Covid-19 changed everything across the globe. Since March, like every other arts programme in the UK, Unlimited has shifted, tweaked and adapted. Now, six months in, we are taking stock of where we are, what we did and what we could still do.
Moving things online
What have we done? One answer is that Unlimited kept going and simply put everything online. It’s easy to write ‘simply’? It wasn’t that simple. We had to learn about Zoom and other platforms, and add in access as we went along.
We commissioned a great piece from Sarah Pickthall about some of the often forgotten edges of online access and took notes from strong guides on running accessible meetings and events, such as those here and here. We also commissioned a series of information videos from Ben Pugh to help artists get thinking about digitising work.
Anti-racism, data collection and more transparency
There can’t be a person in the cultural sector who is unaware of the conversations currently ongoing about racism in our industry. We have upped our data collection and our commitment to increased transparency to respond to initiatives such as #PullUpOrShutUp which have gained profile linked to #BlackLivesMatter and #FreelanceTaskForce. This reporting is part of being open about what we do and how we do it.
More opportunities for arts freelancers
In the last six months, we have contracted 115 freelancers with individual contracts ranging from £120 to over £20,000, and totalling £87,000. Just over a third were additional opportunities created due to Covid-19. These include our new freelance arts support role, speakers for events, all our access workers, blog writers, artists taking over Instagram, our representative on the Freelance Task Force and more. 67% of them have been disabled people and 19% of them have been freelancers of colour.
New grants and awards
We’ve given out 107 grants and awards worth over £123,000. These include our micro awards (including the pilot, and the May, June and July rounds), research bursaries with Wellcome Collection, and top up awards to Unlimited contracted artists to help digitise work. 100% of these have been to disabled artists and 30% have been to artists of colour.
It felt essential to find new ways to keep getting money to artists. With careful reallocation of budget, we created over 75% more additional awards, which tested and stretched our team’s capacity. One immense downside was the inability to meet the need in the sector. For our alumni micro awards, for instance, we could only fund 48% of the applications, which was distressing for all concerned.
We’ve run 13 events online – 50 % more than we’d planned. We’ve reached audiences ranging from 7 to 75 (with a total of 450) – many of our events are for small groups intentionally for access. Follow us on social media for more events planned such as Reimaging Arts Commissioning with Bagri Foundation on 11 September.
Next Award round
We are going ahead with our next award round without delay – believing that disabled artists needed more to thrive than micro awards and small bursaries. Amazingly, every partner we had for our Partner Awards stuck with us and both Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland were able to join. All the information about how to apply is here and we are running a series of blogs to explore aspects of the process.
We recognise that there are barriers for applying for any award scheme and so:
we paired up with Arts Council England to run a series of area-focused ‘Finding out about Funding’ information sessions for disabled people who we’ve not funded before; we’ve have a series of Focus sessions for artists under represented within our awards to date (learning disabled artists, visually impaired/blind artists and trans and non-binary disabled artists); and we are running surgeries with others, for example with Candoco and #WeShallNotBeRemoved.
Please get in touch if you’d like one of us to speak about the awards to people you know.
The future of Unlimited
We’ve kept going with our Transition programme – which will take Unlimited from being a programme delivered by Shape Arts and Artsadmin to being an independent organisation. This has included the formation of an advisory group, recruiting and contracting our transition team, a series of interviews with staff, workshops with current stakeholders and a survey about how Unlimited is perceived which had 265 responses.
In general, Unlimited’s work is perceived very positively by current audiences with:
- 82% feeling that we delivered our core function of commissioning and co-commissioning ‘very well’ or ‘quite well.’
- 89% agreeing or strongly agreeing that we create opportunities for disabled artists to achieve their ambitions.
- 84% agreeing or strongly agreeing that we broaden the perception of what disabled artists can do.
There is always more that can be done – the survey calls us to increase the focus on embedding disabled artists in the cultural sector, develop more relationships with communities outside of the arts sector bubble, broaden international work, and to be more transparent about how we support artists outside of the commissioning work that we do.
In the autumn we will start to determine the form of the new organisation, including where it is to be based – exciting times! As part of this, we currently have a call out for new board members who will be part of developing the new organisation. Please think about applying or share the information with anyone who might be interested.
Throughout the last 6 months, our staff have been incredible. We created a Staff Art Fund so everyone could buy work from disabled artists and improve their home working environment (see some of the work people bought here and here). As lockdown eases in some parts of the country, we are looking at how the staff who wish to can safely return to both Shape Arts and Artsadmin, and how we can continue to support our staff who would rather work from home, including colleagues on the Government’s shielding list.
Soon there will be a short lull as many of our team attend a socially-distanced creative retreat thanks to the incredible Wild Rumpus who have generously donated The Forge to artists, makers, small organisations and programmes this September. It’s a space ‘to connect to nature, to think about future work and dream up new plans, to gain a fresh perspective and reimagine our place in the world’ so absolutely perfect for us at this time as we reflect on all the above.