Let me start with this, I'm not an expert. I'm not here writing up a winning solution that will one - two - three BAM get you funding but I am here to talk about how applying for Arts Council funding, regardless of if you get it or not, can really genuinely help your project.
So you've got a great idea, You want to fund it independently so that you can maintain ownership of it, or you've got a load of festival or arts event interest but the costs are just not adding up and you cant work out how to make it happen.
This is a good point to start thinking about Arts Council funding, Even as an early career stage artist, a newly formed theatre group or a crazy festival designer/builder it is entirely possible to get help with you project if you've planned it well enough! And the Grantium application system is there to help you prove just this - that you have planned and could carry out your crazy arse project.
do you have a log in? if not sign up today and apply - its takes up to 5 working days to get set up on the system and quite often by then the initial energy to write the bid has run out (perhaps this is why they do this)
Read the funding guidance sheet, I’d suggest starting with the eligibility questions and working from there - make sure you can get funding before you go on with the application. A lot of things can be funded though, including work at festivals, theatre events, researching and developing new pieces, help with the costs of a tour and installations.
Allow yourself plenty of time to read the instructions clearly. The system is designed to be very different to any other online portal (possibly to put people off yes.) It saves you time to take your time.I copy and pasted the questions into a word document so I could work on them and check word counts outside of the Grantium portal.
How much money do you need?
Sit down and work this out carefully - its likely to be more than you think. Remember to add together ALL your costs from transport, to equipment to your time to the price of expert help. Remember to add a contingency figure of at least 10%. Dont panic if some of the costs are things the arts council wont cover (i.e. buying second hand equipment) but check your costs against the no fund list. Its worth remembering that Arts Council grants rarely cover the entire costs of a project but by writing the list you are allowing yourself to work out the true cost of the activity you want to fund and then from this you can work out what you would like to apply for funding to cover.
Are you being lent equipment, time or workshop space? Are yourself or any other arts professionals volunteering on your project? remember to work out how much this would of cost if you were paying for it and add it to your project costs. This is your Support in Kind funding - and its a very important factor when it comes to working out not only how much your project really costs and how valuable your volunteer support is but also what percentage of your overall costs is already funded.
It supports the bid if they recognise the names of the organisations who support you. Think of it like a network that they should want to be part of. The metaphor would be talking your way into the cool group of people at a party where you are unfamiliar. It’s easier if you have a mutual friend. Don’t be too clichey. Speak professionally about your contacts.
So how much do you need?
and how much of this are you expecting the Arts Council to fund? Its worth remembering at this point that the Arts Council rarely fund more than 80% of a projects costs and ideally you need to find around 40-50% of the costs from other sources - The more you fund from other sources the keener they are likely to be to match fund you. Funding from other sources shows that your project is marketable, likely to happen and well organized.
Other funding does not have to be confirmed. it can be expected - i.e. ticket costs, expected tour dates and other funding that you have applied for.
under 15 or over?
Arts Council funding goes in two streams - under £15,000 and over £15,000. As an individual doing your first bid its probable that you will be looking at the lower catagory, The main difference in applying for funds is the time scale concerned - 6 weeks turnaround on a decision for below £15,000 and 12 weeks for above.
Tackling the bulk of the bid
It really worthwhile thinking of arts council funding bid writing as an excercise in planning exactly how your project is going to be organised and run instead of a process that is necessary to hopefully getting funded.
Whilst the online Grantium funding portal can be a bit of a pain in the backside to start with it is a fairly simple process.
To avoid being overwhelmed, the best thing i’ve found to do is to formulate some answers to the basic questions the bid is asking for before you log in to start your application. This give you the chance to decide for yourself wether the project you are working on is at a point where you are ready to apply for funding or wether you still have some planning to do.
There are 3 main sets of questions you will need to answer;
What are you doing?
What are you trying to achieve?
Why is this important to your artistic development?
This boils down to “Is this a good idea?”
All of these questions need to be answered in than 250 words or less. Have a start by writing down a concise statement of your artistic idea, even if you don’t get funding this is a vital for presenting to schools or adding to your website, its surprising how hard it is to shorten down these statements but its a really good way of working out exactly what you want to achieve and why.
