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Although not a major aspect of artists’ liveli­hoods, grants and awards to artists are a vital contributor to sustaining art practices over a life-cycle. This paper starts by outlining the benefits of direct funding to individual artists, describes differing arts policy perspec­tives on this in England over the last thirty years and provides a case study of Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts Scheme 2003 – 14 before making an argument for new, nuanced, localised approaches to nurturing and supporting the wider constituency of visual artists and diversity of art practices in future.

Benefits of direct funding to artists

By supporting artistic exper­iment and risk, direct funding which has the effect of empow­ering artists generates equitable relation­ships with others. Glinkowski’s analysis of awards made direct to artists by a chari­table trust concluded that value was created in two inter­re­lated ways. Firstly, an artist’s sense of self” is strengthened by no strings’ funding because the freedom to concen­trate on and reflect on art practices heightens their esteem and extends personal and profes­sional relation­ships. Direct grants are poten­tially trans­for­mative for artists by precip­i­tating a turning point in their career…. a moment of creative or profes­sional break­through or change [with] signif­icant and lasting conse­quences”. Secondly although they may not improve economic position in the longer term, awards which enable artists to pursue and hone a particular way of working provide a bridge to high-quality oppor­tu­nities which build profes­sional status and make artists’ practices more sustainable over a life-cycle. 

As my own doctoral research has concluded, an under­lying value of grants to individual artists lies in their ability to effect a process which results in co-validation. This serves to rebalance power in working relation­ships and is supportive of equality of oppor­tunity. This is exemplified by Jackson & Devlin who demon­strated how direct grants enabled artists to generate approaches to arts organ­i­sa­tions and other collab­o­rators. Larger sums of money not only gave the artists greater control over the direction of a project but encouraged ambition and innovation.” Louise’s study of grants to artists 2008 – 2010 also confirmed direct funding as strategic contributor to maintaining even-handed, healthy visual arts infrastructures. 

[Grants] give the artist-as-origi­nator greater authority over their own production, artistic direction, budgets, timescales, collab­o­ration partners and project management. It is empow­ering to the artist, not only giving them control over how and what they make, but also in enabling a more equitable set of relation­ships with their partners. Whilst it may not be appro­priate for every artist and every project, it is a valued, signif­icant and important component of art production.” 

Such conclu­sions align with NESTA whose analysis of the optimal environment for a creative economy identified the value of investing in individuals because it is creative talent which, ultimately, drives innovation and growth in the creative economy. Policy­makers should always weigh the oppor­tunity costs of invest­ments in bricks and mortar’ against the benefits of [such] inter­ven­tions.” Hinds & Storr’s 2010 review designed to aid Arts Council England’s future thinking on funding to individual artists found full consensus’ for maintaining direct awards from a consultee list which contained just one visual artist. 

The nurturing of individual artists, practi­tioners and producers is at the heart of investment in the future of the arts. Creativity, whether primary (writer, sculptor) or secondary (actor, musician), lies with the individual. The value of arts organ­i­sa­tions lies in their ability to connect individuals productively.” 

Inter­est­ingly, such perspec­tives align with DHA and ICM’s 2012 stake­holder research for ACE. When asked who should benefit most from funding?’ almost a quarter of the arts sector felt it should be artists, suggesting a need to rebalance future investment strategies. In summary then, the value of direct, light touch’ grants to artists has two main aspects. Firstly, this enables artists to make progress through art practice, with the potential to generate trans­for­mative points of departure and devel­opment over the longer term. Secondly, grants to artists foster equality of oppor­tunity and contribute to a healthy balance of power in visual arts infrastructures. 

Brief history of grants to artists 

In 1985 it was common for the twelve regional arts associ­a­tions (RAAs) which operated autonomously from Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) to provide some kind of direct funding to artists. As an example, Southern Arts Associ­ation allocated 44% of the visual arts budget to open-access schemes providing direct grants or fees to artists. Eckersley illus­trated how artists in that region could access small grants to purchase materials, for framing, presenting and trans­porting work for exhibi­tions and occasionally for travel. Such RAA schemes ran in tandem with larger bursaries and major awards such as fellow­ships that enabled artists to buy time’ in the studio. Even then and aligned with the political environment, the trend was to move away from support for artists’ studio-based research and towards schemes that delivered tangible public outcomes. 

