Funding FAQ: What the hell is arts funding?

Here’s some useful information for visual artists and arts practitioners in the UK who haven’t applied for arts funding before. I’m always keen to help demystify how getting arts funding works, and originally prepared these resources for art students at Sheffield Hallam University – hopefully you’ll enjoy them / find them useful too!

Beginners guide to arts funding in the UK

So, here’s the situation:

You want to make something interesting happen…
You have an idea you can’t achieve on your own…
You need money for a project..

You (probably) need funding!!!

Funding for visual arts in the UK

There are quite a few different routes to funding your visual art projects, and in the diagram I have tried to name and explain the ones I come into contact with most often as a practicing artist.

If you prefer listening to info, Anna Hart also covers lots (but not all) of this information in Episode 4 of The White Pube’s Podcast

Click the image to ENLARGE

How do artists fund their projects?

Self-funding & sales

In my experience, the vast majority of artists self-fund (at least part of) their practice through selling something, or a mix of things. This might include:

  • Selling your time – this is where you work for someone else (to achieve their goals), and they give you cash! It looks like working other jobs (any job – from minimum wage in hospitality, admin, labouring, factories, IT or whatever – right up to senior management jobs), or working as a gallery tech, or running workshops, or doing paid advisory, mentoring, teaching or tutoring.
  • Selling stuff – this is where you find other people who’d like to own something you’ve made or got someone else to make (or something you otherwise own). This might include things like selling artworks, prints, patches, badges, merch, things you have made yourself, or selling other ‘products’. You might do this via your own online shop / social media (you get to keep all the cash, but you have to find all the customers), or via a commercial gallery / existing marketplace (where someone else helps you find customers, but takes a % of the cash).
  • Selling your ‘cultural capital’ – technically, this is probably more of a “rental” than a “sale”. It’s money that you make from other people / organisations / businesses who’d like to be associated with your particular type of ‘cool’ or have access to your networks. It might manifest in things like selling sponsorship space on a printed programme / website / event, or through doing paid promotional posts on social media.
  • Running another business – lots of artists are entrepreneurs! They use the skills they hone in selling themselves / their work, and identifying ‘gaps’ in what already exists in the world to set up and run businesses. Again, this might be anything – from gardening, hairdressing, or plumbing to video production, event management or speciality retail.
  • Passive income – some artists get (some or all of) their income in ways that require little to no effort to earn and maintain. At the extreme end, this might be where people (with super rich parents) have a ‘trust fund’ – money that they get paid regularly from (expensive) investments in stocks & shares. Others might get rental income – from a property they have bought and rent out (or sublet at a higher price than they pay to their landlord), or AirBnB-ing a spare room, or from equipment they own and lease to other people to use. Others might have made an upfront investment of time and effort to create online content (or other digital products) that others pay for (eg online videos, resources, courses, apps etc). 

Hopefully, just seeing these things written down starts to give you some ideas about ways you might self-fund your art practice and projects.


Donations & Crowdfunding

Increasingly, artists are calling on their ‘crowd’ (the people who know and care about what they do & make) to help fund more ambitious ideas, on-going projects and help them keep going. You’ll probably already have heard of (or backed someone) on Crowdfunder, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo or GoFundMe. You might even support your favourite creators via a subscription platform like Patreon or Ko-Fi? Some local governments and big funders are also starting to use ‘matched funding’ via crowdfunding platforms as a way to make their own decisions about which projects to support.

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

You’ll need to set up a campaign, usually on an online crowdfunding platform. This is a space for your to communicate your project aims and ideas via text, images, videos etc. Then you’ll need to get other people to back you and pledge their cash to your project.

SEARCH TIP: There’s lots to learn about different types of crowdfunding. Check out these Beginners Guides for more info – and check out my crowdfunding resources library.

Crowdfunding quickstart guide banner image
Crowdfunding - Picking The Right Crowdfunding Platform
Map & Build Your Crowd - V2 - Rachel Dobbs - CC BY NC SA

Bursaries

From time to time, you’ll see bursaries offered for artists. Bursaries are an amount of money given to a person by an organisation (such as a university, or arts sector support organisation like a-n), to pay for things like study, travel, training or to have help with living costs while working unpaid (maybe on R&D). These are usually for smaller amounts of cash (eg upto £1,000). Sometimes also cover the full costs of a particular course / training. Often, there will be some kind of ‘criteria’ for who can & can’t apply. This might be based on things like local areas, different artforms, career-stage, your age / ethnicity / gender / sexuality / disability etc. 

