website confusing in its austerity. The fund appears currently to be only open for ‘Travel Awards’, and although I really did try, I could never find out what Travel Awards actually are, or indeed, how much they are worth. This rather undermines the ambition of ACNI’s goal: “The Arts Council is committed to supporting artists in their career development and is interested in living artists whose work is innovative, experimental and challenging. We are also committed to the development of a strong visual arts infrastructure that will ensure that production, presentation and critical debate takes place.”
Creative Scotland, interestingly, doesn’t talk about grants or funding but rather ‘investment’: “It is our commitment to the people of Scotland that we will identify, nurture and champion creative talent for the benefit of Scotland. Our Corporate Plan, Investing in Scotland's Creative Future" (2011) sets out how we will do this by placing the arts, creative practice and creative practitioners at the heart of our thinking. We will be collaborative and work in partnership with many different groups and organisations, and provide leadership and advocacy”.
Its Investment Programme encourages individuals working at a professional level in the arts, screen and creative industries to apply for certain sections of funding. But there is a bit of a Catch 22 somewhere in the exclusions in that: “amateur creative practitioners/artists” are excluded from applying. “These are individuals who do not make their professional living from the creation, production or presentation of creative work and who take part in their chosen activity as a hobbyist or enthusiast”.
This, I believe, gets to the heart of the problem for independent visual artists, and it is a problem that organisations will never face. According to the current findings in the Big Artists Survey 2011, the percentage of entirely self-employed artists has reduced in a mere two years from 72% to 50% and within this figure, almost 60% of these artists generate as little as 0-25% of their income through their art practice. At what point then, for the purposes of funding applications, do you cease to be a ‘professional artist’ and become deemed an ‘enthusiast’?
Where do we go from here? The Big Artists Survey also revealed that artists say they are not sufficiently represented in decision-making bodies involved in culture. Three quarters of the artists surveyed had not even been consulted by a UK arts funding body, so there is little chance to influence, or even open up, a debate around current and prospective funding practice.
It seems to me, that, if individual artists are even to apply for funding, then accessible structures need to be put up within the funding process itself. It should not be a case of simply arguing that artists should apply, like some modern day Oliver asking for more (and remember, Oliver was sent to live with a funeral director for his audacity). Surely the funding bodies themselves have a responsibility towards individual creatives? As a-n readers commented in response to ‘A fair share’, “Individuals get 0.29% of art funding. ACE hasn’t got targets to get funding to individuals...” (Walter Van Rijn)
And reader Susan Milne said of the actual funding process, “The over-riding feeling is that I am resentful of the time it is taking when I should be in my studio producing work”.
The complexity of the funding systems means organisations will increasingly apply; and the larger ones – who can afford to pay for funding and development expertise – are obviously the most likely ones to get the lion’s share of increasingly diminishing funds.
Where does this leave individual visual artists? It is true, creativity will out but at what cost? If artists apply and fail to get funding, they may not even know why they are rejected (at least Oliver was told he was greedy). ACE has recently redacted from its minutes a list of rejected applicants from the National Portfolio Holders scheme, so these people can’t even get together to discuss ‘cracking the code’.
Tom Service said in his keynote speech at the Paul Hamlyn Arts Awards that to “lament in perpetuity a lack of funding is to assume a direct correlation between cash and creativity.” But it seems that the argument that cash and creativity are not related is an easy one to make when we cannot establish how many creatives give up through lack of funding. Or worse, fear of funding failure.
Gillian Bates is a freelance journalist and arts consultant. She has written, web-edited and tweeted for Arts Professional, Arts Partnership Nottinghamshire, Artsderbyshire and many other arts and cultural websites.
First published: a-n.co.uk December 2011
Comments on this article
Post your comment
To post a comment you need to login
© the artist(s), writer(s), photographer(s) and a-n The Artists Information Company
All rights reserved.
Artists who are current subscribers to a-n may download or print this text for the limited purpose of use in their business or professional practice as artists.
Parts of this text may be reproduced either in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (updated) or with written permission of the publishers.