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This summer, Unlimited launches its next full awards round. With over £500,000 to award, we wanted to take a step back to look at the historical data on who has applied for and received those awards. In the current climate, it’s especially important that all arts organisations, programmes, and schemes look at both achievements and shortfalls, and work out what more can be done to broaden the range of people they reach and support.
Unlimited was created to fill a ‘gap’ – the lack of disabled artists across all elements of our cultural ecology. This gap isn’t due to a lack of ability or talent but due to structural and systemic inequality within all aspects of the cultural sector: training, education, programming, and access throughout every level.
Unlimited has increasingly relied upon data capture to research and evidence gaps within many aspects of its operations and moulded its activity accordingly, creating strategic responses where possible to ‘fill those gaps.’
We wanted to share some of that data to set the scene before our next open application round. It’s a long but necessary read, please do grab a cup of tea before you delve in. Transparency is more important than ever right now.
Do we award the same artists over and over again?
Often, it can seem that we hear the same names again and again within any sector. This is something we monitor very carefully. We do not have a criteria for selection based on whether people have been awarded before, so it really is down to who applies and the selection panel’s perspective on those applications. In the last open Unlimited commissions round, 60% of all awards went to artists that had never gained an award from Unlimited before.
Our recent emergency micro awards have only been open for our alumni. Our alumni consists of artists previously awarded, shortlisted by us, or given bursaries to attend international events. Within our micro awards so far, 38% have gone to non-previously awarded artists. There is one more ‘Alumni’ round to go before we have the final statistics on these. We are also opening our micro awards up beyond the alumni in two new strands in partnership with DadaFest and Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 – these are open to all relevant artists, not just those we know.
Partnerships are a great way of helping us reach new artists who may not be aware of Unlimited. For example, 80% of those applying for our strategic partnership residency with CAS had never applied to Unlimited before, including the awarded artist, John McDonald.
Within England, we get more applications coming in from London-based artists than from anywhere else, usually just under a third of all applications. London is said to have more artists than any other area, and mirrors many other national programmes.
Historically, we also get significant levels of applications from the South East and the North. The South West is slightly behind and the Midlands has been our least successful region for artists’ applications. This is why our last few strategic awards were developed for South West and Midlands based artists, such as our residency commission opportunity with Chapel Arts Studio and a range of initiatives we’re working on with Coventry UK City of Culture 2021.
We have spent lots of time ensuring events take place in different locations throughout Wales, but we haven’t looked at geography in relation to where artists applying to us are based. This is something we are interested in doing this time round. And with Creative Scotland on board for the next round, we’ll be doing the same in relation to Scotland.
In terms of awards, across the last open set of awards and our strategic awards since then, 27% of artists have been based in London. 27% have been based in the South East, 13% in the North and also 13% in Wales, 10% in the Midlands, 7% in the South West and 3% in Scotland. We are therefore actively targeting allies in the Southwest and the Midlands to help us reach disabled artists living in these areas for our next round to help encourage them to apply. Having gained further funding from Creative Scotland, we’ll also be holding a summer event focused on Scottish-based artists and allies to let them know more about the programme.
The situation is complex when we talk about artforms, as so many works could be defined within many categories! Increasingly artists challenge the narrow confines of a single form and we fund more and more work that crosses artform boundaries.
Statistically our commitment to literature appears low, however we often find that it’s ‘hidden’ in other artforms. For example, within art labelled as ‘theatre’ or ‘combined arts,’ we are often funding playwrights and performance poets. However, we have only once supported a novel, poet or short story writer for work intended solely for the page, so this is a definite gap for us.
Visual arts, in data terms, is our highest scoring artform and where we have seen both most applications and most awards. However, this also includes visual arts work that is performative, including works such as Noemi Lakmaier’s Cherophobia, for example. In the past, Unlimited has been criticised for not supporting enough gallery-based visual arts work. Within the last open round, there were two main gallery-based exhibitions (Suzie Larke, ‘Unseen’, and Justin Edgar for ‘Reasonable Adjustment: The Disabled Armed Resistance Movement’), a large scale outdoor visual art installation (Anna Berry’s ‘Breathing Room’), and one of our strategic commissions was a visual arts-based residency with CAS which was awarded to John McDonald.