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

Usually, you’ll have to make an application, answering the questions the organisation asks, and demonstrating why this will benefit you.

SEARCH TIP: Try searching artist bursary on Twitter – to see what type of things are available right now.


Commissions

Individuals, communities, arts organisations, museums etc sometimes advertise for artists (or approach artists directly) to take on a commission. A commission is where an individual or organisation formally chooses an artist to do a special piece of work, in exchange for payment. Commissions range from small to MASSIVE. It could be someone paying you £50 to do a portrait of their pet. Or someone paying you MEGA BIG BUCKS to make a giant piece of public sculpture like the Angel of The North. Often there is a set budget, and a set of aims that the commissioner wants to achieve. This means you don’t have total free reign! However, this is often a way that artists make larger and more ambitious projects than they could otherwise achieve. 

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

Depending on the request, you might need to make a proposal, with some sketched out ideas of what you’ll do/create, an outline budget, and plans for how to undertake the project. Often, applications will be shortlisted, and if you make the shortlist, you may be interviewed by a panel and/or asked to work up your ideas further.

SEARCH TIP: Try searching commission at the Arts Council Jobs page – https://www.artsjobs.org.uk/search/ – to see what type of things are available right now.


Awards & Prizes

Some arts & non-arts organisations offer one-off or annual cash prizes (sometimes attached to exhibition opportunities). These are selected by a jury (a group of experienced people, usually art professionals) who look at the applications. Application are invited either through open-calls (anyone can apply) or via nominations (someone in the ‘artworld’ needs to know about your work, and nominate you). These are sometimes really BIG BUCKS amounts (£20k – £30k) or smaller amounts (£500 – £5000). But, a win is a WIN, right? 

WARNING: Often, open-call prizes will charge an application fee. This means applying to lots of open-call prizes can be a costly business. The chances are, you won’t win them most of the time. Think of applying for art prizes like expensive scratch-cards.

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

Usually, you’ll have to make an application, send upto 10 digital images of your (best, most prize-worthy) existing work, an artists’ statement & a CV. Often, you’ll have to pay an application fee.

SEARCH TIP: Have a look at some of these links. You’ll have to do some sifting – not everything listed on these links will be an Award or Prize.

http://fundingforartists.org.uk/artists

https://newcontemporaries.org.uk/submissions

https://twitter.com/ArtistOpenCalls

https://twitter.com/ArtRabbit

– Search #ArtPrize on Twitter & Instagram


Trusts & Foundations

Trusts and Foundations are charities with a private income. This might come from mega wealthy philanthropists, businesses or other sources. Or from an endowment – a donation of money or property that is invested in stocks & shares etc to produce on-going passive income for an organisation. 

Each Trust or Foundation has its own set of charitable aims & goals. They make grants to individuals and organisations who propose activities or projects that fulfil the Trust or Foundation’s own aims. Through the projects they fund you to do, you do the work (or make the change in the world) that they want done.

Each one has a different focus, and there are 100s of them. Many of them won’t give out cash to individuals (they only want to fund organisations, or other charities), but SOME will. You need to find those specific ones!!

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

Usually, you’ll have to make an application, with a proposal of clear ideas of what you’ll do/create (and why it’s important / helps them fulfil their aims), an outline budget, and plans for how to undertake the project. You may also need to answer specific questions the organisation asks, and demonstrate why this will benefit you.

SEARCH TIP: There’s not a super easy way to search for these for free – you’re going to have to put in the research time (sadly), but here’s a few places to look first:


Regional & Local Public Funders

Your local government will (from time-to-time) have cash to spend on supporting arts & culture. Part of this will be income from Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) & Section 106 payments from housing & property developers. This money needs to be spent on improving the local area and its facilities. However, this might be difficult to access at first! 

Keep your eyes peeled for local announcements of specific funding calls. Look out for tenders for work / projects from your local authority. And get to know who your local councillors are (see: https://www.writetothem.com). Alongside larger village / town / city-wide funds, each Councillor should have access to a small annual pot of funding. This will be £500 – £2500-ish (spread over many projects) that needs to be used for local community purposes. Perhaps they’d like to use some of this to support a project you are doing? Especially if it benefits local people!!

