Thinking about but putting off that application for Arts Council funding? Fear not, Holly Bond has been there and she wants to offer some words of advice.

I recently watched a great a play and the company seemed very cool. I sat there comparing myself to them, thinking that they and my own theatre company were quite similar, both in our style and subject matter. I thought maybe I should go up at the end and suggest a coffee or a pint as I had this feeling we would just ‘click’. As I shuffled in my seat, deliberating about whether I had enough money to buy the director a wine, I flipped the leaflet of their show over, and there it was, staring back at me. The crossed fingers. The circle.  None other than the Arts Council Logo. That’s it. I can’t chat to these guys, these professionals. True artists, unlike me.

Somehow, getting Arts Council (ACE) funding seemed to me like a symbol of true artistry, of having ‘made it.’ Yet I recently got my own (YAY!) and yes, it is an amazing feeling, for you’ve been given public money to do the thing you love. Grantium, the online system used for applications is indeed the most confusing website ever to exist and should have its own MA Course but in fact, applying for funding was not this scary, intangible process I thought it was. Upon completing the 80 page application, my company and I learnt some valuable lessons that I wish to share with you here.

One great thing about Arts Council funding is that it really pushes you to know your project inside out: who it’s reaching, who’s involved, where it will be, how many people can come etc. However, there is a time limit. If your project is in September, and an application takes six weeks, start planning and know the intricacies of your project before you touch Grantium. I recommend big spider diagrams with spidey legs and have them very spidery before you even begin.

Not only do you need to know your project inside out, but you need to think about how it will benefit you and your company. ACE won’t give money to do a one-off circus show, they want to see how it help you develop as an artist, how it will entrench you in a certain community or if it will allow the production of further projects. All of this pre-planning will save valuable time editing your application and means you have more time to show it to people to look over before the deadline.

Having other people look over my application was, I believe, the reason for its success, and I have found in theatre, people who have progressed further in their career are so willing to help, because they know the struggle of getting their first one. Remember your stage school dance teacher making a show? Reach out to them with an email. Work front of house at a theatre? Stalk down that producer who, five years ago was making fringe theatre just like you are now. Most people working in the theatre industry have been through their first application and can offer advice. Invite them for a coffee and ask if they can give insight about your application, or even better, if they can look over it for you. As someone who is terrible at Maths (and I suppose a lot of us do drama for a reason) having someone who looks at budgets everyday was very helpful. They will be able to pose the right questions and give a second opinion on things.

Another great reason for seeking out advice is match funding, which is sort of like a Help to Buy scheme. The Arts Council want to know that you have other sources of funding, proving that you’re a reliable and professional artist to fund. Brilliantly, this includes In Kind support, which isn’t stone cold cash, but is made up by free rehearsal space for example, or someone printing your first 100 flyers for free. It is funding that is ‘worth’ something. This even includes what someone’s time is worth, so if you find a great person to look over your application, count up how long they spent on it and add their day rate to your match funding. Meeting all those people throughout your life and asking them for a coffee could actually be worth a lot.

Once your project plan is clear, put it into Grantium and get a second opinion from a few people, before working through it with a partner with a fine-tooth comb. Is there anything missing? Have you spelt recommend right? All this needs to be checked and checked again. Then you can finally submit and then… begins the waiting game.

You might get it. You might not. If it’s your first you will likely be rejected and then probably a couple more times after, but it’s nice to know that unlike any other application you will do, this is not the be-all and end-all. You also get feedback for the next time around, so you can fail better. It’s a work in progress and a learning curve, but the rejections will make you a better artist, clearer on the vision for your project and how you want to grow. I now realise there was no reason to feel intimated by that logo at the bottom of a leaflet, because so many people have been there and so many people have conquered Arts Council Everest.

For more advice and inspiration, check out Flavia Bertram’s Guest Blog on how she successfully acquired funding.