This summer, Unlimited launches its next full awards round with more Partner Awards than ever. Before the full details of how to apply to Unlimited are published, we wanted to reflect on both our allies and partnerships and call out to the sector to join us in our quest to get disabled artists the platforms and connections they need to thrive.
We often say that Unlimited is nothing without disabled artists. This is true but it is equally correct to say that we are nothing without our allies and partners.
The arts sector is an ecology, and providing funds to an artist to develop or make work isn’t enough to get that work into that ecology alone. The need to navigate the sector, form alliances, partnerships and connections is vital.
There is a lot being said at the moment about the need to rebalance the creative sector and value artists more highly within it as they are (well, should be) at the very centre given it’s based on their artistry. This should happen and the ecosystem should rebalance but we will still need a network of supportive, generous, agile producers, promoters and venues who can take that work and get it to audiences and participants, within showcases and seasons, place it within festivals and events.
Art needs an audience. Artists need allies.
Unlimited runs an allies scheme. It’s not as developed as we’d like thanks to Covid-19 (we had to shelve some plans) but it’s a basic way for organisations and individuals to connect to us and us to connect back.
Anyone can join the allies network, get our monthly email highlighting what has happened and share relevant opportunities via our social media. We also give quick and simple advice or point people towards relevant resources and basically look to mutually support each other.
There is a level up from that – the allies list is where we go when we hit a request from an artist who needs support in developing a work. It might be advice on how to do something specific, or the opportunity to engage with an R&D sharing of something new and help form the next stage, or simply the chance to meet and share experiences.
Our Connects events are designed as opportunities for allies and artists to meet and mix, mutually building networks in specific geographic areas.
Our ultimate allies put their money where their mouth is and co-fund work with us. This is most often through ‘Partner Awards’ in our open commissions round. Last time, we piloted this process and co-commissioned with 5 organisations – Wellcome Collection, Farnham Maltings, Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust, GOSH Arts and Forma.
This of course brings in more funds – but that’s not the most important bit. These organisations have systems, processes, networks and their own ecologies that can help artists not just survive but thrive, helping build long term sustainable careers. Each partner takes on the support of their awarded artist, helping that artist grow their understanding about their field and what it requires.
Partner Awards have specific additional criteria in addition to the general Unlimited criteria. It’s not just about making the work you want to make, it’s about responding to a specific brief. Sometimes these are artform based, sometimes thematic, sometimes geographic – all depending on the partner and their needs.
Some artists love responding to a tighter brief, others less so – hence artists applying to Unlimited can do so twice, providing at least one application links to a Partner Award. Some artists find that their original ideas naturally fit into one or more of the partners criteria, others develop work that responds directly, inspired by the criteria – either is fine.
This time we’ve doubled our commitment and are partnering with 11 organisations across all of the award strands (main commissions, research and development and awards for emerging artists). Watch out for news on who these partners are and which strands they link to at the end of July!
Not every possible partner wants to or can co-fund an award in our open commissions process. For some the timescales don’t fit or the process just isn’t right. So with some, we develop strategic partnerships. The clue is in the name, they have to fit strategically with an area we are consciously trying to shift. This might be geographic – perhaps where we have had less traction in the past, or in an artform where we think our portfolio is less representative than it should be.
These vary widely and depend on our capacity – both human and financial. Currently we have four strategic partnerships up and running.
We wanted to extend the micro commissioning we had been doing beyond our artist alumni, but to do so needed some firm geographic boundaries to avoid being overwhelmed. We’ve partnered with Dadafest in the North West and Coventry UK City of Culture in the Midlands to kick out a total of £20,000 in small £1000 awards across both areas.
Dance has been underrepresented in our portfolio in the past so we’ve been planning for the last 2 years and are delighted we’ve been able to announce a major partnership with Siobhan Davies Dance Company as part of the CONTINUOUS Network programme working alongside the Baltic, Bluecoat and Tramway, Glasgow. The open call launched on Mon 13 July.
Not all of our partnerships are large, some are much smaller. For example, we are partnering with a team from UCL trialling tech at the intersection of the arts and sciences. The project aims to help improve our connectedness in the wake of COVID-19 and uses a smartphone app to measure their heart rates whilst watching mini performances. (We are currently calling out for a small online audience (paid) for two online events on 22 and 24 July at 6pm. Full details and how to sign up available here.)
What is Unlimited looking for now?
All organisations are welcome to join the allies scheme, but we are particularly looking for allies in some areas which we feel we have fewer connections than we’d like. We are looking for:
- more allies from Wales – especially as we are about to launch a publication and host an event as a culmination of a series called Unlimited Connects Wales (the event is on 5 August, full info available here and booking here).
- More allies from Scotland – we are also holding a Connects event in Scotland in August to celebrate Creative Scotland re-joining Unlimited as a funder, and would love to link to more allies across Scotland as we move into this phase.
- more allies based in and covering the South West of England, as it’s an area where some of our activity is under represented.
Many of us are urging that we focus on a return not to the old normal but a new normal where equality, diversity and inclusion are central, it’s a great time to link up with us and work together to ensure disabled artists and their exceptional work are part of our new cultural landscape.