image of a girl in a trapeeze hoop
image credit Rachel Cherry

Saying goodbye and thank you to Spirit of 2012

Spirit of 2012 was one of the first additional funders to join Arts Council England to support Unlimited, back in 2013. After two grants, each covering 3 years, and a total of just under £1 million investment, Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited, looks back at what has been achieved thanks to Spirit of 2012’s support.

Unlimited was the first grant ever awarded by the brand new Spirit of 2012, a grant making programme set up to extend the positive impact and provide a lasting legacy from London 2012, with a focus on social change. This grant, which covered activity from 2013-2016 enabled us to launch Unlimited Impact and support disabled emerging artists, extend our geographical reach and deepen debate and discussion. It funded artists’ work such as Caroline Bowditch’s The Adventures of Snigel and Aidan Moesby’s Between Stillness and Storm, and supported activities with partners like Watershed,  Battersea Arts Centre, Farnham Maltings, Celf O Gwmpas, Bounce Festival and Summerhall, amongst many others. It was during this period we funded Diverse City to create a piece called Touched and bring it to Southbank Centre and worked with People Dancing to co-commission Sean Goldthorpe to create 11 Million Reasons, a stunning and impactful photography exhibition that’s still touring.

A second grant from 2016 – 2019 saw the establishment of a formal commissions programme for disabled emerging artists, enabling the support of artists such as Delson Weekes from Blink Dance Theatre, Thompson Hall and Ian Wornast, JoAnne Haines, Stephanie Anne Back and many more from across the UK. It also included mentoring support for artists, often those who were shortlisted.

The artists
The impact of these Spirit of 2012 grants has been profound:

“Doing the show was probably one of the best experiences of my life because for once I actually achieved something. I was standing up for all these people who had died. Who had taken their lives.” David said.

The facts and stats
The funding helped us and the artists we supported deliver a total of 738 events, performances and activities reaching at least 104,968 people, and if you include the social media reach of the direct work supported by Spirit of 2012, it has reached an impressive 227,424 people.

Evaluation and impact

During our time with Spirit of 2012, they polished their evaluation methodology, adopting a theory of change that was developed from the ground up in consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders across arts, sports and other areas of social engagement. This meant we engaged in fascinating debates about measures of confidence, happiness and social involvement, and means we can state that, when asked, 92% of those receiving funding or engaged in Unlimited/Spirit funded activity said they felt better about their life and future as a result of being involved in this project/event.

One of the best things about working with Spirit of 2012 was their robustness and willingness to engage in dialogue with us. They asked us to measure anxiety and happiness levels, for example, which some of our artists found problematic (anyone could always choose to opt out). We argued that according to the social model, an internal measure wasn’t that useful – could we not measure improvements (or the lack of) with access and social support instead? (apparently though anxiety levels improved by 15% and happiness levels increased by 34% for those involved in activities – higher than we’d anticipated). We also drew support from a peer group with other funded projects to improve practice in social impact measurement, sharing our Easy Read versions of surveys and recommending simpler language, images and less response choices overall for all materials.

Supporting the cultural sector
As with all our commissioned and shortlisted artists, additional support was provided through a range of professional development and training options including mentoring, micro grants, conferences and seminars and including linking people to others within the arts and cultural sector, including our current Unlimited Connects event series.

Supporting disabled people starting their careers in the arts
Spirit of 2012 also funded our Unlimited trainees based at Shape Arts, including Ollie, Emily, Becky and James, – and that’s something we are keeping on doing, funded through other sources, with our current trainee MJ.

Our trainees have been an essential part of Unlimited, helping us remove external barriers and enable access for disabled people starting their careers and also giving individuals build their confidence and learn how to acknowledge and articulate how they work best given their access requirements.

What did our funding relationship teach us?

We recently had a brilliant ‘farewell’ reflection meeting with the staff at Spirit of 2012 and reflected that we have learnt much about:

  • Evaluation and data collection – basically, everything can be data; it can all go in a spreadsheet!
  • Not to be scared to have the conversation – it’s ok to have differences of opinions, even with funders, and whilst everything is political with a small p, there is often a middle ground.
  • Trust the artists – they can always show us what we should be doing – and trust the process too (but we acknowledge that running different processes for different funders is really hard and takes time that could be used doing other things).
  • No programme or organisation can do everything – the job is still not done. Emerging disabled artists are still not meeting an equal playing field, but instead still meeting barriers and discrimination.

But we aren’t ending this relationship downhearted, oh no. Instead, we are pushing out content all month (February 2020) to remind us of all the artists, resources, events and activities, including our great films and tips on accessible recruitment, commissioning and events.

Keep an eye open over the next year for Spirit of 2012-supported work from artists such as Mohammad Barrangi Fashtami, Ellen Renton, Sonny Nwachukwu, Chris Pavia, and Carmen and Toby Peach, and catch artists supported by our work with Spirit of 2012 featuring at  Southbank Centre’s Unlimited festival from 9-13 September 2020.

No one can believe it’s been 6 years since we started this relationship, it has gone so fast and we have learnt so much. To everyone at Spirit of 2012, a massive Unlimited thank you for everything we have been able to achieve thanks to your investment. Thank you.