Busting some myths about Craft and Grants

According to the Australia Council for the Arts there are around 4,000 craft practitioners across Australia and 2 million adults participate in craft activity. In Victoria approximately 80,000 people are actively engaged in some form of craft practice, but the industry claims that these numbers are not reflected in the allocation of public funding.  The National Craft Initiative (NCI) state in Mapping the Australian Craft Sector (2014):

When comparing participation numbers with the level of funding received by various art forms, there appears to be significantly less funding allocated to the crafts compared with other art forms.

Craft Victoria decided to investigate this issue and provide current information on grants and public opportunity for makers by holding a seminar bringing together the Australia Council for the ArtsCreative VictoriaCity of Melbourne and Asialink. “The New Funding Landscape” busted a few myths about craftspeople accessing grants while providing comprehensive information on the opportunities available for career development, arts projects and residencies.

When it comes to makers receiving grants both Creative Victoria and City of Melbourne said that they do not receive significant applications from the world of craft, but when they do their level of success is strong.  The Australia Council for the Arts say that while traditionally applications from craft have been low there has been an increase since the simplification of their funding model introduced 18-months ago (along with an increase in success rates for both emerging artists and first time applicants.) In discussions with makers and those from funding bodies it became clear that there are a number of reasons craftspeople may be self-selecting out of grants and other opportunities.  To encourage craft applications here are a few myths that need to be busted:

Myth #1: You need to be a professional full-time craftsperson

You do not need to be working full time as an artist or maker to access a grant, grants support makers at all levels of their career.  Where in the past funding bodies often asked applicants to position themselves in an artistic career hierarchy, Guy Betts from the Australia Council for the Arts spoke about how the old career definitions of ‘emerging’, ‘mid-career’ and ‘established’ artist are no more under their funding model introduced in 2015.

Many available grants focus on the development of artistic careers.  Christabel Harvey from Creative Victoria said that they focus on what an opportunity will do for the individual’s career and how it fits in to their career plan.  Melina Scarcella, grants officer from the Australia Council added, “We want to know why this opportunity is right for you and, importantly, why is now the right time to undertake it.” It is vital to articulate how any grant opportunity will develop your potential as a maker.

Myth #2: You must be a visual artist to apply in the visual arts category

Visual arts covers a broad spectrum of disciplines.  When applying for a grant with City of Melbourne or Creative Victoria the category of ‘visual arts’ includes craft and all forms of design.  Many makers may consider themselves ineligible for grants because there’s no specific craft category.

The Australia Council for the Arts are very proud of the fact their grants are no longer art form specific, a factor they believe has contributed to the increase in craft applications.

Myth #3: You need to live within certain geographic boundaries and be an Australian citizen

The City of Melbourne’s Meg Simondson said that to apply for an arts grant you “Only need to present the work in the City of Melbourne’s boundaries” (which extend across 15 suburbs.)  You do not need to live or work in Melbourne, have permanent residency or be a citizen, you can even be an international visitor.

(Eligibility criteria for Creative Victoria and Australia Council grants does include residency and citizenship requirements, so always look at their website to confirm.)

Myth #4: Every application must have public outcomes like an exhibition

Understanding where your work will end up is an important part of the planning process and crucial to articulate when you apply for a grant.  But makers need to take the time to explore what ‘public outcome’ may mean for their specific practice. “It doesn’t mean you have to be undertaking large scale works that are going to be seen by thousands of people” Meg Simondson said, “It could mean a simple open studio or workshop.”  The outcome of the work should reflect the type of artist who creates it and where they are within their career.

Applicants should also consider what ‘access and participation’ means with respect to their work. This isn’t just about physical access and space, it might be delivery of work online, via catalogue, or in person and participation might involve collaborators, partners and volunteers along with audiences.  Communities interact with artists in a variety of ways, the more makers can articulate this the better.

For makers that don’t have a specific outcome planned there is still opportunity to apply for residencies.  City of Melbourne residencies aim to provide space for artists to “sit, think, collaborate and work” without necessarily having a defined public outcome at the end.

