Photography Credits: Underwear shots: Rachel Ruddick, Water shot: Eloise Shaw.
CASE ONE: Most Recent: Monday 6th - Wednesday 8th Nov, 2017.
On Monday 6th November I sat down with a new but dear friend, Nina, and spent 2 hours teaching her how to write an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts Application. I sat there and I encouraged her to write one. If you asked me now if I would carry out the same meeting today, I would say, with absolute sincerity, yes. Yes, I would still sit side by side and offer £70 worth of specialist advice F.O.C. and encourage Nina to write a Grants for the Arts Application.
On Wednesday 8th November at 9am I sat down to begin a Teacher Training day at a Secondary School in Kent. I sat down next to 2 individuals who where hoping to be offered a place to train at this school to become a Geography Teacher, for which they would receive funding to complete this training. I sat down and by 9.10am I was already furious at the fact that if I wanted to become a trainee teacher at this school it would cost me £XX,XXX amount of money to do so, when one of these Geography graduates would be offered a grant to do so.
On Wednesday 8th November I then spent the day watching the way an outstanding Performing Arts Department runs in this comprehensive secondary school. I observed a group of year 8 children – 12–13 years old – essentially have a history lesson through dance because dance was on their core curriculum. Prior to this I watched a group of year 13 – 17–18 year olds - perform audition solos and duets for singing and dance. The standard of these performances were phenomenal, as were the lesson plans the teachers had facilitated. The talent I observed moved me to both laughter and tears. By year 13 this school had taught these children that education is their way through this world once they leave sixth form.
At 2pm that day I received a letter from Arts Council England. You can access the full letter on the Decision Letter page of my website:
This letter, in essence, stated that they would not be funding this project, for which they could give no reason other than that their pot of money could not stretch to do so. After a 32 minute conversation to James, one of the funding specialists at Arts Council England, we had established that I had received no reasoning for which our project was unsuccessful other than this.
I thought of the 17 - 18 year olds I had just observed putting their hearts and souls into their work, and I knew if there was one thing I would like for Christmas, it’s to know we are one step closer to living in a world within which Arts Funding and Resources have not been cut so close to the bone that one of these children receives a letter stating:
“Your application was not successful… Our decision making takes many factors into account. We consider your activity alongside other applications and look at the range of projects we support. We want the projects we fund to cover a broad range of activity types, artforms and geographical areas.”
This was incredibly unhelpful feedback, for which I was instructed:
“The information that you have received in this decision letter is the full level of feedback that we can provide for applications £15,000 and under.”
In essence, this narrative tells me that because I only wanted £15,000, not more, my time and energy and skills and experience do not even equate to someone explaining why they choose someone’s project over mine. Again, this comes down to the fact that the people working in this industry are stretching themselves and their resources to the limit.
I am telling you that operating within this system is detrimental to people’s physiological stability; it is not good for people’s mental health and it needs to change:
- Ideally, so that more money is invested into arts production
- But at least so that all of the applications which were successful are made easily available soon after the decision has been made, so you/we as artists can be encouraged by what IS being funded, and so that no one needs to receive a letter like this in the future.
This was incredibly unhelpful feedback because it was written by someone who’s time and resources have not been acknowledged by our government as worthy, but despite that, this person working for Arts Council England keeps fighting for impactful art to remain in close reach of those who do not have £70 to spend on watching a West End show.
Yes, this world is harsh, but how harsh do we want to be? I think our mental well-being is more important, which is why I make the shows I make, and why the teams I work with make the work they make.