Local Housing Associations are also often keen to fund creative projects. These need to benefit their residents and improve their lives in some way.

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

Either, look out for specific funding calls (and apply), or make contact with your Local Arts Officer (if there is one at your local council) to see what types of opportunities are available.

SEARCH TIP: Start following your local council (and elected mayor) on social media & sign up to their newsletters & funding alerts.


National Public Funding Bodies

OK, so this is the one that people are often really talking about when they are talking about arts funding! Depending on where you are in the UK, you might be applying to Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland or Arts Council England for funding for creative projects. These national arts councils use money from central government and the National Lottery to make grants to organisations and individuals to support arts & culture in the UK. Arts Council England is the one I have most experience of (as that’s where I live). 

Arts Council England fund National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs). This includes (big) art galleries / art centres / presenting venues, museums, libraries, visual art / dance / music / literature / theatre organisations, festivals, rural touring networks and sector support agencies.

They also fund individuals & organisations via National Lottery Project Grants and Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP).

Funding FAQ - DYCP vs Project Grants title image

For a head-to-head comparison between these schemes, see my post – Funding FAQ: DYCP vs Project Grants

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

You’ll have to make an online application, with a proposal of clear ideas of what you’ll do/create (and why it’s important / helps the funder fulfil their aims), an outline budget, and plans for how to undertake the project. You may also need to answer specific questions the funder asks, and demonstrate why this will benefit you and/or your community.

You’ll find the full set of questions for National Lottery Project Grants here, via the ACE Cheatsheet

And the full set of questions for Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) here:

So, how do I actually get funding?

Now that you have a better idea of the different types of funding that are available to you as an artist, let’s move on to the hard part – actually getting the cash you need to make your ideas a reality!!

In its simplest form, what you’ll need to do now is:

  • Develop ideas
  • Build relationships
  • Grow your track record
  • Write proposals

I’ve already written some pointers to help you out here – check out the following resources…

Arts & community fundraising

There are lots of ideas about how to develop ideas for arts & community projects in this Quickstart Guide to Arts & Community Fundraising

Here’s a video course I have made that takes you through the process of developing ideas for funding applications – Social Making: Arts and Community Fundraising Online Training with Rachel Dobbs 

Here’s a video playlist talking through lots of aspects of fundraising, including writing applications – Fundraising: What You Need to Know

What if writing proposals is really hard / impossible for me?

Perhaps you find writing proposals, applications and/or budgets to be a barrier because of a specific access need? 

For example – maybe you are D/deaf or disabled, have an on-going physical or mental health condition. Or you might have a different way of processing the world – eg dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, aspergers, ADHD, Autism etc.

If so, contact the funder you are applying to, to see what pre-application Access Support they can offer. 

Pre-Application Access Support

Sometimes, they will offer things like:

  • an alternative way of making your application (by video, spoken text or interview conversation, BSL applications etc)
  • paying for a support worker to work with you to get the application written
  • paying for translating applications made in BSL into written English

They will often ask you to tell them things like:

  • what type of access needs you have
  • which parts of the application process are a barrier for you
  • the type of support you need (eg – time with a support worker, or BSL interpreter)

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO:

Contact the funder (by phone or email) to ask what pre-application Access Support they can offer. Make it clear that the support you require is to do with a disability.

If the funder does not offer any pre-application Access Support, I’d recommend getting a friend or colleague to help you out. They might be able to help by doing things like:

  • taking notes while you speak through your ideas
  • editing your notes and helping you to get the right information into the right question headings
  • helping you to break down ideas and map against a budget / costs

I also find the Otter app super useful for taking voice notes / and turning them straight into text.

TOP TIP: If you have an on-going access need, are self-employed, and need to make regular applications for funding, you could also apply for the government Access To Work scheme. Here’s an Easy Read factsheet from Disability Arts Online explaining what you need to do to register.


If you find these resources useful, let me know in the comments below, or on twitter @RachelDobbs1. All of the resources I produce are available to download for FREE, but if you’d like to contribute to my future projects, say thank you or just do something nice for a fellow creative practitioner, feel free to donate by clicking the button below…

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