I have read lots of draft applications for funding to Arts Council England. They may have been for the various different pots of money – from the old Artist Development Funds and Grants for the Arts, to the current Developing Your Creative Practice and Project Grants funds – but there are common errors that crop up time and again.
Arts Council funding has always been competitive. The success rate for applications (once the application has met basic criteria) has hovered around 40-45% for years. Now, with Project Grants reopening post-lockdown, it is reasonable to assume that this success rate will plummet.
That makes it more important than ever to ensure your application is as strong as it can be. Tailored feedback from me can help you do this. I would estimate that at least two-thirds of applications I advise are successful, and I offer a ‘You’re ACE’ service to read and feed back on your draft application for a standard fee of £50.
If you can’t afford that at the moment – here are three general tips that can vastly improve your application. Avoid these errors, and your application will have a far higher chance of success.
1. Stop Using Qualifiers
‘I have had some success in my career so far.’
‘In this project I will try to create…’
I get it: most of us hate blowing our trumpet. It can leave us feeling exposed. But it is doing you no favours. If you can’t speak positively about yourself in a funding application, when can you? If you can’t write confidently about your experience, practice, and proposed project, then why would Arts Council chose to fund you? You have to remember that every application is read by someone who (probably) knows nothing about your practice. Using qualifiers in your application serves only to introduce doubt into the subconscious of the person reading your application, raising questions about whether you will be able to deliver your project. Take a marker pen and go through your application crossing out every single qualifier you have used, and read it back. I promise you, it will be stronger.
2. Stop treating ACE like a kind relative
Arts Council England exists to invest in the creation of new work that might not otherwise be able to be made, and to support it to reach audiences. It doesn’t exist to give you money to take time off work to write. Time isn’t the outcome of your application, it is the means to producing the art. This may seem a small distinction – after all, we all need time in order to create new work – but it is crucial. When you introduce your project, talk about the work itself. Excite ACE about what you will create and why it maters. Treat every sentence in an application like an elevator pitch to a prospective investor. Focus on the opportunities rather than the challenges. ACE isn’t going to award you funding because the person reading your application is sympathetic with your challenge. Your application will only be successful if you convince ACE of the artistic value of the project you are proposing.
3. Pay yourself and other artists properly
Arts Council has a remit to support the entire ecosystem of the arts. Decisions on funding are made on the value of investment, rather than a lowest cost basis. Not only do you get no benefit from not paying yourself and other artists properly, you harm your application immeasurably. If you don’t pay yourself an industry standard day rate for research and creation (and probably admin around this, too), then you will be unlikely to be successful. I advice an absolute minimum of £90 day rate for an unpublished author. Other artists should be paid industry standards for their labour, which are often higher than that. You can include unpaid services, but these should only ever be treated as Support In Kind and always demonstrate the value to the person or organisation offering that unpaid service.