Butler identified how Greater London Arts Associ­ation shifted direct funding for artists to residency and art commis­sioning schemes specif­i­cally to stimulate inter­action between artist and public”. In Yorkshire Arts Associ­ation where the ambition was for artists to show initiative’ and help themselves, resources which had previ­ously gone direct to individual artists were reallo­cated to groups and organ­i­sa­tions providing services for artists. At the national level enhanced patronage of artists was the second objective of ACGB’s Glory of the Garden policy 1985 – 1995. However, due to stand-still government funding, this ambition was deferred as an important aspiration for the future”. 

Direct funding to artists remained a relatively minor consid­er­ation in regional and national arts policies until merger in 2001 the national and regional arts bodies to create Arts Council England (ACE). Substantial uplifts to arts funding at the time from a Labour government that was enthu­si­astic about support to artists combined with enhanced income to the arts from the National Lottery positioned artists at the centre” of arts policy. ACE’s Ambitions for the Arts policy 2003-06 promised artists the chance to dream”. 

The artist is the life source’ of our work. In the past, we have mainly funded insti­tu­tions. Now we want to give higher priority to the artist…. We believe artists, at times, need the chance to dream, without having to produce. We will establish ways to spot new talent; we will find ways to help talent develop; we will encourage artists working at the cutting edge; we will encourage radical thought and action, and oppor­tu­nities for artists to change direction and find new inspiration.” 

Grants for the Arts case study 

Grants for the Arts (GftA) was a core feature of ACE’s Ambitions for the Arts policy. It stream­lined grant-giving by reducing 100 plus separate appli­cation schemes into five funding strands including one specif­i­cally for individuals funded solely from government grant-in-aid. Investing in the creative talent of artists one of GftA’s five objec­tives. This case study provides analysis of impact on artists of this funding stream 2003 – 2014 and highlights the key tensions and ambiguities. 

ACE’s supportive regionally-focused structure actively solicited and encouraged appli­ca­tions to GftA from artists, partic­u­larly those new to funding. Jackson & Devlin’s evalu­ation of the scheme’s first year of operation found it a brave and radical initiative which has trans­formed Arts Council England’s grant making”. During 200304, 40% of the value of all grants went to 3,279 individual artists, a success rate of 52%. Of all awards, 50% went to individuals or organ­i­sa­tions new to receiving Arts Council funding. 71% of appli­cants reported ease of using the appli­cation process, with over two thirds taking up the oppor­tunity to discuss proposals with regional staff before applying. Signif­i­cantly, the success rate was almost twice amongst appli­cants who’d had this person­alised advice. 

During 2003-08 an average of 1198 artists were funded annually through GftA. Alexander’s exami­nation of funding to individual artists in 200506 found £8.8 million allocated to nearly 1,600 and the median award £4,700. Fleming, Erskine & Benjamin’s assessment of the 2003 – 2008 period showed that 5,991 artists shared £39,016,927, with almost a quarter of grants for artistic research and development. 

Amongst other benefits, Fleming et al concluded the scheme offered the most immediate, obvious, relevant and flexible investment option for artists that want to innovate” and it’s flexi­bility and mobility [and] openness to a wide spectrum of eligible activ­ities’ give it an unpar­al­leled devel­opment role, partic­u­larly for new/​emergent work”. It was equally good’ for the funding body, providing real reputa­tional value …. engen­dering confi­dence, trust and knowledge exchange” and acting as a strategic building block of creativity”. 

[GftA] offers the most pronounced and visible investment in talent, exper­i­men­tation and personal devel­opment available across the arts in England. Over the last five years, [it] has operated as the primary source of risk investment, seed capital, proof of concept funding and devel­opment credit for individuals and organ­i­sa­tions across the arts.” 

Grants for the Arts analysis 2003 – 2014 

Note that this analysis is from GftA evalu­a­tions 2003 – 2014 using available data. Where none is given, this is because it was either not provided by evalu­a­tions or not calcu­lable from published data.