In terms of awards, across the last open set of awards and our strategic awards since then: 33% have been for visual arts, 26% for combined arts, 20% theatre, 10% literature, 7% dance and 4% music.
Dance and music appear the art forms most underperforming for Unlimited hence we are developing a strategic partnership with Siobhan Davies Dance Company and one of our new partner awards is with Sage Gateshead.
Usually, we receive applications from a reasonable range of gender identities. In the past, this has been: 53% female, 40% male, and 5% those who define their gender differently. This has included those choosing to define as non-binary, trans, and other. We know ‘trans’ is not a gender, and this framing in application forms, though common, is outdated. Until now, we have failed to provide any alternative way of capturing this information. This is changing this year and we are running some surgeries in the summer specifically for artists defining as trans to help them get to know the programme and opportunities in more depth.
In the past, we have only collected equal opportunities data anonymously at the application stage and haven’t asked awarded artists more than once. This is also changing from this year, as it means we can’t provide exact statistics for awarded artists across all areas in the way we would like. We can draw on our knowledge of the artists selected and which pronouns they asked us to use. The last open commissions round saw 48% of awarded artists using she/her/hers, 43% using he/him/his and 9% using ‘they/them/theirs.’
Diversity in the sexual orientation of our applicants and the way it is reported appears to have increased. Only 20% chose not to enter data. 54% of those who apply to us state they are heterosexual, with the rest defining as bisexual (11%), gay (7%), Lesbian (3%) and in other ways (5%), which has included queer and pan sexual.
The number of works that explicitly reference queer narratives or that are designed for queer spaces has increased as the programme has developed, partly led by strategic commissioning with organisations like New Queers on the Block/Malborough Productions. In the most recent round, a number of applications explicitly referenced sexual orientation, such as ‘Lesbian Pirates’ and ‘Brownton Abbey.’
The age of applicants has also remained reasonably similar and covers a wide spread. Only 4% of people chose not to enter data. Most applicants are either 25-34 or 35-44 (both at 29% of applicants). 4% are between 18 and 24, 10% are 55-64, and 2% are over 65.
We have been using the same format of questions as is used by Arts Council England, our primary funder, so we can make comparisons with their data.
The range of ethnicity of applicants applying to the open rounds varies round to round, with an average of 79% of applications coming from artists who define themselves as white.
Across the last open set of awards and our strategic awards since then, 70% have been awarded to artists who identify as white and 30% to those who identify as other than white (22% Black or Black British, 4% Asian or Asian British, 4% dual heritage and 4% other which was further defined as Iranian). Within our micro awards so far, 28% have gone to non-white artists.
In the next open round, we have developed a partnership with Bagri Foundation, specifically focused on artists who identify as Asian or from the Asian diaspora, and we’ll be running an event with them this summer to directly promote this.
As we operate according to the social model of disability, we do not measure or count impairment range. Within the last round however, we can see that awards have been granted to artists working thematically on mental health, hidden impairment and Deaf culture. The cohort also includes artists with learning disabilities, an artist who describes himself as having a stammer, one who describes herself as having albinism, and one who describes himself as deaf/blind.
Looking across all our alumni, we believe artists with visual impairment are under represented although one emerging commissioned artist and one R&D commissioned artist from our latest round both self-describe as visually impaired. Whilst we have awarded many learning disabled artists awards, most of these have been emerging artists awards and so we perceive a gap here too. We will run two surgeries in the summer to open up our process further to artists in both these areas as a result.
How do we monitor class and social mobility?
Since Unlimited began in this current form, the way in which the arts sector tries to measure ‘class’ has shifted.
We used to measure the range of educational levels of applicants and so know that 75% of those applying to our open rounds have either a University degree or a postgraduate degree, 9% had left education after secondary school, 7% chose not to tell us, 6% had a diploma or had attended other (non-university) courses and 1% had no formal education.
We now use the system adopted by Arts Council England which asks about the employment situation for your family/home for individuals at the age of 14, which is used by researchers in other sectors and ‘is widely agreed to be the best way to establish a picture of socio-economic diversity.’ We’ll be able to report on this data at the end of our next open round.
We are currently piloting ways of measuring intersectionality. We think that this will help us become clearer on whose voices we are missing and who we are failing to reach.
It’s proving a complex task however, so if there are other organisations or sectors successfully doing this, please do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can learn from your knowledge.