We’ll be announcing the next round of Unlimited commissions and awards on Tuesday 28 March! So how are we getting there, and what does it all mean? Shape Arts’ Programme Coordinator and Unlimited team member Isabella Tulloch explains…
It’s taking three strands of applications, three different panels, and three intense days of decisions to select the commissions and awards for this exciting new round of Unlimited. We’re looking, as always, to support work across different stages of development, but this time over three different ‘strands’ – we’ll be supporting new Main commissions and R&D awards, Emerging artists’ commissions, and also a clutch of International collaborative commissions, which takes the Unlimited brand to a wider geographic audience and gives these works greater reach.
The process of applying for an Unlimited commission or award changed this year and saw the introduction of a tiered application starting with an initial Expression of Interest stage. By the deadline last November, we had received a total of 269 Expressions of Interest from artists all over the UK, containing proposals for a wide ranging variety of works across all art forms: visual arts, theatre, dance, music, literature, combined arts and ‘other’.
From these Expressions of Interest, 60 projects were painstakingly shortlisted by our three panels, made up of arts sector professionals including independent artists and curators and each with a majority of disabled people, to continue to the next stage – refining and submitting full applications. Over the next few months, each shortlisted artist or company had one-to-one support from members of the Unlimited team from both Shape and Artsadmin, as well as some support from our network of allies to develop their full applications, which were submitted at the end of February.
This year, we also decided to announce the shortlisted works with the aim of committing to continuing to work with these artists and their projects, including those who don’t gain funding from us – we’re hoping to help them to find support through other means. These shortlisted artists will also now join the cohort of Unlimited alumni; we want to give as much support and recognition to them as we can, and we really hope the sector can come together to enable their projects to come to fruition, whether or not they do eventually gain commissions and awards from us on Tuesday.
The Main commissions and R&D awards were looked at first on day one, with the panel chaired by Ruth Gould, Artistic Director of DaDaFest. Day two saw the second panel, chaired by artist Aidan Moesby, selecting the successful applicants to the Emerging strand. Then day three, led by chair Sarah Pickthall, Director of Cusp inc, our third and final panel decided on the International applications.
These panels read and assessed the entire 269 Expressions of Interest between them, narrowing them down to the 60 shortlisted works – all before the physical panel selections take place, a difficult job in its own right given just how strong and impressive the proposals are.
The panels now go through each of the full applications on their respective strands and discuss the merits of each application, working together meticulously to make the difficult decisions to narrow down the lists. Each panel member casts their vote and, to make it fair, no staff from the Unlimited team Shape or Artsadmin have a vote.
The final decisions also need to be a good balance of art forms, project scales and geographical spread; Unlimited aims to fund work which is ambitious, demonstrates challenging and strong ideas as well as form, which is disabled–led, and shows some level of stretch and professional development for the artists or company. We want to fund great art and great creative ideas and so the task of whittling down these application is not one to envy.
When the decisions are made we then notify all of the shortlisted artists and prepare everything for the announcement on Tuesday 28 March at the No Boundaries conference in both Hull and Manchester. Jo Verrent, Unlimited Senior Producer, will be making the announcement in Hull, and Tony Heaton OBE, Shape Arts’ Chief Executive, will be representing Unlimited at Manchester. We’ll also be releasing the final list of commissions and awards in its entirety right here on the Unlimited Impact website, and across all of our social media channels – watch this space!