Try not to build unnecessary elements into your project just to get funding. Fulfilling these will drain time and financial resources away from your initial idea. Rather try to identify the elements your project addresses, which benefit the public or others around you. A good sound idea should speak for itself. But spell it out! If possible try to talk to others around you about your idea. They may identify ways of saying things positively that you hadn’t thought of. Also it looks good to have sought advice from a variety of sources.
whos involved? and what is their/your relevant artistic background?
Whos going to see or take part in the work?
Whos your target audience?
What they are really asking here is why is your project worthwhile? What is it about you and the audience that makes funding this a good idea?
Personally to tackle this bit I like to write the concept in the middle of a bit of paper and sit down with a cup of tea and brainstorm all the ways in which my project can reach out to people. This can be really interesting artistically as it makes you look at how you can adapt your project to make it open and worthwhile.
Raising the question of “why should somebody/anybody pay for me to do this” is artistically very valuable too - who/what are you doing the work for?
Make the proposal fit the work, don't make the proposal fit the grant requirements .... Because if it's a successful bid you have to deliver it, so it helps if it is realistic.
When it comes to talking about yourself and your fellow artists don't be afraid to blow your own trumpet. Make sure the links to your website are up to date or attach a good CV - with pictures in it! Remember you are never going to be able to meet these people so you need to get across the essence of who you are and why you are a fabulous artist in 250 words. If you're struggling get a friend to do it for you, whatever you do don't decide to do it with a bunch of mates pissed round the table at 4am - I can promise you its not a winner! (although it sure is funny the next day!)
How are you going to reach your audience in the short or long term?
Money - Who’s managing the budget? have you done it before?
Activity plan, what are you planning to do and when?
Evaluation, how are you going to evaluate your project?
With this little selection what they are looking to see is Can you pull this off? You need to present an organised and well thought through plan to explain exactly how and when you will. Again this is totally vital for any artistic project so its no time lost working it out.
Writing out a good evaluation and activity plan will sharpen your focus on exactly what you want to achieve and why and how/when its going to happen. Quite often i find at this point that my projects likely to take a lot longer than i think - Something thats pretty vital to know. Remember to add in time for research, meeting other artists and evaluation. Remember that you cannot apply for funding for anything thats already happened so make sure to plan your project in its entirety in the future. Finally remember that your Arts council payment will likely be paid in two or more instalments before and after the project (with the bulk coming before) so make sure you organise your project to be able to pay yourself after the evaluation has been handed in.
Create the budget in a format that you can work with easily. You could be tweaking it a lot during the project and you’ll want it to make sense when you come to write your evaluation and above all balance throughout! It’s a good idea to save a master copy of what to submitted to the ACE, on one sheet of your spreadsheet, for easy reference. I try to record everything under their own headings all the way through. It looks like a faff, but it really helps at the end. Assign one budget manager to avoid any confusion. But regularly cross check the figures with at least one other team member. Again, always take your time to get it right before you move on to the next job.
Again dont underestimate the importance of the Support in Kind - even your time working for less than your usual rate or for free counts, it may be your project but you would devalue anyone else so dont devalue yourself.
The Dreaded Forms
Now your ready to tackle the forms themselves. They can look a bit intimidating but if you’ve already covered the above questions you’ve got the bulk of the info you need write there. Plus its super easy to save it and go back to it.
The Grantium system can be a bit confusing to start with. I recommend at this point that you phone a friend who's done an Arts Council bid recently (the system changed in Jan 2016) and get them to go through it with you.
Here’s the point also to pay for some administrative help if your struggling to get your head round it. You cant pay somebody to do all the earlier bits for you because as its your project you need to work these bits out yourself (remember if you do get funding you need to fulfil arts activity you have said you are going to do - so best you write it yourself so you know what you are letting yourself into right? ) Help here - especially with working out and balancing the budget can be really handy.
Once you’ve filled it out to the best of your ability then get a friend to check it. Does it make sense? Is it interesting? Does the budget balance? - You will owe your mate a big favour for checking through this.
Go back and double check everything. Wait 24 hours. Do it again.
Check your budget, then check it again, then get someone else to check - don't miss anything important out by accident because if you find yourself with a gap you'll regret it
Wait six weeks - fingers crossed!
And remember - if you don’t get it this time, try again! The Arts Council give really good feedback, read it, think, adjust your project and remember that its all part of your artistic development.