photo by Stu Allsopp of me in the Empathy Booth – I think it looks like a curtsey to ACE.
My goodness me. Arts Council England have said YES.
THANK YOU SO MUCH ACE for believing in the project and in my ability to deliver it!
I can hardly take it in. After a titanic tussle with the new portal, and the significant disadvantage of coming at the process as an autistic artist, I have succeeded.
The news came through in Cafe Rouge, Leamington Spa (who deserve a special mention for putting up with disruptive behaviour – throwing a milk jug around in a wild fit of hugging and the emitting of a loud series of whoops and yelps). Fellow a-n artists/blogger Elena Thomas was with me and responsible for calming my palpitations and encouraging me to open the form.
I was simply too scared to find out the result and would have sat there (or rather hopped about) indefinitely. Dodgy WIFI may have blocked the message up to this moment, but the issue had been circumvented by piggy backing on Elena’s mobile phone bluetooth connection with the purpose of working up an idea we’re nurturing for the Museum for Object Research blog. An ACE notification was the last thing I expected to ping through.
As soon as the necessaries of opening the bank account and downloading the logo are in order I will be talking more specifically about the actual project for which I’ve been awarded funding. For now I want to talk about the other matter to emerge from my experience of this process – the process itself, with regards to access for neurodivergent or really more particularly autistic artists.
The process of application has been huge for me, both as a learning curve in a professional sense and as a personal growth experience. I will be honest, it was a gruelling ordeal which could have broken me but for the saving graces that got me through it. It feels important to let others know what they were.
So here is my check list of strategies, shared on the understanding that it won’t apply to every autistic artist. Our needs vary greatly and this is just a snapshot of what made the difference for me.
Importantly what I’m about to say is virtually all predicated on being to some degree networked in to a trusted group of arts professionals. This may not the case for many autistic artist, and in itself represents an issue of access. By nature autism can prove isolating for an artist, as so many of the professional structures through which we should be supported are social in orientation. This is why we must come together to create our own networks to support one another and to lobby for change in neurotypcial arts structures and organisations.
1. Arts Council England people interface is brilliant so do use it if this is an option for you. Indeed if you can access it I recommend you use the people interface at each point where you experience difficulty or doubt. For me this was vital as I couldn’t process the voluminous Grantium guidance notes. ACE interface includes the helpline and the option of making an appointment to talk with a Relationship Officer about your project development. A Relationship Officer can and will advise you and this proved decisive for me in arriving at a stronger application than I could have managed alone.
It must be noted that for some autistic artists talking and/ or talking on the phone can be serious access issues. More accessible information about alternatives for us is needed.
2. I was open about my autism in my application. I told ACE who I was and allowed this to be reflected in key areas of the application in which this makes a difference to the way I work. I will be writing in more detail about this in future posts.
3. I asked for generous access funding and was specific about what I needed it for.
It was challenging for me to work out the costings and calculate the help I needed but it was definitely worth doing so that I can both pay my support worker the correct wage for her work and have sufficient hours access help.
It was my experience that ACE wanted to know I would be properly supported in my work, so asking for more rather than less access help was probably a good idea.
4. I took ACE up on access assistance for the process of writing my application. We are entitled to up to 4 days of access help with writing the application. My advice would be to take it all. Your assistant will be paid.
This help is for the physical job of writing and organising your application only (no help with the concept is allowed) and you have to find your own assistant. My advice would be to try to recruit a person familiar with the application process or who is an arts professional. Someone to help with the mechanics of writing who you trust and can work with is essential but from my experience they will also need to understand the culture.
Someone who gets the culture can be instrumental in understanding how to structure your application in a way other arts professionals can access more easily. This could be crucial to an autistic artist, especially if you are applying for the first time
5. I consulted both trusted neurotypical artists and arts professionals to understand what was being asked of me by ACE. This was vital.
I can’t stress enough how important having access to a translation of neurotypical (socially embedded) content in the application form can be. It can be virtually impossible for us to tease out the implicit assumptions in this kind of application process on our own.
6. I teamed up with a project partner who has a complimentary skill set, and acted as my “gateway” professional to the neurotypcial world. For autistic artists it can be difficult to conceive how important it is to develop our projects beyond the concept, and lodge them fully into external environments. SO much of our thinking is internal and expansively so. Yet an ACE application requires a vast amount of fine detail which must be realised in the external world.
Autistic artists may naturally work solo, but it’s worth considering what a constructive collaboration may bring in terms of access. My NT partner has been decisively helpful in this respect. It wasn’t planned this way but by great good fortune my project collaborator has become a trusted facilitator.
These are my immediate thoughts on the process of application. I’ll let you know if I have any more.