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The twins looked up to heaven for a funding cloud to appear.

My post today is about a Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) application, which I first heard about from an Arts Council England (ACE) Relationship Manager just before this funding stream was unrolled. I understood back then that this small pot of ‘no strings attached’ funding was experimental. I wonder how ACE thinks it’s going?

I think we need a far bigger pot of direct funding that doesn’t turn us into ‘bureaucrats’ – by which I mean that artists can get so tangled up in project management with National Project Lottery Grants (NLPG) that creative practice can suffer greatly (and it’s not as if NLPG are easily for artists to secure either).

So, I’m writing about my project while my DYCP application process is live – a possible PR no-no – because advocacy is a core element of my creative practice. As an autistic artist I feel compelled to write about the systems I encounter in my professional life, and I’m very much of the moment.

I have a need to interrogate the ACE funding streams I apply to, and comment as I go. Autism (in my case) means I like to find out how things work.  So I need to get under the DYCP bonnet (now that I’ve made an application) no matter what. Call it a tick, I call it a social justice crusade. Funding for my project would make a crucial difference to my creative practice, but at least (given the odds) my bid is a 2-4-1.

Many neurodivergent (ND) creatives approach me for advice about DYCP, and I’ve usually suggested trying for a National Lottery Project Grant (NLPG) instead. DYCP comes over as slim pickings (and the maths concur). But an artist can dream, right? And who am I to put anyone off if I haven’t tilted at the windmill myself. I like to know (from the inside) what I’m talking about.

So the need to analyse DYCP  has come second to the creative compulsion that prompted it – yet there is a symbiotic relationship between idea and opportunity which you might not grasp until you try it. Something very different happens when you apply to support your own practice, unfettered by the usual NLPG constraints of audience engagement and match funding. This fact needs to be shouted out loud in my view!

Writing a DYCP can be both a shot in the dark and a shot in the arm. I’m enthralled by my project, and head over heels  in love with it’s beautiful logic and symmetry – though I say so myself! Don’t we all deserve to feel this fired up? I want to see artists inspired and encouraged, not offered slim chances and a dampening of ambition. Who wants to feel that an opportunity is for the few and not the many?

In directing ND artists to NLPG have I conspired to keep the status quo? Wouldn’t it be better if ACE were made aware of how many artists need DYCP grants? Should we protest with an orchestrated mass application! In addition, I can now see that it’s a loss to miss out on what’s actually a creative process in itself. Wrangling all the parts of a DYCP marshals contacts, collaborators and endorsements, which can be wonderfully affirming. Applying is the work too, I now realise.

I mentioned the maths earlier, but I have dyscalculia and learning from my Relationship Manager that DYCP applicants stand a 10% chance of  success was hard to compute. So I asked a friendly mathematician to help me out. You’d have to toss a coin three times and call it right, they said. I just couldn’t imagine it. I might get lucky!

A conceptual breakthrough of sorts came some days later. Explaining my project and DYCP to an international artist contact, I mentioned the 10% chance of funding. This seasoned professional, veteran of multiple successful funding bids in his own country, laughed hysterically.

Oh. This was a measure I could begin to understand.

ACE are nothing if not clear about how competitive DYCP is, and they advise exploring other options, but artists often have to spend far more time fund-raising (including alternative employment) than making work. Making work becomes so squeezed it sometimes dries up altogether. How can this lend sustainability to the sector?

I can’t stop thinking about all those artists who don’t get as far as applying for DYCP, or the 90% of applicants who face certain rejection. For some reason 90% failure is a figure I can grasp.

A quick internet search throws up the fact that in 2015 the acceptance rate for Oxford University was 17.5%, and that for Cambridge University it was 21 %. It’s interesting to compare the applicant’s chances of getting a place at Oxbridge and being awarded a DYCP.

If you want some serious figures on direct funding to artists Susan Jones’, The chance to dream: why fund individual artists? is the place to go.