To do or not to do: Managed Funds, G4A and the Arts Council of England

pears in on a weighting scaleI’ve delivered two arts projects in 2013 that have been funded through Arts Council England’s managed funds (not quite the same as the new strategic funds which still require a degree of open application).

Basically they were the funds ACE could allocate itself to seed work, push agendas and fill gaps.

Both projects went really well – achieving their aims and generating support, ideas and enthusiasm. And there is momentum in both to continue, which is excellent and … but how to go about this? The discussions go something like this…

ACE: We should continue this, it’s great.

Me: Yes we should, it was.

ACE: We’d love you to do something more on this.

Me: Excellent, I’d be delighted.

ACE: How about you put in a Grants for the Arts (G4A) application for it?

Me: Oh, err….. ummmm…. (tails off without really knowing what to say)

Now don’t get me wrong, I would dearly love one or both to continue, but I have a problem with the immediate default to the G4A route.

Firstly, I am a freelancer. Putting in a G4A is time-consuming. It’s not a quick form and there’s not a quick  turnaround (I know these things are currently in flux as the process shifts). Should I invest in these myself? That’s problem one.

Problem two: these aren’t ‘my’ projects. I didn’t come up with them although I might have had a role in shaping them into their current incarnations. I don’t feel I own them.

Problem three, G4A needs match funding (minimum 10%), problem four, G4A needs partnerships and problem five, G4A is a highly competitive programme (currently around 49% of applications are funded). Does an application for work originally commissioned directly from ACE stand more of a chance of being funded? No. The system is now so centralised that although there would be a clear ‘tick’ against strategy in the assessment process, nothing is a sure-fire win anymore – and it all depends who you are up against in the round for which you apply. Basically when the money is gone, the money is gone.

I have no problem with G4A as a scheme, in fact I have used it to fund my own work. But that’s another rub. I need more than one project running at a time to work successfully as a freelancer – I don’t tend to work full-time on one thing, wait 12 weeks and then work full-time on something else, that business model doesn’t work for many, I imagine. But having more than one G4A application in at a time is tricky – problem six? As their Frequently Asked Questions sheet says:

How many times can I apply?

We would not encourage you to make more than one application at a time. If you want to make a second application you must speak to the person assessing your first application. If you are unclear who your assessor is, please contact our Enquiries team who will direct you to the assessor. The assessor will confirm in writing whether you can apply and you must include the letter from them with your second application.

We advise you to think carefully before making more than one application. Our assessment will consider your ability to manage more than one activity at a time.

If you have had a grant from us before, you must meet all of the conditions in your grant offer and you must send us all the information we need for that grant before you apply. 

So do I use G4A ‘just’ to fund my own work? Do I instead use it to apply for work that isn’t ‘mine’ – work that I’ve just been asked to deliver in the past, and take the financial risk on this myself? Do I try and do both? What does this do to others applying for G4A? The number of applications is already increasing as NPO’s (National Portfolio Organisation’s) struggle with cuts, and those ‘moved on’ from the national portfolio seek funding to plug the gaps. Basically the more who apply, the lower the chance of success statistically as the amount of money in the pot isn’t going up any time soon.

Managed funds has gone, strategic funds aren’t quite clear yet, and the default appears to be G4A. So what do we do? I don’t have the answers but I’m interested in the question. And I’m interested in what others might do in the same situation? What would you do?

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2 thoughts on “To do or not to do: Managed Funds, G4A and the Arts Council of England

  1. Hi Jo, This is a constant problem for us. We have great ideas , we get GFA funding, which enables us to do R and D or a tour of the work in question but then we cannot 1) progress that work or 2) keep it on the road. As you say, to develop these applications is time consuming and , in my case unpaid. The last one took six months due to the ever expanding need for collaboration and diversification, (which I welcome by the way!) . Our last GFA funded project was an R and D on a piece for profoundly disabled young people set in a hydrotherapy pool , I know that this would be very expensive to tour BUT it has great potential and equally potentially great impact. This means that this project is now on the back burner. I am awaiting the result of a GFA bid which is part of a wider European bid so I obviously cannot bid for anything else with GFA at the moment. We are looking at other funding sources but the problem you discuss is one which continues to trouble us.

    • Hi Jo

      its an interesting set of questions, and behind it lies a particular large one looming. For me it boils down to – how can I engage with ACE funding at a pro-active, strategic level, in a post-strategic world, where ACE will have less capacity to operate strategically?

      We know that less money will be coming from the Treasury stream (wealth redistribution from income tax gathered) in the coming years. We also are led to expect more money coming from the Lottery stream (wealth redistribution, on the whole, from the poor to the wealthier).

      Notwithstanding the ethics, Lottery funding comes with certain caveats – which is partly why core funding will be going down and project funding will be going up. Precisely the problem you have articulated tacitly puts pressure on the system to ask: “why cant we change the rules of Lottery funding beneficiaries, so that funding can be used to cover core costs as well as project?”. Im deliberately removing managed funds and their analogues as I think they are merely the thin end of this particular wedge.

      The danger, of course is that in asking for greater flexibility on how Lottery funding is spent, we open the door to Treasury funds dwindling further or even disappearing… So how can we create a balance which both protects and enables?

      To come at your question more specifically. Unless you are an NPO, I dont think it works any more to see ACE as the major funder in the system. Their attempt to manage risk by breaking down artistic processes from creative inception through to commercial exploitation, and funding them in stages, is great in theory, but in practice requires more institutional capacity, not less. This might work if you are an NPO, but otherwise its exactly as Paul Bamlett has outlined. It’s done with the best of intentions as ACE Officers genuinely want to support work they beleive in, but systemically its a sop and a drain, and sets too many up to fail beacuse all it can do is rely on hidden subsidy from people’s time. The sector is simply under-capitalised and there are way more capable people wanting to make good work than funds to support them.

      I genuinely think the only way to see ACE funding now is as top up. Its got to come from the likes of HLF, Europe, philanthropy (whatever that means below the level of a top public-facing arts body), trusts and foundations. For some this will be a very painful sea-change, but others have been managing for many many years.

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