More on funding

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Katherine from Making Your Mark left a detailed comment on yesterday’s blog post that I’m going to address here because she raises some important points.

[Katherine’s words are in italics.]

First – I too would have been very annoyed at the tenor of the comments you quoted. (BTW your link for the politician is ‘dead’). It did seem rather generic and sterotyped to me.

Thanks for alerting me to the broken link, Katherine, I fixed it – see what happens when you write impassioned blog posts after midnight!

Second – the Arts Council has been criticised for its last round of grant-giving and there has been an investigation and a report into the chaos which ensued. The report was published at the end of July.

Katherine linked to the report, which is here if anyone wants to read it.

Now on to the meat of what Katherine has to say:

As somebody who, a very long time ago, used to sit on the other side of grant giving machinery (some of which involved the arts) I can tell you that if there wasn’t a fee to pay to process the grant, there would be a whole load more applications from people without serious intent. The net effect of that would be that they would still need to be processed and that would mean money intended for arts would need to be diverted into administration. Administrators, if faced with this sort of situation, then end up devising ways of quickly scuttling applications to whittle them down to a serious few.

Fees are a crude way of diverting those who aren’t serious – but they generally work.

When I was talking about fees, I was only referring to fees for applying for exhibitions, not application fees for grants. Art Council England does not currently ask applicants to pay application fees but it’s possible that other funders might. This makes sense since Arts Council officers are already employed to do things like read applications. I can see a case for independent funders such as charities levying an application fee if they are in a situation where they’d otherwise be deluged by applications that they can’t afford to process but since I rarely apply for funding, I’ve no idea if it’s a common practice.

I have slightly more tolerance for paying an application fee for a grant application than I do for paying a curator to look at my work, which is what a non-refundable application fee to an exhibition amounts to. In the later case, I think that galleries are exploiting artists as a convenient funding stream. I think it’s a lazy and cynical ploy but artists are often so desperate for exposure that they tolerate it. I don’t mind shouldering some of the costs ONCE I’M SELECTED but I object strongly to subsidising galleries and other artists by paying a fee just to have my application looked at.

Incidentally, if any gallery owners or arts administrators feel they can justify this practice of charging artists non-refundable fees to apply for exhibitions, I’m happy to give you a platform on this blog to do so – drop me an email.

I understand and accept Katherine’s argument that some funders may end up spending all their funding on administration instead of actual funding, although I’d suggest that they might want to address the structure of their own organisation before using fees as a form of screening. Whether I was personally prepared to pay a fee for a funding application would depend on many issues, including how large the fee was and what percentage of applicants were funded. However, from my limited experience in filling out funding applications, most funders seem to prefer to weed out applicants by making the forms long and tedious! Katherine addresses this issue next:

The forms might also be complex – but similarly they tend to test out whether people have really thought through their idea – or whether they just have a good idea which they really need to go away and work on some more.

I agree with Katherine here. Although I loathe filling in any sort of form and the Arts Council forms make me cry, I have found them useful in defining the project that I was seeking to have funded. It can be very illuminating to be forced to analyse what you’re trying to do; who and where your audience is and how you’re going to attract them; what benefits your project will have for the wider community and what your definitions for success are.

Sure, it’s not fun but it can be worthwhile so I don’t mind that. What I do strongly mind is the idea that it somehow isn’t work. I feel there is a definite cultural bias towards anything artists do being regarded as Not Real Work simply because it’s artists who are doing it. This attitude was quite clearly displayed in the comment I took issue with yesterday. Apparently the person in question believes that artists sit around looking pretty and people throw money at them. Hahahaha, if only!

If I design posters, business cards or spend hours on the computer writing up grant proposals why is this somehow miraculously Not Work? If I spend ages working on my website is it Not Work just because I’m an artist? If I spend hours beavering away at something in the studio is it Not Work just because I don’t have an immediate buyer for what I’ve made?

I think this is partly ignorance – most people have no real idea of what artists do all day and many of them would be hocked if they saw the level of detail involved in an Arts Council England funding form or had to wade through the huge tomes of alternate funders with their myriad of different requirements. Anyone who has managed to get funding has invariably jumped through umpteen hoops to secure that money.

