Funding

A guide to funding for early career artists

Free­lance Fundrais­er Cather­ine Her­bert shares a guide to fund­ing for ear­ly career artists. Com­mis­sioned by VASW and Uni­ver­si­ty partners.

Posted
17/05/24

Is grant funding right for you? Questions to ask yourself

As an early career artist you can apply for grants from a number of funders. Grants are often for projects (activities with a beginning and end) but some are focused on R&D (research & development) or practice development. The first thing to know is that applying for funding can take a LOT of time and energy, and currently the fundraising picture is pretty bleak.

You might ask yourself whether you can get the money more easily another way? Can you get sponsorship to cover the costs of equipment or events? If you have a big network, could you explore Crowdfunding? (See Rachel Dobbs’ brilliant Crowdfunding Guide for beginners)

Deciding whether to apply…

Eligibility. Begin with whether you are eligible to apply for a particular fund. You don’t want to waste your time if the funder has specific requirements and you just don’t meet them. Every grant should have clear eligibility criteria that you can check. Don’t bother applying if you’re not eligible, but if you’re not sure whether you qualify, you can contact the funder directly to check. Check too if there is, e.g. match funding required (additional money that you have to find elsewhere) and consider where you will get that from. Can the funder cover the kind of costs you need? For example some only offer capital funding e.g. for equipment, rather than fees.

Not all funders specify whether they are looking to support early career artists, or those with a solid track record, which means you have to figure this out by comparing your work with that of previous, successful applicants.

Likelihood: The funding landscape is very competitive. There are many more good artists than pots of cash. For example, one in five applicants to Arts Council England’s (ACE) Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) programme successfully secured funding in 2023/24. The 17th round saw 401 of 1,944 applicants receive funding - a success rate of 21% across England. Of these, 54 successes came from the South West (240 applied). Looking nationally, visual arts applicants were more successful than any other discipline, with 144 successful visual arts applicants equating to 36% of all those funded.

Alignment: Who has the funder supported in the past? Is your project or practice at the same sort of stage as the successful applicants?

Reading example applications: When deciding if a funder is right for you, it can be really helpful to explore other peoples applications. White Pube Funding Library is an excellent open source resource of successful funding applications that you can learn from. You could also check who has been successful in getting funding via 360 GrantNav or from Funders website and get in touch with people; or ask friends and friends of friends if they’d share their applications with you. Explore the language, the approaches, and how specific questions have been tackled.

Process: Consider the fund’s timelines. After making an application, it can then take months to receive notification of funding. Will this be a problem for your project? How arduous is the process of applying and how does this weigh up with the income it will bring - is it worth it at this point in your career, or is there a better time to apply?

Logo of Arts Council England featuring an outline drawing of a hand with crossed fingers.
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Which funds can you apply for?

Check out White Pube’s everything you need to know about funding podcast

One of the big funders for artists is Arts Council England, the national development agency for creativity and culture (and arm's length public body of the UK Government).

Arts Council England (ACE) currently has two open funds that can support individual artists.

National Lottery Project Grants (NLPG) - This fund is open all the time and focuses on delivering against their Let’s Create strategy.

You can apply for between £1K and £100K, although many artists stay under the £30K threshold, which offers a slightly shorter application form and process.

If you’re new to NLPG, you might want to consider even lower than this, say, under £15K. Arts Council England wants to fund as many good projects as possible, so keeping your project cost low might put you in a stronger position.

There’s a LOT of guidance in relation to NLPG on the ACE website, and developing an application takes time.

Whilst ACE says you don’t need to read their 10-year strategy Let's Create for an Under £30K application, it might be useful to look at their strategy to understand where they’re coming from. In my experience, it’s useful to think about where your project fits, and reflect some of this back in your application.

ACE outcomes as follows:

1. Creative people - This means a project that gives the public the opportunity to take an active part in creative activity. An active part might be making, learning or contributing to creating something.

2. Cultural communities - This means working in a way that is focused on a specific place or community. Often working in a place will mean working with other partners in that place to shape and deliver a project. Could include touring work into places where there is local demand, for example.

3. Creative and cultural country - This means activity which makes a difference to an individual’s, group’s, or organisation’s creative or cultural practice, or a difference to the wider cultural sector, including sharing work with audiences.

Webinar: Achates’ webinar explores National Lottery Project Grants, what is and isn't supported, the application process, the Outcomes and Investment Principle sections as well as frequently asked questions.

If you are unsuccessful, you can reapply any number of times, but remember if you resubmit you will have to wait again for notification (min 8 weeks for under £30K, and 12 weeks for over £30K). Remember that you mustn’t start your activity until the funding has been received.

Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) - This fund supports individual cultural and creative practitioners ready to take their practice to the next stage, funding research, time to create new work, travel, training, developing ideas, networking or mentoring. It's open for applications four times a year.

Webinar: Paula Orrell, Network Manager of Visual Arts South West, leads an online workshop to discuss the application process and questions step by step, with pointers on how to produce a strong application with a solid budget and support materials.

Personal Access costs

If you identify as disabled or neurodivergent, Arts Council England can support you before you apply to either DYCP or NLPG e.g. by paying for a support worker to help you make an application.

Many funders provide application materials in a range of accessible formats, and some offer access support, so don’t be afraid to ask.

(Much more on applying for Arts Council funding later in the guide).

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Beyond Arts Council England, there are other funders that support individual artists. Some funders have specific schemes for early career artists, others you might need to figure out if you have enough of a track record to be successful.

Opportunities for artists at all stages of their career (including early career):

  • Artcry - supports responsive, political artworks in public space with small grants
  • Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) - funds research in subjects from philosophy and the creative industries, to art conservation and product design.
  • The Black Artists Grant (BAG) - offered by Creative Debuts as a no-strings attached financial support to help black artists.
  • British Council - offers opportunities for UK applicants and overseas partners, global and regional call-outs. Opportunities open to artists and organisations.
  • Daiwa Foundation Small Grants and Awards - Grants to individuals and institutions in the UK and Japan in all areas of the visual and performing arts, the humanities, the social sciences, science and engineering, mathematics, business studies, and education.
  • Gane Trust - small grants for individuals, prioritising those in the South West and South Wales, across art, design and craft, social welfare and care, education and training.
  • Jerwood Arts - has previously offered awards include the Jerwood Painting Prize, Drawing Prize, Makers Award and Moving Media Awards in addition to commissions and grants to artists (although currently seems to be funding orgs)
  • Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant (curators, researchers, art historians only) - funding for travel and other practical costs, to help curators undertake collections and exhibition research projects in the UK or internationally. To be eligible, you must be employed by, or working with, a UK museum, gallery or arts organisation.
  • Grand Plan Fund - grants to people of colour based in the UK who want to bring a new creative project to life.
  • Edge Fund - funds grassroots groups, e.g. collectives, creating long-term change in society by addressing the causes of injustice and inequality.
  • Elephant Trust - grants to make it possible for artists and those presenting their work to undertake and complete projects when frustrated by lack of funds.
  • Henry Moore Foundation Research & Travel grants (open to sculpture historians, academics and conservators) and Research Fellowships; funds research that expands the appreciation of sculpture.
  • Marchus Trust - encourage and support the arts, in particular education and advancement in both music and architecture. The Trust aims to do this through the twice yearly award of grants.
  • Wellcome Trust - focused primarily on physical, social, data and life sciences, the humanities and clinical research, but have funded art & science collaborations in the past.

Specifically aimed at (or only for) early career artists, early career academics, researchers, students, PhDs

  • Fenton Arts Trust Grants are available to support individual works, activities, performances or prizes in any field of artistic endeavour including drama, painting, sculpture, dance, music, poetry and architecture.
  • PRS - the UK’s leading charitable funder of new music and talent development, funding organisations and also individuals, including music creators. Has specific schemes for emerging music creators/musicians etc.
  • Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST)- offers Scholarships that support the training and education of talented and aspiring craftspeople, an Emerging Makers Grant offers support for the training and education of talented craftspeople at an early stage in their career (i.e no more than 4 years, but are not just starting out). Check the website for all schemes
  • Leverhulme Trust - across 14 schemes (currently), Leverhulme offers fellowships, early career research funding, and scholarships for research and education.
  • Paul Mellon Centre (PMC) - Grants and Fellowships for individual artists supporting research, educational activities and the dissemination of knowledge in the fields of British art and architectural history. Some are very specific - e.g. Andrew Wyld Grants are for undergrad/grad/ students’ travel and subsistence, aimed at those working on a topic in the field of British works of art on paper of the 18th and 19th centuries! Early Career Fellowships are for those within 5 years of completing their doctorate or of having completed an equivalent form of research training or work experience. A Research Support Grant can support current students studying British Art to travel to see collections etc.

Check too with your local authority (City, County, District and even parish council) as they may offer small grants to artists/individuals or to deliver against community priorities.

As noted by Rachel Dobbs, Housing associations can sometimes have small grants or might be open to developing a creative project.

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Prizes, fellowships, residencies, open calls and listings

Another route to building your CV, experience, contacts and (potentially) funding, is to explore opportunities, prizes, residencies etc aimed at early career artists.

Here follows a big list of Artist opportunity lists, advice sessions and support, and opportunities. It’s worth signing up to all of the mailing lists so you don’t miss deadlines.