This chart shows that while volumes of artists benefiting from GftA remained consistent 2003 – 2008, Louise showed that far fewer artists gained funding by 200809, with just 485 being successful that year. When compared with 200304 data, the success rate for artists dropped by sixteen percentage points. The £2,836,152 total allocation to artists 200910 provides an average award of £5,848, that is to say 10% less than the average award level in 2003 – 2008. At almost one fifth of the total GftA visual arts spend, the total amount awarded to individuals in 200910 repre­sented a drop of twenty percentage points against 200304 data. 

My own analysis of GftA to individuals in 201314 indicates that just 393 artists were successful in that year, gaining £4,243,972 in funding, equiv­alent to an average award of £10,798. Despite GftA’s stated ambition to support artists’ research and devel­opment, this accounted for just 11% of awards in 201415, a drop of fourteen percentage points when compared with Fleming et al’s data. 


Review of prior research and my new compar­ative analysis of data has identified two core tensions which impede achievement of the expansive remit set for GftA by ACE as regards support to individual artists. 

• Mismatch between demand and budgets 

Antrobus concluded in 2009 that demand levels for grants hadn’t ever been adequately assessed or accounted for in direct award schemes, noting that twice as many artists at that time sought grant funding than received support from ACE or from trusts and founda­tions. Louise concluded that only 5% of artists applied for GftA on their own behalf and that in 2009-10, fewer than 2.5% gained direct funding. In short, the higher levels of demand caused by active solic­i­tation and support from offers for new appli­cants demon­strated in GftA’s early period were succes­sively reduced to match available funds, in turn substan­tially reducing success rates. Fleming et al identified the scheme’s paucity of budget as the major barrier to it being the source of funding for the risky, the challenging and the new.” At less than 20% of Arts Council England’s annual direct investment, over-subscription to GftA was continual, this exacer­bated when it was used to make up funding short­falls or scale-up other investments”. 

• Exclusive appli­cation processes 

The GftA individual strand was National Lottery funded after 2007. Thus artists had to show public benefit’ and make a 10% cash contri­bution in their appli­ca­tions. Notably however, Fleming et al concluded that both artists and organ­i­sa­tions felt intim­i­dated by GftA appli­cation processes and more should be done to ensure that the scheme is demys­tified and genuinely opened up”. Beyond the initial period when person­alised support for appli­cants was readily available from regional arts officers and newcomers to funding fared well, research by Alexander and Rosen­stein separately concluded the nature of GftA appli­cation processes better suited artists with existing track-records who had already secured supportive infra­struc­tures’ around them. 

Hinds & Storr’s consid­er­ation of the appli­cation processes found them better suited for organ­i­sa­tions, while being time-consuming and counter­pro­ductive to expanding art practices of individual artists. Requirement to show public benefit’ under­mined the confi­dence of some artists who were made to feel like failures when unable to do so. One recom­men­dation was that GftA appli­cation processes were made simpler for individuals so that unsuc­cessful bids didn’t cost them unrea­sonable amounts of time, effort and money. 

In 2016, ACE intro­duced the online grants management portal Grantium for all funding schemes, this designed to reduce overheads. However, artists reported the new platform counter­in­tu­itive and unwieldy to navigate. Artists such as Sonia Boué who are neuro­di­vergent felt they bore the brunt of these cost savings with their own unpaid time. Grantium’s language is … often jargonistic and hard to read or make sense of. It also speaks to artist appli­cants and arts organ­i­sa­tions as though they were one and the same thing.” 

My doctoral research 2015 – 2019 aligns with Alexander and Rosen­stein by finding that the artists who fared best with GftA had already developed person­alised, supportive infra­struc­tures. They had existing experience in writing fundraising appli­ca­tions and knew how to access advice from arts profes­sionals, including infor­mally from ACE officers. They had often previ­ously been awarded funding, so under­stood how to generate partner­ships with funded arts organ­i­sa­tions in appli­ca­tions and could as a result show the necessary budget contribution. 

