As a freelance fundraiser, I frequently receive phone calls from artists struggling to raise funds for their research and development projects. Artists struggle to make the case for this area of work because they don’t always know where their artistic enquiry is going to lead. For many artists - failure, trial and error, experimentation and taking risks is an integral part of their research and development process. It is therefore difficult for some artists, to assume success, i.e. a finished product and high quality audience engagement at the start of a research and development process. Many artists are process driven, but funders and commissioning venues want to fund confident projects which demonstrate clear outcomes and outputs.
The phrase: ‘you need to get better at making the case’, has become a popular motif at conferences and training seminars targeted at cultural producers and artists. The sector expects artists to become excellent at self-preferment, however, even when artists have mastered the skill of bid writing, pitching and marketing, there is still a lack of places for artists to go to for funding, especially for those who are self-employed (which according to government research account for more than 7 in 10 people working in the performing arts sector). The majority of Trusts and Foundations will only consider applications from registered charities, national cuts to statutory funding has made access to grants for the arts fiercely competitive and charities are much better placed to approach corporate or wealthy individuals for community focused projects than artists would be for their research and development.
A recent survey conducted by Equity for their members reported that almost half of respondents earn less than £5,000 per year from their professional work.Funds intended for commissioning new work are often awarded to venues and arts charities for distribution. It is well documented that artists feel frustrated that more of this money is not reaching those people actually creating art works. At a debate I attended recently one artist said ‘Lets not pretend I can pay my rent with in-kind support’. Most arts charity business models are reliant on the distribution of great artistic products. So why is it then that these ‘businesses’ rely so heavily on artists and Arts Council England to subsidise the creation of these products. This practice is not sustainable or fair. We wouldn’t expect our clothes to be made in a sweatshop by people who are not being paid, so why do we accept that cultural products are so often made in this way.
Arts organisations are constituted to protect and promote the arts and our charity status enables us to knock on the door of trusts and foundations, corporates and wealthy individuals. We have to start to appreciate that in most scenario’s artists are not networked or constituted to be able to do this. There are funders challenging the status quo and breaking down the ‘parent-child’ relationship between venues and artists and pioneering a better model for supporting the creation of artistic works. One such funder is the Jerwood Charitable Trust, a very proactive and confident funder that understands that artist’s research and development is at the heart of creating artistic excellence and will happily support self-employed artists as well as arts organisations.