A photo of two tables and two easels leaning on an exposed brick wall. On the tables and easels sits abstract, colourful artwork, seemingly for sale.
Hannah's work. Image courtesy of the artist, credit Shoot Me Club.

Neuro-Insurgent Horizons: Equal access to arts funding

The Queen of distraction (Hannah Aria) presents a condensed version of her research which examines the ways in which neurodivergent artists can gain equal access to funding in the arts. Hannah’s research relates specifically to Arts Council England. For more information on Arts Council Wales and Creative Scotland, please refer to their websites.

(Disclaimer: Excessive use of hashtags and exclamation marks).

The idea of a dyslexic, dyspraxic, dyscalculic, single mother with Irlens syndrome and ADHD writing an academic paper about equal access to arts funding’ is quite hilarious. So, that’s what I did. I am a ‘go hard or go home’ type (although we are all at home lately anyway, right!). I decided to take a leap of faith and look for solutions to tear down all these systemic barriers (pesky systemic barriers). Ever the optimist!

I  may have an above-average IQ, but basic common sense and everyday organisational tasks pose a real challenge to me some days. I have always had ‘beyond the box’ ideas that I wanted to share with the world but without support or financial backing, I struggled to progress.

In 2019, I was still questioning my status as a ‘Disabled Artist’ and debating the age-old Social Model vs. Medical Model of disability. Finally, this year, I made peace with who I am, publicly declaring from the roof tops (of Twitter and LinkedIn) my neurodivergent status and embracing my difference (cue Greatest Showman soundtrack ‘This is Me’). All of this from one year of research and professional development (thank you Mercury Creatives!). Out and proud with a few suggestions to the arts funding world and hopefully practical help for fellow neurodivergent artists.

Every dissertation begins with research, right? (Or lots of procrastination and unnecessary stationary orders #guilty…) After basic internet trawling, I was really encouraged to find organisations like Unlimited, Shape Arts, and Disability Arts Online providing essential content with high quality work. The main purpose of my investigation was to examine the possible difficulties that neurodiverse artists may face when applying for arts funding in the hope of identifying solutions.

Key lines of enquiry included applying for various arts funding grants and requesting Access to Work (ATW) support. I visited events in person and online, facilitated by arts funding bodies and various professional development programmes (Sensory overload central). Between spates of lying down in a dark room to recover from information overload and inaccessible delivery formats, I did learn a lot!

The 2020 Let’s Create Agenda from Arts Council England is ground-breaking for us neurodivergents! Equity has finally been introduced and taken seriously (25 years later). From a legal, policy perspective, there has never been a better time in history for neurodivergent artists to get access to arts funding.

A photograph of a white woman with pale pink, curled hair. She is wearing a red top and a small heart necklace. She is smiling at the camera.
Hannah Aria. Image courtesy of the artist.

Oh, and then there was Corona! (#plottwist). To my amazement, the Arts Council literally moved mountains in the spaces of a few months. Like an angelic saviour swooping in to save the arts, barriers came crashing down and a level playing field appeared. The 10% capital requirement was removed! Disabled Artists and Individual Artists were given priority support and an unseen revolution took place! In the midst of economic crisis and great tragedy, the policy changes opened the gates to neurodivergent artists with open arms.

This was and is HUGE! My concern is that unless people have spent a year studying this…do people even know? Have they already disqualified themselves and are unaware of the support available? (Imagine me with a megaphone in a high vis jacket) inviting neurodivergents to get applying, use the access support available and be part of the revolution.

If you are dying to read the long, extended version see the link at the end of article, but for the majority of us that want to skip to the good bit, here are my key lessons!

What I discovered and some very basic advice: 

  1. Access to work is ‘Britain’s best kept secret.’ It is both brilliant and a total ball ache. Apply anyway and persevere!
  2. You do not need to make the threshold turnover to access ATW if you are a start-up business in your first year, so don’t be put off.
  3. Freelancers and Sole Traders can apply to Access to Work too!
  4. Make use of disabled student allowance if you are at Uni! It is treasure from heaven so use it!
  5. Arts Council England will pay for access support to write applications. I did not know this!!!
  6. You can access audio files of most ACE documents if you email them and request. This is not just for visually impaired people. It really helped me process information.
  7. Most bursary and commission applications will provide you with access support if you request it, or you can often use an alternative method like a video recording.
  8. Develop a basic access needs template to send ahead of any meeting or external training to save you all the awkward conversations and clearly state your case for reasonable adjustments.
  9. Asking for reasonable adjustments does not make you a diva. I am training myself out of an ingrained habit of apologising for being such an inconvenience (Read up on The Social Model of Disability for reinforcements). #NotADiva
  10. The art world can be challenging at the best of times, but your unique perspective is needed to bring balance to the neurological force. Join the insurgence.

I hope this helps!

Queen of Distraction

Hannah Aria is a neurodivergent artist, workshop facilitator, and social justice advocate. Her recent dissertation evaluates and highlights gaps in equal access to arts funding, combining theoretical and pragmatic perspectives. You can read Hannah’s full dissertation here:

For more information on Access Support offered by funding bodies, please refer to their websites: Arts Council England’s Access Support, Arts Council Wales Help and Support, Creative Scotland Help With Your Application.