Devel­oping your creative practice 

In 2018 when GftA ceased operation, ACE launched Devel­oping your Creative Practice. This new scheme is funded through grant-in-aid and thus is free from the National Lottery restric­tions which hampered GftA’s ambitions to support the individ­u­alised research and devel­opment of many artists. DYCP offers creative practi­tioners inclusive of dancers, chore­o­g­ra­phers, writers, trans­lators, producers, publishers, editors, musicians, conductors, composers, actors, directors, designers, artists, craft makers, and curators…. that most precious of things – time” for research and devel­opment, with no oblig­ation to produce anything at the end”. 

In monetary terms however, the annual DYCP budget allocation of £3.6m for all these eligible creative practi­tioners’ is not reflective even of GftA’s lower success levels for artists in 201415. In effect, DYCP’s entire annual budget for all creative practi­tioners’ amounts to 15% less than the figure awarded to individual visual artists through GftA in that year. My own early analysis of compar­ative data suggests that whereas between 3931991 visual artists a year benefited from GftA 2003 – 2014, in a twelve-month DYCP period just 135 visual arts practi­tioners including artists, producers and curators shared £1.21m.

This repre­sents 28% of the £4.24m awarded to visual artists through GftA in 201314. The average DYCP award of £8,992 is almost 17% less than the average GftA award of £10,798 in that period. The decline in volume and value of direct funding to artists from ACE is unambiguous. In 200910 fewer than 2.5% of artists were directly funded by GftA, but by 201314 this reduced to less than 1%, with DYCP showing a further decline. 

The future of direct funding to artists 

This paper demon­strates the vital contri­bution of direct grants to artists to sustaining and trans­forming artists’ practices over the longer-term. However artists’ ambitions in this respect are constrained by Arts Council policy and associated lack of budget. Although the Ambitions for the Arts policy supposedly offered artists the chance to dream’ more than a decade ago, the volume of artists benefiting from direct funds 2003 – 2015 and sums allocated to their support have succes­sively diminished. 

Both Fleming et al and Louise argued that allocating a bigger slice of the funding cake to individual artists in recog­nition of their contri­bution to social well-being was not a radical propo­sition. Devolution of either all or solely the small grants aspect of GftA to appro­priate external agencies for distri­b­ution to artists was also proposed previ­ously by Hinds & Storr although ACE has as yet chosen not to pursue this. 

As part of a substantial rebal­ancing’ of arts funding to better reflect the diversity and nuances of the arts across England Stark, Powell & Gordon proposed artists should be made a distinct ACE funding category and a 20% share of all National Lottery funding to ACE allocated to programmes available to individual artists and arts-led projects to encourage new talent, diversity, innovation, and excel­lence in work locally, regionally, nationally and inter­na­tionally”. Rather than the £3.6m per annum offered through DYCP, using such a formula for 2018 – 22 would have made some £49.26m a year available for direct and indirect inter­ven­tions supportive of artists’ individ­u­alised development. 

To similar ends, the Campaign for Cultural Democracy (CfCD) proposed a trans­action tax on the UK’s art market to create an extra £1b government grant-in-aid to the arts including to artists working locally in commu­nities. Such de-centralised, amplified funding would be allocated by regionally-repre­sen­tative, democ­ra­t­i­cally-struc­tured and admin­is­tered bodies intended to empower commu­nities concerned and – relevant to artists – and prioritise investment in people over products, process not results.” Standing’s notion of a Commons Fund as a redis­trib­utable localised wealth resource drawn from a tithe on empty property and the European Union’s for a tax on global digital companies are in the same vein. Whatever the source of funding, a conclusion from my research is that nuanced, localised approaches are more effective for nurturing and better supporting the wider constituency of visual artists and diversity of art practices over a life-cycle. 

In terms of improving equality of oppor­tunity for artists, it is preferable for policy measures to directly relate to and support hetero­geneity within the artists’ constituency. In this way, funding instru­ments contribute more effec­tively to artists’ liveli­hoods by enabling them to better exploit their rights and manage changing external trends and shocks. Signif­i­cantly, absence of these person­alised, supportive frame­works is known to diminish people’s potential by wasting their drive and creativity. 


This text extends the analysis and commentary in my doctoral thesis Artists’ liveli­hoods: the artists in arts policy conundrum, 2019 available at http://e‑

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