How to Start Applying for Funding
Words by Kara Chamberlain
Everyone take a deep breath, we are going to talk about funding...
So many artists rely on funding to make their work happen, and yet it can be such a daunting task to apply, especially for government bodies such as the Arts Council of England. We have written a few applications now, and have had some successes and many rejections. Here is some of the wisdom we have learned along the way, hopefully it helps you get started (or keep going).
1. What is your project?
This may seem really obvious, but getting clarity on what you want to create and how you want to share it is a vital first step. Throughout an application you will be asked to succinctly explain many aspects of the work you want to do, and this becomes significantly easier if you have already thought it all through.
Some good questions to ask yourself are:
What kind of work will this be? (ie. a short film, a staged reading, immersive theatre for toddlers, etc.)
How will you create it? (ie. devising or writing, rehearsal period, interviewing preschool teachers and creating a movement sequence to their responses, you get the idea)
Where will you put it on?
Who will come and see it/who is your target audience?
2. Who is on your team?
Again, this may seem obvious, but rallying the people you want to work with should happen as early as possible. If the project is new writing that you are producing, or work that requires a big team, not everyone will be decided on from the start. This is especially true of casting, that tends to be one of the last considerations (as an actor I know this well). But if you plan to work with a director, or get some of your friends to help you with devising, or even if you know someone who can lend you some rehearsal space in their basement, these are important things to confirm before you apply for funding. The more people you have on your team, the better prepared you will look.
This is of course relative to the project. If you are applying to fund a solo R&D process for a piece, you may not need anyone else on your team. But perhaps you plan to interview people, or bring in a guest artist to help you for a couple days, all of these things can be noted in an application. Your team can also include charities, organisations, and theatres who you plan to work with. If you are applying to fund a tour, for example, this kind of information becomes very important.
3. What is your budget?
Before you panic about how to get the money, start by figuring out how much you need. With ACE funding, as an example, if you are applying for grants under £15,000 your budget does not need to be specific to every penny. But you do need to do some math and figure out how much things generally cost.
I do the budgeting for Crossline, and I usually start this process by adding up the following expenses:
How many people are involved in the project, and how much do I want to pay them? (Note that most applications will also want you to pay yourself, so include your time in the budget)
What are the production costs, ie. rehearsal venue, design, insurance, etc.?
Do I need to travel/find accommodation at any point during this project?
What will the marketing costs be to get people to come to the show?
Are there any other costs associated with this project, ie. performance rights, per diems, etc?
Then I calculate the expected income of the project:
What other sources of funding am I expecting, ie. crowdfunding, private investment?
What are the potential income from ticket sales? (I usually calculate this based on selling 40% of our tickets, and then include the box office split if applicable, but use your own discretion based on the fees associated with any venues you are visiting)
Are there any donations in-kind? (These are services donated to you for free that would otherwise have been an expense, so you would claim the value of the service as income)
At this point you should have a basic sense of how much you should spend and make, and the difference between the two will be the money you need to apply for.
4. Do Research
At this point you have all the starting blocks for a solid application, now you have to do some research into who you apply to. For example, if you are applying for government funding there will be information online about requirements and what they are looking for. All the reading may seem like too much, but it has many helpful tips. If you struggle with doing lots of reading, or with any part of the application process, the Arts Council has a fund to support artists in need of a little extra help during the application process. You can see if you are eligible here.
Another source of information can be other companies or artists you know who have been through the application process. When we were first applying for funding we reached out to many other artists for advice, and received some very useful guidance.
Arts Council is only one funding source, there are so many options for arts funding. Do some web searching and talk to other artists. For example, if you are under 25 you can apply for a Think Big Bursary from O2, there are also many residencies and awards schemes with fringe venues. Keep yourself open to opportunities, once you have the basic information for an application you can tailor it quickly to many different ones.
5. Learn from rejection
If we had a fiver for every rejection letter, we wouldn't need to apply for funding ever again. It is part of the process. As artists it can be hard to deal with rejection, even though it is such an unavoidable part of the job. Rejection gives us an opportunity to reflect and ask for feedback (if possible). Many of our opportunities came because we rallied in the face of rejection and re-submitted, or tried a different approach. Stay as objective as you can, and each note will be an important chance to learn and develop your skills.
**COVID-19 UPDATE: After a hiatus, the Arts Council is accepting applications once again, and are suspending the requirement for 10% match funding. They are looking to provide support for development projects, and require that all proposals take health and safety measures into account. For more information about the updated guidelines, check out their new guidance here.
Note: This advice is based on personal experience only, we are not affiliated with any funding body. Crossline Theatre has received funding from the Arts Council of England, the O2 Think Big Bursary, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and independent crowdfunding campaigns.