In 2013, a-n launched what proved to be a timely portfolio of professional development bursaries, offered exclusively to artist members. Designed to be as light touch as possible, this scheme has already received 258 applications seeking nearly £165,000 of funding, perhaps identifying a level of genuine need currently not being met by existing artists’ support schemes.

Between March and September, 73 artists representing a wide range of practices and various geographical locations have gained bursaries. Artists have made cogent arguments for support ranging in value from £300-£1000, enabling them to set up their own peer review sessions and research visits, and to test new artistic collaborations within and beyond the arts.

Realising ambitions

Reports from the successful artists take the form of blogs shared across the a-n community. These accounts confirm the heightened value that such self-determined discovery brings. As Cumbrian-based Steve Messam, recipient of a Re:view bursary, commented: “Regardless of how far along your career you are, there’s still plenty to learn and buckets of room for improvement. I’m meeting and conversing with people who I believe will help me move onwards and upwards. My work is often ambitious, and so is my list of mentors”.

For Rachael Allen, a New Collaborations bursary is enabling her to work with practising GP, clinical educator and writer Dr Eleanor Holmes: “Together we’ll investigate the creative potential for collaborative engagement across visual and literary arts and explore the interface between medicine, health, the arts and humanities, whilst also developing a strong dialogue addressing anatomy and medical education, clinical practice and human health.” Allen also states that the project aims to “inspire other artists to look further than their immediate artistic community in terms of collaborators.”

Yorkshire-based Amelia Crouch comments that, as well as paying for formal mentoring sessions with artists of her choice, her Re:view bursary has got her into the habit of talking to peers about her own and their work: “It has certainly expanded the scope of who I have been able to talk to. It has encouraged me to speak to people not just about specific pieces of work, but also about my practice and the context for it more generally.”

For artist-duo French Mottershead the bursary was a “sabbatical – our recent years have been dominated by invited commissions where parameters are predefined (engage with this locality, with this type of work, with this budget, by this date). Whilst demand for our work is positive, the imbalance left us with no time or resources to think about what we would really like to make. We feel we’ve lost a sense of where we are in the work and the excitement for what we are making. It became apparent during our conversation with Nina Pope that keeping a balance between self-directed projects and working to an invited or open commission, is a long-term struggle for many artists… we’re not alone.”

Go and see: Venice bursaries in May enabled 20 emerging or mid-career artists to be visible within the busy professional view period of the 2013 Venice Biennale. The majority confirmed afterwards that they had realised the ambitions they had set out for attending, citing new projects under development, burgeoning curatorial relationships and other tangible advantages of participating. As one commented: “For me, this was a career-changing experience.”

Enabling more artists to benefit

Encouraged by the impact the bursary scheme has already had on artists who want to be proactive in their own development and are seeking to move their practices and careers forward, a-n is now announcing further calls for applications.

a-n Director Susan Jones says: “a-n has got a long history of creating programmes that directly respond to the needs and aspirations that artists articulate for themselves. Significantly, 86% of artists surveyed for the Go and see: Venice bursaries felt it essential for a-n to provide such professional development opportunities. The quality of applications for our bursaries to date has been extremely high.

“Whilst many schemes seem to filter out all but a few at the very top, we recognise that more broadly-based sustenance is needed if we want to have a vibrant and diverse community of artists. Artists are a-n’s major stakeholder group. Through paying membership fees, they now contribute over half of all income. It is our intention to make our award-giving proportionate to the volume of fundable applications received, and to build this into our performance indicators as we already do with other aspects of our support for artists.”

Deadlines for applications

Bursaries are open to application by emerging and mid-career visual and applied artists who hold a current a-n Artist + AIR membership and are permanently UK-based. Membership currently stands at 17,500 and encompasses the broadest possible range of visual arts practices, ranging from live art to ceramics and textiles, digital media video to painting and artists’ books, and from wrought ironwork to architectural sound works. Membership eligibility and details of benefits can be found at Join.

20 January 2014Re:view bursaries: designed to support artist-to-artist or curatorial critique and professional development at strategic points in artists’ careers, providing them with opportunities to take stock and inform development of future work.

17 February 2014Go and see bursaries: specifically for artists working collectively and through artists’ initiatives. The bursaries enable artists to visit other initiatives, to improve communication and knowledge exchange, and foster joint developments.

18 March 2014New Collaborations: supporting artists’ critical and artistic development through buying time to research into new collaborations.

Those excluded from applying for bursaries are undergraduate students, artists within 24 months of graduating from a BA course, and those who have been awarded a bursary for a broadly similar purpose from a-n or another source in the previous 12 months. Prospective applicants are also advised to check any additional exclusions that relate to Re:view, Go and see and New Collaborations schemes.

These bursaries form part of a-n’s professional development programme that also includes Airtime fast-paced information and networking sessions, the granted seminar programme and online toolkits and expert practical guides.

More on – Bursaries, Granted, videos and practical guides. – Searchable listings with links, includes current professional development opportunities and awards.