Friday, 19 June 2009

Applying For Arts Council Funding

My thanks to Daniel Blythe for this piece.

I've applied for four Arts Council England grants in my life—three between 2000-2005 for community-based arts projects (two successful, one not) and one in 2008 for my own writing development (successful).

1. Read everything you can about Arts Council grants on their website.

2. You don't have to be a published writer. What you do need to do is to demonstrate that the project you are undertaking is a "literary" contribution and that it represents a turning-point in your career—that completing this work will enhance your artistic career and take it off in an interesting direction. In my case it was my first novel for children after fifteen years of writing for adults. In the case of a friend who was also awarded a grant, it was his first full poetry collection, for which he already had an offer to publish.

3. Give your local Arts Council office a call and talk through your idea for a project with one of the development workers. They want to help you and should be able to tell you if it sounds viable or not.

4. If they sound at all enthusiastic about it, then go to the "funding" page at the Arts Council website and download their application form and notes.

5. Be absolutely sure you know what the budget for your project is going to be. If this is going to be a book or script you are working on at home, this will include things like what proportion of utility bills you will be using, your stationery costs, etc.

6. You need to find 10% of the cost yourself, and be very clear where this is coming from. I funded mine through my private work teaching and critiquing manuscripts.

7. At some stage, talk to someone else who has done an Arts Council grant application. I found it very valuable to speak to another published writer who had just received notification that his application was successful. He let me look at his application and supporting statement so I could see an example of something which had got the nod.

8. If you want a quick response, go for one of the smaller grants (less than £5,000), as they turn those around within three months. A larger one (£5,000 and over) will take six months.

9. One tricky thing on the application is the question of the numbers of artists, participants and audience. This is easy-ish to answer if you are putting on a play or a community writing project. It's not so easy if you are writing a book and don't even have an offer to publish yet, let alone any idea of the print-run. If you've been published before, then I can only suggest working out the audience from what a reasonable print-run would be based on your previous career. If you haven't, then I'd suggest asking a published writer or the Society of Authors for advice.

10. Sometimes, the Arts Council will come back after the application is in and ask you for more information on your project outside the boundaries of the application form—this is usually a good sign. It happened to me and I ended up writing an extra 1000 words on the project. I was grateful for this opportunity—I thought it could only be a good thing, and I was right.

11. You are more likely to get the award if you seem professional, focused and on top of your material. Woolly, vague applications are no good. Also be able to say exactly how long it will take you and how you will evaluate it at the end.

12. If you are successful, you may be asked to do some publicity. I've not been asked to do an awful lot. I was featured in some local newspaper articles and I have been happy to put an Arts Council Funded logo and link on my website. I wasn't asked to do the latter, but it just seemed polite. And of course I will mention the grant in the Author's Note at the start of the book, if and when it is published.


Dan Holloway said...

Wonderful post. I know an author who has benefited immensely from such a grant, and an artist.

I work in University admin and spend half my life putting in grant prposals to Research Councils - they work very similarly - government-funded well-meaning chaos. So if anyone ever gets stuck with the paperwork, just shout.

j purdie said...

A lot more information than is normally available and well broken down into relevant sections, thanks. Some nice tips too, especially number 3 which as people might not even consider talking to the Arts Councils. But you forgot the obligatory 'except for viewers in Scotland' disclaimer:

Sophie Playle said...

Thanks for the post. I've thought about applying for a grant, but the thought of complicated forms and waiting months and months puts me off. As well as an overwhelming feeling of being unworthy for one, haha. Plus the fear that I won't be able to complete my project, and I'll be hunted down for fraud or something... o.0

David Bridger said...

I've never considered this before, but for the first time in my career it feels right. Thank you for the information and the inspiration.

Daniel Blythe said...

Sorry, yes. Quite right to point it out - it is Arts Council England & Wales I'm talking about.

Tania Hershman said...

Great post, especially for someone considering applying, as I am. I may very well get in touch with Daniel directly when the time comes!

catdownunder said...

Fascinating - so very different from my part of the world! Do you really mean that unknowns can apply and, if good enough, they might actually be lucky enough to get some funding? I have never known that to happen to anyone here.

Major Wittering said...

I recently succeeded in getting a small grant from ACE. This is a very useful post, and I'd agree with everything it says.

I'm pretty much an unknown poet, though I'm experienced in putting in academic research proposals. I found the following most useful:
1) show your draft proposal to anyone who knows about such things for feedback. You can always ignore what they say if you disagree. Especially find people who've succeeded with ACE before.
2) I sent a draft to a named person at ACE (you can find their complete staff list on the website). She very helpfully suggested a few things to change to improve its chances. (Some funders think this inappropriate, but ACE seemed very helpful).
3) though they'll support unknowns, they do like to know you're worth it, a good risk, so they look for evidence. So, if you're thinking of applying, spend some time before-hand getting feedback on your work (e.g. recording what audiences think, asking your tutor for written comments, talking to other more established poets and seeing if they're willing to add their name to a comment on your work).
4) Treat the proposal process as a business application as much as you can - i.e. tick all the boxes they're looking for, if you can. For example, they want "value for money", they're currently keen on the cultural olympiad, they like to see that the project will generate income and lead to other things, they like projects that connect with people who are less engaged with the arts, and they want to know you will manage their money effectively.

[If you want you can check out my background and project at and contact me there if you'd like to know more about how I approached ACE]

Daniel Blythe said...

Anyone wanting to get in touch with me, please do so via my website which is