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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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