Forsaking Funding-Speak: Why Evaluation Needs Creativity

Forsaking Funding-Speak: Why Evaluation Needs Creativity

Sophie Mac-Schram Profile

Sophie Mak-Schram was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Punchdrunk until September 2016, and has remained with the organisation as Development Assistant.

Can the two professional arts fundraisers please email me?” read the mail-out. Nadja and I had ventured along to see how we could contribute towards the ambitions of DIY Space for London, a cooperative arts space in South London. When the topic of funding came up, after a detailed discussion on the technicalities of screen-printing requirements, it felt like the lights had gone off in the room. Formal funding applications felt like alien territory.

Deciding to lay our cards on the communal table, we offered to contribute towards funding bids. In that act, I realised how two months of immersive fundraising has taught me a new language. As briefly touched on in Jess’ blog, there is a difference between the languages of art and funding. How do we translate a conceptual work into a funding proposition and, once we have the funding, describe its impact in appropriate and relevant terms? The local arts space has an immediate and hopefully strong case for support, but will we be willing to measure impact in the quantifiable manner often valued by funders? Indeed, do we have the capacity to do so, and is this the most effective way to communicate our outcomes?

DIY Space London
DIY Space for London, a cooperative arts space.


Much work around the arts focuses on how we can make the sector more akin to other charitable areas. Seeking to validate its worth, we tend to increased standardisation. We research into how an art space can solve knife crime, or how our specific work in theatre will facilitate inter-cultural understanding, directly, in numbers. And, although all of this is important in arguing for the relevance of the arts, I wonder whether we can begin to talk about outputs and outcomes in more narrative forms?

Yesterday, I went to Fevered Sleep’s Future Play event. All four speakers (amongst whom, Moira Sinclair of PHF and Michelle Dickson of Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring) spoke eloquently about the need to share learning and the more powerful, less quantifiable ways in which impact can be described. David Harradine, Artistic Director of Fevered Sleep, proposed factoring research and development into touring budgets. Ideas like this acknowledge the space, time and resources a work of art can need to find its most workable – and indeed, most impactful, form.

Anton Vidokle, in Art without Market, draws on the case of James Abott McNeill Whistler and John Ruskin to discuss how an artwork is valued in monetary terms. Whistler, who ultimately wins the case, argues that his price is reflective of his years of work and experience, not of the specific time it took him to physically make the painting. Even today, this is an oft-contested argument to make. Briony Kimmings points out that her fee for touring does not include the full amount of preparation, rehearsals and creative process she needs to even get to the stage (see full article here).

Space, time and resource are also needed once the actual work is completed. Of course, evaluation is key, both for funders and for furthering our own practices as individuals or organisations, but quantitative data shouldn’t be the only way. In the same way that education institutes find that grades box students’ academic levels and ambition, I think that art can have a far larger impact if we can be less worried about attaining a percentile.

I don’t have a neat, numbered list of recommendations at the ready, nor should we lose sight of the larger context within which we produce work. Austerity means we’re battening down the hatches and making safe bets, but we need to return to what we’re really good at: creative responses. We urgently need to develop a language that isn’t intimidating to artists or alienating to funders, and make our evaluation more reflective of the work itself.

What do you think? Are there brilliant examples of this more creative evaluation happening already? We’d love to hear.