Myth #5: Everything needs to be confirmed before you apply, including multiple revenue streams

Grant applications are always assessed against the criteria of viability and planning. According to our speakers this is an area in which applicants can distinguish themselves from the pack – in either a good or bad way. Assessment panels need to be able to see that a project can be achieved with the resources specified and in the defined timeframes, and every speaker stressed the need to include artist fees within the proposal.  Applicants that do not allocate budget to pay associated artists or themselves for their labour will not be successful.

While comprehensive project planning is important, this does not mean that all details need to be 100 per cent confirmed prior to hitting submit.  While you need to show evidence of developing alternate sources of funding, for example, you do not need to have received approval. Same with space and other logistics.

Maybe after busting these myths more makers may be more open to apply for public opportunity? “Just APPLY” says Melina Scarcella.  Our speakers also offered a number of general tips to maximise chances of success:

Understand and communicate your point of difference: What is the point of your project that makes it unique and interesting? Having a point of difference that is clearly communicated is an important way to be seen as a worthy project.

Understand organisational timeframes: According to Creative Victoria 98 per cent of their applications are submitted in the last 3 hours! If you want an edge, start planning early.

Articulate your project and practice in clear, concise language: An application is a reflection of your story as a maker.  You want the assessment panel to understand who you are and exactly what your plan to achieve with the proposed funds.  This means ensuring your application makes sense to a reader other than you, so always get a friend or colleague to read over it.  Remember it is going to be assessed by peers, so they will understand the world in which you operate, but as the Australia Council’s Guy Betts says “If you can say it in twenty words, don’t say it in 100.”

Quality support can make or break your application:  High quality images are crucial, but Christabel Harvey also stressed the need for image explanations, “Are they finished works? Work in progress? Ensure the assessment panel know what they are looking at.”

Address your funder’s specific needs, strategy and criteria: Like applying for a job you must ensure you meet the organisation’s key criteria and strategic needs. Meg Simondson says “Read our strategic plan, our arts strategy and find things you can tap into.  We want to see you’re aligning with our goals.  Feed our words back to us.”

Contact the funders to discuss your application: “Call us twenty times” Christabel Harvey from Creative Victoria, “As long as it isn’t on the last day as you might find it hard to reach us.”  Guy Betts and Melina Scarcella from the Australia Council concurred, “Call us, make appointments with us, and chat with us at our monthly online forum.”  Grants teams are there to ensure artists understand the application process.

Consider being on the assessment panel: City of Melbourne, Creative Victoria and the Australia Council all stressed how valuable being on the peer assessment panel is.  Calls go out regularly and being a peer is really valuable experience to contribute to your community, get a snapshot of what is happening in the sector and learn about what makes successful applications.  While you obviously can’t apply for a grant at the same time as being on the panel, you don’t have to be an established artist to participate.   All funders stressed they want diversity of background and experience in their peer panels. And yes, you do get paid (and lunch).

Feedback is provided on applications: Notes are taken all through the assessment process. If you’re successful or unsuccessful make the effort to get feedback from the funding body to improve your future success rate.

The session wasn’t all about being a successful grant applicant.  Jess O’Brien from Asialink, who kindly offered the use of their space, gave a comprehensive overview of their residency program.  Over 800 arts professionals have travelled to 21 countries since the 1990s with Asialink Arts. These professional development opportunities allow artists to conduct research, extend their networks, understand international context and have dedicated time and space to make new work. Open to Australian citizens and residents, who are not currently students, residencies include an element of cultural exchange, with all participants engaging with their host community during their six to twelve week visits.

The funding and public opportunity landscape has changed considerably in recent times.  It’s important for those in the craft community to understand what opportunities are available to them, and how to best maximise their chances for success.  Craft Victoria is proud to have hosted such a valuable forum and extend our thanks to the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, City of Melbourne and Asialink for generously sharing their expertise.

Image: One of a Kind by Lucille Sciallana taken by Ari Hunter at the Victorian Craft Award exhibition 2015.