A few tips on applying for Grants for the Arts funding

If you’re applying for funding from the UK Arts Council, Grants for the Arts (often referred in shorthand as G4A) is likely your first port of call. Having fairly recently completed my first ever funding bid, I thought I’d share a few things to keep in mind.

First things first (after you’ve put the kettle on & settled down in a beanbag in your artist’s garret) read their guidelines in great detail. Print them off, get a highlighter, the works. Their guidelines change regularly (they have already changed since I sent my application just over a month ago), so I can only say here what is likely always going to be useful.

Along with their primary guidelines for application, they have sub-sections which go into more detail depending on what you’re applying for. Look through these as well & read any that seem relevant. Even if they don’t turn out to be relevant, you’ll be confident they’re irrelevant. Write down any questions you have. There is no need to feel stupid, words & sentences are often open to interpretation, it is likely there are some bits where you think ‘I think it means this, but I’m not sure…’

Then give them a ring because they actually want you to. I’m one of those people who at school rarely asked the teacher for help. This was a mixture of rubbish shyness, a ruthless independent streak & an element of (let’s be fair) arrogance. When told to phone them by my business mentor my immediate psychological reaction was ‘But, but, but…’ I assumed the people who answer these phones are constantly harrassed by neurotic creative folk, y’know those people at school who seemed to need their hand holding every step of the way. They don’t want me adding to this, surely?

But if the Arts Council are going to hand over money to you, they want to know you’ve really thought this through. All projects are different, full of nuance & subtle differences. That’s why it’s the arts, right? It’s difficult for them to convey in one set of guidelines how you make your contemporary naked dance production fundable for them, while also covering someone who wants to do a photography exhibition inside Mortimer’s Hole (one of Nottingham’s many sandstone caves, fyi). If you iron out any small details now, it will save your first application being rejected over something that could have been worked out if only you’d double-checked.

There is actually a part of the form where you fill in who you’ve already contacted over your project & in what context. By the time I finished mine I’d been to an event specific to giving guidance on applying for funding, emailed two different people (one of them the advisor at the event), & spoken to someone on the phone to check a few details. They were all friendly, helpful & interested in what I was up to. This all serves to give a person more confidence in their application, which shows.

It is also worth having a little ask around friends, & friends of friends, to see if anyone has been through the application process before. Getting some personal feedback is good. I found saged heads nodding & offering advice. One tip I’d add from this is give as much time as possible for your application. The smaller ones (under £10K when I applied) take around six weeks to get accepted or rejected. I’ve been advised most applications are rejected the first time around, they seem to want you to reapply to show you really mean it. This isn’t always practical, often we don’t know details of the project until it’s close to take-off.

The other thing that (I’ll be honest) surprised me, is that they want you to explain what you’re doing properly, in plain English. Quit yo jibber jabber, so to speak. One tip I got from the event I went to, was get someone who doesn’t know anything about your artistic practice or the project to read a draft of your Proposal section. They may be able to point out areas where you’re either being a bit dense, or a bit woolly. If you’re burying a proposal in arty jargon or theory & are unable to translate it into layperson’s terms, it may well be that you haven’t thought it through properly. You also need to consider (as with exam papers & similar) that the reader may be skimming through looking for nuggets, you want them to be scrawling ticks all over it. They will not spend three hours stroking their pretentious facial hair, rethinking the essense of time & space because you’ve been soo incredibly meaningful in your proposal.

So read their guidelines again & work out the key words. Which phrases make you think ‘Yes, I’ve a chance they will fund me’? Make sure these key phrases are actually in your proposal, not between the lines, but actually used. Tick tick tick. Use them again for good measure.

Do some research on projects similar to yours that have received funding, try to work out what their appeal was. Are they reaching new communities or breaking new ground in the arts? If so, how?

Financials? Do your sums & make sure it balances. You will need some sort of match funding, they rarely fund 100% of a project. Their up-to-date guidelines will give you an idea of percentages. They have a list on the website of other funding bodies you can have a look at. Also, in terms of e.g. ticketing income, be realistic about how many punters you will get to experience your show. Not depressingly realistic, just realistic. Or cynically optimistic, which is pretty much my approach to everything.

Now. You. You may be applying for a personal project, or taking the lead in a group. You will need to include a CV. Make sure it’s relevant, tailor it to your audience & your project. Why are you the best person to do this? In some respects, this whole thing rests on whether they think you can pull this off. This doesn’t neccessarily mean you should have oodles of directly relevant experience. Often you just need to show a certain passion, drive & dilligence to research (you’re doing research now, so pat yourself on the back).

Other supporting documentation? Some form of plan is good. I was advised to put in a Gantt chart (templates easily findable on the webs), but my project is fairly complex. Something which shows your timescale for marketing, practical stuff (but not in too much detail), meeting key people, developing your audience, that sort of thing.

Other than that, best of luck with it.

The funding bid in question was for the first Memories of the Future – October 2013. Sadly the bid has been rejected, so we are relying on our (confirmed) investment funds & support from UnLTD for Entrpreneurs.


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