Arts Admin Anchor
Art Rabbit
ACAVA resources
Film London Artist Opportunities
Lux Opportunities
Lux advice sessions
Artist Run Alliance
Creative United
Arts Jobs for events, fellowships etc
Wooloo residencies, open calls etc
LADA Opportunities
NEAC Artist Scholarships
The annual Cavendish Arts Science Fellowship
Ruskin Prize
John Moores Painting Prize
Stuart Croft Foundation
Gilchrist Fisher Award
The Flamin Fellowship (only for London based artist filmmakers)
Delfina Foundation Artist Residencies and Open calls
Sound & Music opportunities
Arts Admin Free sessions (Radar)
Arts Admin Creative support

Watch out for prizes that charge a fee to enter, or that are run by arms dealers.

Art Quest offers a guide to Selecting Opportunities, Residencies, Prizes etc

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3. How to apply - an overview

It’s important to really think carefully about the funder’s priorities and how your work fits in, deeply considering the funders’ specific criteria and what they’re looking for. It’s worth spending some time on this before you apply.

Try not to over promise! Be realistic with what you can achieve and deliver in the timeframe. Don’t create a project that attracts funding but isn’t something you actually want to deliver.

Rachel Dobbs offers a fantastic comprehensive guide (including videos) to writing a grant application which will help to think through what your project IS, what you need the money for, who it benefits, and how much you need.

Read Sophie Chapman’s brilliant blog on writing applications for arts funding

Artists Network: How to write a grant proposal

Voluntary Arts has produced a guide to fundraising for community projects, which applies to grassroots arts activity.


4. Writing, editing, and character count vs word count

This is obvious, but if there are word count limits on answers, or limits to the number of images, or a maximum length of video, etc, then you absolutely should stay within these. Some funders might reject your proposal as ineligible if you go over the maximum.

Often the fund you’re applying to will require you to use an online portal or web form for application submissions. If so, you will most likely want to draft your application in MS Word, googledocs or similar so the site doesn’t ‘time out’ during submission. This is also a good way to check your answers are within character word count by using the tools provided (e.g in Google Docs this is, Tools, word count).

When applying to Arts Council England (ACE) applications, I always use the Uncultured’s brilliant templates.

A note on the Arts Council England portal, Grantium, which applicants are required to use to submit an application. Annoyingly, Grantium uses a different method of counting characters than MS Word or Google. For example, when you press Enter to start a new line, MS Word counts this as one character whereas Grantium counts this as two (‘line stop’ and ‘line start’). The upshot of this is that your drafted text is likely to have a larger character count in Grantium than it would in MS Word.

The biggest challenge for many is saying everything you need to within the character count. You can use shortcuts such as ‘&’ in place of ‘and’ to reduce the count, but regardless you will need to be very succinct and precise with your answers.

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5. How to make a strong case

When writing a funding application, regardless of the funder or scale of investment (how much money you are applying for), it’s important to make a case for investment. This means giving succinct evidence for how you know that there is a need for the project or activity to happen and how you have the right experience to deliver.

VASW has produced a guide to Strengthening Your Funding Applications which explains why mak­ing a strong case for invest­ment is impor­tant when writ­ing fund­ing appli­ca­tions and how to do this well.

Webinar: Arts Admin invited Michael Norton, Artist Support Producer at Artsadmin to explore the process of creating a Case for Support, an essential document for building sustainable funding and vision in the arts.


6. Writing a budget / what it should include

Art Quest has a handy guide to budgets for a fundraising application.

Webinar:
Watch Arts Admin’s guide to Approaching Budgets and download templates and example budgets and cashflows (note it has a performance / live art vibe).

Culture Hive tells us that Budgets are beautiful and offers some sound advice.

It’s worth remembering that your budget tells a story, and it’s important that the budget reflects the narrative of your funding application. If you’ve said, for example, you will reach people who don’t normally engage with visual art, you might want a convincing budget aligned with marketing/audience development. If you have described a complex, major exhibition or event, you might want to make sure there is a budget that reflects this!

What should your budget include?


Artist fees, and £ for other workers involved in your project
As part of your budget, you will need to think about rates of pay and calculating your own fees.

- Art Quest has produced a resource to help with this calculation.
- Artist Union England set out rates of pay (free to all)
- A-N offers day rates and fees for artists (requires membership)

Remember that you can add other members of staff to help you to deliver your project e.g. a producer or project manager, an evaluator, some marketing support etc, which can enable you to create a team around you to deliver in the way an organisation delivers.

For all other workers you can benchmark against other similar roles by looking at current vacancies, and of course, aim for day rates at at least the Real Living Wage. Most funders will expect to see your calculations (e.g day rate x number of days) for artists and other professionals taking part in your project.