Part of the problem is that much of what artists do is speculative and the financial benefits are not immediately apparent or forthcoming. You apply for an exhibition that you might not get into; you apply for a grant because even if you don’t get it, it gets your name in front of the funders and that could pay off in the future; you edit your photos because some day you’ll need them for applications or magazine articles; you make work that you hope you’ll be able to find a venue for… and so on and so forth. So it’s not a simple ‘effort in = money out’ equation and a lot of people don’t understand our motivations to keep slogging away at something that we don’t get paid for. Like I said yesterday, some days I don’t understand it myself! But that’s just how it is. Unless you’re working solely to commission, most artists follow some version of this ‘just get on and make the work and hope the money follows’ system at some point in their careers.

You’d be really surprised how many people want to be given money without putting any sort of real effort into making a good case. Seriously.

Sigh, unfortunately I probably wouldn’t be surprised at all. When I was curating, I received some absolutely dire applications where it was clear that the person either couldn’t be bothered or didn’t have a clue what was required. And I was only asking for slides, a CV and an artists statement, which is nowhere near as complicated as a funding form.

I think that anyone who expects to snap their fingers and get public or private funding for any project, art-related or not, is staggeringly naive but a couple of rounds of filling in forms and writing endless begging letters ought to be enough to open their eyes. I remember talking with one of my tutors at art college and he said that a lot of initially promising projects that he was involved with floundered at the funding stage. Hearing that from someone who was relatively well established made it a lot easier when I got my first rejection letters from potential funders.

Finally, I don’t know any business which doesn’t incur marketing costs to get business and generate income. I’ve always seen time spent on grant applications and fees as exactly that – part of the normal cost of doing business. I don’t know why artists should expect to be let off ‘normal costs’ just because they’re artists.

I don’t believe that artists should be let off costs simply because they are artists and I also regard applying for opportunities as a necessary part of the costs of being an artist. However, the economy of the arts are undeniably weird. In what other business do so many people work for free so much of the time?

Hell, most of us spend money just being artists. I remember reading years ago that the average annual baseline costs for operating as an artist (studio fees, business expenses, materials etc) was about £5,000 – I imagine it’s gone up considerably since then. I have a studio at home partly so that I can afford to be an artist without a part time job yet my costs (art materials, printer ink, web hosting, exhibition costs and travelling expenses to shows etc) still average a couple of thousand pounds most years. And I’m not using a lot of expensive materials…

This would be fine if the arts were well paid and sheer hard work was enough to ensure success but I’m guessing we all know how that one goes!

So – bottom line. I agree with you – lots of artists exercise a whole load of skills other than their talent to try and make art work for them. On the other hand, any artist or organisation which factors in the costs of being business-like into the total equation is far more likely to succeed.

I totally agree and I think that anyone who goes into the arts expecting fame, fortune and everyone to fall at their feet is in for a very rude awakening. As artists we all need educate ourselves about the various financial options available to us. It’s vitally important to work out where you fit and what you’re comfortable with doing to fund your practice. But that’s a discussion for another day because it’s probably at least half a dozen blog posts!

I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

12 thoughts on “More on funding

  1. Nice response Kirsty – and I’ll feature the two blog posts on my blog on Sunday.

    One of these days I’m going to remember to get round to making money by mentoring and vetting grant applications!!! It’ll probably start with the words “READ the application form and ALL the notes….”

    [Reply]

  2. Nice response Kirsty – and I’ll feature the two blog posts on my blog on Sunday.

    One of these days I’m going to remember to get round to making money by mentoring and vetting grant applications!!! It’ll probably start with the words “READ the application form and ALL the notes….”

    [Reply]

  3. A few years ago I wanted to apply to the Arts Council for a public art project funding. I got the forms, wrote a proposal, estimated a budget, negotiated informally with various groups for matching funding etc. I took a rough draft to a mentor at the OVADA gallery in Oxford. She told that it was naive on my part to think I would get the sum I was asking from the Arts Council as my “status” as an artist was not significant enough. She advised me to start with a small project and ask for a small amount of money.

