We recently ran a joint event with The Space on how to improve applications – based on the Culture in Quarantine application process which involved the BBC, Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, and Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Read on for tips, drawn together from Alistair Gentry’s live tweeting on the day and the chat bar at the event!
The event included a range of speakers from many of the organisations involved. Jo Verrent from Unlimited began, setting the scene and noting that competition is on the rise as whilst application processes are slowly becoming more accessible to more people (check out #FixTheForm), the funds available aren’t necessarily increasing.
The last round of Culture in Quarantine had over 250 eligible applications and funded just 12 commissions which means under five per cent of those who applied got funded – so 95% didn’t – the level of competition was fierce.
Stephen James-Yeoman, Digital Arts Commissioning Executive, BBC, was the first guest, explaining that for the BBC, questions about funding relate to the fact that it’s public money and aimed at audiences – so for every opportunity they ask: is it a good use of public funds, and what do audiences get from this?
He spoke about the need for applications to be clear, compelling, and for ideas to be bold (helpful tip – BBC internal language for this is ‘editorial’). Check your idea – is it genuinely deliverable and is it achievable with the money, time, and resources available? (More TV biz vocab – ‘talent’ just means the people working on it, either visibly to audiences or behind the scenes as technical people, producers).
Answering the questions and following the brief and the criteria is essential. Your ideas might be great, but you won’t get anywhere if it’s not what’s been asked for. Meeting all the criteria is also no guarantee, but at least it gets you past the first hurdle of any assessment.
And if you feel you lack the experience that’s required, think about working with somebody who does as part of your application and project.
Next came from Unlimited, who focused on how applicants can give themselves the best chance with applications, mentioning a previous blog – Six steps to making any application the best it can be.
They started by commenting that whilst more and more funders have access funds to support artists in applications, sometimes they’re not advertised as much as they could or should be, so ask! Unlimited spent £16,500 on access support for its most recent round of commissions and recommends people give themselves the best chance they can by ensuring they have enough time – for the application, for getting access support…
Access to Work (the UK government’s scheme) for disabled workers (including artists) can also be helpful. It can be a slow, difficult, and frustrating process to apply for it, but very valuable once you have it and is usually in place for three years each time. Do check out the brilliant Disability Arts Online Access To Work Guide for more information. You do need to be in employment or a ‘viable business’ as a self-employed artist (which is obviously a bit of a slippery term, especially for artists who often don’t earn huge sums directly from their art practice) to get Access to Work.
They ended their section by reminding us that an artists’ worth is not the application: getting a commission or not is not a personal judgement on you, it’s about your application meeting or not meeting the criteria that were set out in the brief or call for applications. Easy to say and hard to accept sometimes, but true.
Faye Stewart, Relationship Manager at Arts Council England, talked about the importance of getting to grips with guidance material, designed to help everyone know what any funder is looking for and how they’re judging applications.
She was clear that it’s not annoying or unreasonable to ask questions or get clarity on the criteria and guidance materials if they don’t seem clear to you, because funders want the best applications. Getting confused or incomplete applications isn’t in their interests either!
There was a question on balancing, which is the term ACE use to describe the process they take to ensure funding with public money is representative of the country and of the diversity of audiences they reach. Balancing means that that across a whole range of commissions or opportunities things like gender, location, artform, and so on become relevant. It might be worth thinking about this when you’re applying and ensuring anything that could work in your favour is mentioned.
Someone asked where opportunities were promoted.
- You can sign up to The Space newsletter at the bottom of their homepage.
- The Unlimited newsletter at the bottom of ours.
- Artsadmin produces a weekly newsletter with an opportunities listings
- And so do all the Arts Councils – Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, and Arts Council Northern Ireland.
- BBC has many Twitter accounts – these two are most used for commissioning announcements: BBC Arts and BBC Arts Publicity Team
Rob Lindsay, Head of Programmes from The Space, was the last guest – tackling the question ‘where do people frequently get applications wrong?’
He repeated the previously mentioned need for clarity and fitting the brief, suggesting people double check that they have provided the information asked for. Whilst he suggested people spellcheck and proofread applications and ask somebody else to help them, he said that ultimately typos and other minor errors are not a big deal, they happen to everyone. What lets applications down is gaps in logic, context, the narrative of the work – and that other people were often better at spotting these than the person writing the application themselves.
He talked about ensuring support and reference material shows work in the best light and is specifically relevant to the application. Sometimes people don’t send any examples of other work at all, and this means an immediate no.
Budgets were also discussed. You won’t know everything in advance, but he recommended making budgets detailed and specific, because this helps sell your project as achievable and organised. Also, make sure you’re paying yourself and everyone in the project fairly and sustainably. Some applicants seem to think squeezing their own pay or the pay of collaborators makes it more likely they’ll be selected but the opposite is true.
Finally, he mentioned partners, and recommended people don’t drop names when they haven’t confirmed they want to and can support your project. Name dropping is a negative if the names aren’t on board!
At the end of the session, panellists and audience also added their own top tips:
- Be clear – use plain English and prioritise important information. Don’t be too specialist as it could confuse a panel and waste your word count allowance
- Treat funders like people. They are human too
- Use all the support available
- Be passionate, but not at the expense of clarity
- Make sure you read the brief
- Be kind to yourself
- Persevere – ‘Try, Fail, Try again, Fail again, fail better’
- And even though its hard remember a rejection now isn’t rejection forever and isn’t a reflection on you as a person
If you want to watch the event, there is a captioned recording of it available on The Space’s YouTube here and do take a look at some of the CiQ work we posted links to for people to watch during the break – all under 10 minutes.