Materials / events / creative costs relating to delivery

You might need to include materials for workshops, making new work, or exhibiting. You might include venue costs, event costs, costs relating to producing a publication, documentation, etc. Again, show your calculations and mention if you have quotes or estimates for work. Depending on the fund, you might be able to include equipment costs and other assets that you can continue to use after the completion of the project. Check which costs are eligible and ask if you’re not sure.

Audience development and/or marketing

Include the costs of reaching people e.g your participants or audiences (if relevant) and any marketing you might do. Will you produce any printed marketing like posters or flyers? Do you need to pay for social media support?

Access costs

Consider including costs of making sure your activity is accessible to those taking part and audiences with access needs. As noted by Arts Council England, this might include costs of BSL interpretation for performances or producing exhibition materials in other formats such as in Braille or on audio.

You may also need to include personal access costs too, for you and your collaborators. For ACE, personal access budgets are paid in addition to the grant.

Evaluation and monitoring

Include all costs relating to your evaluation. How will you know if you’ve achieved what you set out to do? Will you produce a survey? Does it need designing / printing? Will you hold a conversation with partners, or a focus group with participants? Who will help you to gather data? Remember to show your calculations.

Contingency

Some funders will expect to see a ‘contingency’ budget, which is often calculated as a proportion (often between 3% to 5% but can be higher for bigger or riskier projects) of the total project budget reserved for unforeseen costs. For example, a project budget of £10K might include: Contingency @ 5% of the total project budget = £500. It’s good to always include a contingency for unexpected costs and an increase in costs to ensure you are protecting your own artist fee.


7. How it will be assessed / key things funders are looking for

Each funder has their own assessment criteria, which should be set out clearly in their funding Guidance. They will be looking for different things, but in general, they will likely consider some of the following:

Eligibility - does the project / artist fulfil all the necessary eligibility criteria?

Strength of the idea - Is there a clear creative idea behind the project? Does the application show ambition and the potential to realise that ambition? Are there clear plans to reflect on progress? Does the application clearly identify the difference the project wants to make?

People and communities - Are there convincing plans to make sure the communities the project wants to reach can fully access the project, and feel included? If relevant, has information or data on the place/community the project involves been used to shape the project?

Feasibility and risk - Is the project realistic and well planned? Are there too many risks? Many funders will assess how likely your project is to achieve its aims. Think through any potential operational risks and, if there’s an opportunity to do so, show that you have mitigated them (e.g. have you had safeguarding training to work with children? Do you have contingency plans if you don’t achieve match funding?) Are useful and relevant partnerships and/or venues in place to support the activity?

Budget - Funders are likely to consider whether the income and expenditure for the project is realistic and appropriate. Are all practitioners paid fairly? Will the budget be well managed? Is there match funding in place, and if not, where will this come from?

Evaluation plans - How will you know what difference the project has made? Are the plans realistic and deliverable? Will they give compelling evidence of the impact of the project? Are there opportunities for learning and reflection during your project? What steps will you take to understand what people thought of the project? How will you share the learning and with whom?

Vintage illustration of a person taking a photograph under a photographic hood
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8. Attachments - sharing your work

You may be asked to supply information about your work as an attachment, commonly:

An Artist CV

Images of your work

An Artist statement


Reporting on your funding / evaluation


Most funders will require you to report back on how your project or activity went. There are many handy guides to how to approach reporting and evaluation, and requirements will differ from funder to funder. But there are great resources out there, for example:

VASW Navigating your first evaluation
: A starting guide for artists and producers. A guide is to demys­ti­fy the eval­u­a­tion process by Gaia Rosen­berg Col­orni, Inde­pen­dent Eval­u­a­tor and Researcher.

Rachel Dobbs has produced a useful handout to help you think through how to measure the results of your project.

I also like the NCVO Planning your evaluation toolkit.


Further help and resources


Sign up to everything, get all the newsletters, and, if you can, try and talk to those who have been successful with their funding proposal to get tips.

Other grant writing guides:
Art Quest grant Funding for Artists


Please let VASW know by email if you have other funders to add to this list!
info@vasw.org.uk

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Acknowledgments:

This guide is written by Catherine Herbert a freelance Arts Fundraiser and Project Manager working with organisations and artists. Currently working with Afri-Co-Lab, St Leonards; Visual Arts South West; The Showroom Gallery, London; Here/Not Here; Spacer, Ramsgate; Cement Fields, North Kent; and Mainspring, Lancaster.

The guide is commissioned in partnership by Arts University Bournemouth, Arts University Plymouth and The University of Plymouth and VASW.

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