    I felt that the hoop jumping was not worth the potentially small payment. So in the end I trashed the big project and funded a smaller version myself with some matching funding from other involved groups. It was an interesting event but I have not attempted to work like that since.

    Artists are entitled to make a profit reflecting both the costs and desirability of their work. My time, however it is spent, is a cost.

    [Reply]

  4. A few years ago I wanted to apply to the Arts Council for a public art project funding. I got the forms, wrote a proposal, estimated a budget, negotiated informally with various groups for matching funding etc. I took a rough draft to a mentor at the OVADA gallery in Oxford. She told that it was naive on my part to think I would get the sum I was asking from the Arts Council as my “status” as an artist was not significant enough. She advised me to start with a small project and ask for a small amount of money.

    I felt that the hoop jumping was not worth the potentially small payment. So in the end I trashed the big project and funded a smaller version myself with some matching funding from other involved groups. It was an interesting event but I have not attempted to work like that since.

    Artists are entitled to make a profit reflecting both the costs and desirability of their work. My time, however it is spent, is a cost.

    [Reply]

  5. Thanks for the links, Katherine. I agree that there is probably money to be made from advising artists, although I don’t think I’d be any good at advising them on the whole grant applications thing since my advice would be ‘unless you need stacks of money, don’t bother, it’s quicker and easier to fund it yourself’.

    [Reply]

  6. Thanks for the links, Katherine. I agree that there is probably money to be made from advising artists, although I don’t think I’d be any good at advising them on the whole grant applications thing since my advice would be ‘unless you need stacks of money, don’t bother, it’s quicker and easier to fund it yourself’.

    [Reply]

  7. Hi Lorna, your comment is a great example of the sort of politicking involved with getting Arts Council funding. There’s definitely an element of ‘you need to have a track record’, which is fair enough, it’s public money and they need to know that you’ll use it well. Less positively, there’s also a widespread belief amongst artists that ‘your face needs to fit’ and people often don’t apply because they feel they’re not an art world insider. I wonder if this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because only the ‘insiders’ bother to apply.

    I’ve been told by those in the know that it’s worth applying just to get a record of applying and that eventually if you keep having a go, they’ll fund you. But I find the process so draining that I haven’t applied for a couple of years. I’ve also stopped doing so many projects with other people, so there’s been less need for funding.

    [Reply]

  8. Hi Lorna, your comment is a great example of the sort of politicking involved with getting Arts Council funding. There’s definitely an element of ‘you need to have a track record’, which is fair enough, it’s public money and they need to know that you’ll use it well. Less positively, there’s also a widespread belief amongst artists that ‘your face needs to fit’ and people often don’t apply because they feel they’re not an art world insider. I wonder if this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because only the ‘insiders’ bother to apply.

    I’ve been told by those in the know that it’s worth applying just to get a record of applying and that eventually if you keep having a go, they’ll fund you. But I find the process so draining that I haven’t applied for a couple of years. I’ve also stopped doing so many projects with other people, so there’s been less need for funding.

    [Reply]

  9. My time is worth money. The Arts Council, rightly, ask for a well planned proposal but this takes considerable effort. Funding application should perhaps be two tiered allowing an initial shorter assessment proposal?

    [Reply]

  10. My time is worth money. The Arts Council, rightly, ask for a well planned proposal but this takes considerable effort. Funding application should perhaps be two tiered allowing an initial shorter assessment proposal?

    [Reply]

  11. @Lorna.

    Lorna, you make an excellent point that your time is worth money, it’s one a lot of artists seem to forget. I know a lot of artists who just don’t bother applying for Arts Council funding because the money available to them as individuals is far outweighed by the time and effort it takes to apply.

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  12. @Lorna.

    Lorna, you make an excellent point that your time is worth money, it’s one a lot of artists seem to forget. I know a lot of artists who just don’t bother applying for Arts Council funding because the money available to them as individuals is far outweighed by the time and effort it takes to apply.

    [Reply]

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