Small Fish, Big Pond: The Responsibility of Large Organisations to Support Independent Artists

Small Fish, Big Pond: The Responsibility of Large Organisations to Support Independent Artists

Jess Boyes Profile 2
Obviously this isn’t an easy time for anyone in the arts. As observed in this blog, it is “even harder for the minnows”; larger organisations have a distinct responsibility to support independent artists and smaller companies. Our wider organisations play an important role in providing this support, but where does our role as fundraisers lie?

Recently I attended a workshop on Grants for the Arts, an Arts Council programme that issues project-based funds from £1,000 to £100,000 to individuals and arts organisations to “encourage skills and diversity in the arts sector”. However with many larger organisations falling out of the National Portfolio and turning to Grants for the Arts, individual artists are now competing with dedicated development specialists for the same funds.

Personal stories are what make the arts both beautiful and accessible. This has become even more evident for me whilst watching my host organisation, Mind the Gap, launch their new show Contained (not-so-subtle plug ahead of our national tour…) and I know I’m not alone in believing that diversity is crucial for excellence and sustainability in the arts. (There is an interesting – albeit quite old – article about this here). Individuals and small organisations are therefore essential. Despite this, very few artist led organisations receive regular funding and of 27 new theatre NPOs, only six are independent or artist led.

MTG Resident Artist, Alan Clay, recently received Arts Council R&D funding for his own project, Skip Rap
MTG Resident Artist, Alan Clay, recently received Arts Council R&D funding for his own project, Skip Rap

Two months into my Fellowship, I’m still thinking about the best ways for us to share our learning with the individuals that we work with, particularly in my role at Mind the Gap: an objective in my personal development plan for the year is to support a number of the hugely talented learning-disabled artists we work with in preparing their own applications.

Here are my key considerations so far:

  1. Translating to “funder-speak” – as mentioned in Dav’s blog, we recently met Miriam O’Keeffe, head of the BBC Performing Arts Fund. Whilst discussing applications, she stressed the importance of translating from “artsy rubbish to plain English to funder-speak” which raises the question: how do you work with the artist so that the heart of the project isn’t lost whilst communicating what the funders want to hear?
  2. Assisting and articulating, but not translating – our role, however, is not to translate for the artist, but rather to assist them in articulating their project according to the funder’s guidelines. A particularly successful example of this from my host organisation was an application presented as an interview with Jez Colborne, a learning-disabled musician and composer, and MTG Resident Artist.
  3. Be clear, be specific and be succinct – according to Denise Fahmy, ACE Relationship Manager for Visual Arts in the North, who ran the workshop that I attended, applications for small grants are often assessed via video-conference with around 40 applications to discuss in an hour. To stand out, it is therefore vital to demonstrate the artistic quality and public benefit of your project in as succinct a manner as possible.
  4. Is the application process an academic process? Is it accessible? – having spent my first few weeks writing a pretty gruelling capital application, it has become apparent that through the research, jargon and pinning down of a coherent argument, application writing is essentially an academic process. For the learning-disabled artists I am working with, this is often not accessible and in turn it does not open the door to diverse applications.

As Fellows, we are provided with an automatic network of peers and staff teams with whom to share knowledge and expertise, and are actively encouraged to do so. Understandably we are all incredibly busy in our own organisations, and it’s easy to be swept up in this, but I suggest we spare a thought for the individual artists: if we truly want to be a part of a diverse and representative arts sector, we must support artists however we can.

What do you think? We’d love to hear.