Applying for funding can be a daunting task. How much time and money should you ask for? How do you manage the application timeline? With so much information to gather, and endless amounts of paperwork to fill in, it’s an infamously time-consuming part of many creative processes. For Ryan Boultbee and Charlie Collins, who run the Midlands-based arts organisation No Jobs in the Arts, funding has been essential to producing free projects benefitting their regional community. Having become veterans of the application process, here, they share some hard-won lessons they’ve gathered – whether it’s on budgeting or collaboration – as well as some tips on applying and managing funding for creative projects.
We run the provocatively-named arts organisation, No Jobs in the Arts. Working collaboratively, we deliver programmes that aim to strengthen the learning and development of early-career creatives working in the visual arts. In a nutshell, we develop opportunities to support aspiring artists and curators in the Midlands.
Our projects are free to access as we think emerging creatives shouldn’t be charged for opportunities to learn and develop their work. But this means they require some level of funding, and accordingly, many funding applications to write.
The first one we did was for a zine and festival showcasing artists’ work during the height of the pandemic. That funding bid took ages to write as we struggled to put our aims and ambitions – the reason our project’s future is worth investing in – onto paper, which really slowed down the application process.
We’ve come a long way since, having won multiple grants from Arts Council England for several of our projects.
Tips on applying for funding for your next creative project
Writing any funding application requires showing funding bodies, investors and partners how you’ll keep a project on track and finances in the green.
Here are some valuable tips we’ve picked up from our own experience that will help you regardless of the amount or resources you’re bidding for.
💰 Find free support to write your applications
Support comes in many different forms and may not be immediately obvious. Sometimes, they may be targeted specifically at creative ventures; others are more generally for start-ups and developing business ideas. But both of them are equally applicable to creative projects. To help us write our first funding application, we applied for free business support, using the Creative Enterprise Toolkit, which helped us to write clearly about our values, and link them to how we would meet the funders’ priorities.
Shop around to see what free support is available to your specific project type or discipline. Try searching for small and medium enterprise support to find workshop events, mentors, creative courses and networking opportunities. A good place to start is the British Library’s national Business and Intellectual Property network.
🤔 Consider which grant is most appropriate for your project
With a bit of research, you can work out who is funding which cultural activities. A project’s funders are usually clearly credited, so always check for names and logos on supporting material and websites of projects similar to your vision. (If that fails, you can always just ask the organiser who is funding their project!)
This could mean getting stuff for free, or at a reduced rate; for example, we might negotiate a discount with a supplier, or borrow a piece of fancy equipment instead of buying it. The best way we’ve found to get freebies is by talking to people about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what we need to make it happen.
Where possible, we also ask creatives to volunteer their time, energy, and resources for a project. But this is a last resort as it risks being exploitative and underrepresentative of the communities we aim to support.
⏳ Ask for more money and time than you need
Adding a little extra onto a proposed budget and schedule will help account for unexpected, unplanned project costs. If an item was missed off the predicted costs, or its price is higher than expected, for instance, the extra money you applied for (also known as contingency) will allow for changes.
Typically, we add 5% to 15% of the total project budget as contingency, and tend to spend the majority of it. The more risky the delivery, the more we add to the total budget.
We’ve also found it helpful to add contingency when it comes to timing. A few extra weeks padding spread across the timeline allows for programming changes and unplanned leave to be taken when needed. We’ve found that we often underestimate how long a task takes and costs; usually, we’re off by around 30%. By keeping track of differences like this, you can ensure the planning of future projects is more realistic.
🔎 Focus on the fine print
Be sure to put in time for regular meetings, catch-ups, document reviews, and logging of project hours. These may be tiresome tasks, but they’re crucial to enabling the more exciting activities in your project. Diligence in this department means it’s more likely that you can avoid project-ending problems, such as an accidental overspend or errors on important documents, like a contract.
Working as a pair on No Jobs in the Arts’ projects, we share the workload and cover each other’s blind spots. We use tools like schedules, budgets, timesheets and to-do lists to catch problems, review project progress and produce official documents.
When working alone or leading a small team, you shoulder a healthy dollop of responsibility for a project, usually without a safety net, so errors are unavoidable. To minimise them, it can be incredibly helpful to find someone you trust to have a read through an application you're working on to see if there are glaring errors. Similarly, reviewing applications made by other creatives is a great way for you learn how to develop your practices and describe them on future applications.
👯 Bring in collaborators where relevant
Where you identify weaknesses or gaps in your knowledge that’s critical to your project, think about bringing in creatives to learn from the tried-and-tested experience of a mentor, or seek professional advice, including legal or financial guidance. For example, if you lack experience managing a budget, find the support of someone who has had experience in project management or accountancy.
Think about the networks you can access to find people to collaborate with and share skills and experiences, such as your friends, family, peers and creative groups and communities.
We also recommend approaching arts organisations working in your area of interest to discuss your project; this will put you on their radar and could help them redirect events, funders, or future collaborators to you.
Time is valuable, especially if offered voluntarily. So think carefully about where in the project timeline to bring other people in; it can be helpful to consider at which points you will find their support most useful.
Where you can, please make sure to pay collaborators properly, fairly, and promptly. We use the Artists’ Union England’s rates of pay when working out project fees.
Find out more about No Jobs in the Arts by following them on Instagram or visiting their website.