There are many funding bodies who support theatre in England. The largest and most well known of which is Arts Council England (ACE). While they are most peoples first port of call for funding it should be remembered there are many other routes you can persue – from individual trusts and funds though to support in kind from other arts organisations. In a time when competition for arts council funding is so fierce these alternative routes are more important than ever. A basic internet search for theatre trusts and funds will throw up many options for you to explore. You can also search for organisations making similar work to yours and see where they got their funding from. Most trusts and funds will tend to give out smaller amounts of money than ACE – but they are a very good route to follow for less established companies or for smaller projects.
Support in kind refers to non-financial support you can receive. In many cases the majority of your budget will be spent hiring equipment, rehearsal space, or venue. So if you can get any of these supplied for free it will remove the need to fundraise for them. Most arts organisations are cash poor but resource rich: that is to say they have empty space and equipment which it wont cost them anything to let you use. So it’s a much easier ask to approach them and ask for support in kind than to actually ask them for cash support. As we shall see It’s also a very good way to build up a group of organisations who are supporting your work – which will give it the ‘stamp of approval’ it needs to access further financial support.
ACE are always under huge public scrutiny to prove that they aren’t wasting public money. This makes them much more risk averse than other organisations. Put bluntly they need to be sure if you’re project doesn’t happen that they won’t be blamed for making a mistake in backing you. There are two ways they can cover their back in this respect. The first is if they can point to you having a successful track record. If you’ve always delivered in the past – then they can’t be blamed for thinking you’ll deliver in the future. Obviously this is very difficult for younger companies without a string of successes under their belt. Indeed it can lead to a catch-22 situation where in order to get enough funding to put on your first large production – you need to have already put on a large production to prove you can do it. The second way they can cover their back is if you’ve already received support from other trusted organisations. If several other established organisations, like local councils and theatres are backing your work, then ACE will feel safer backing you too – after all if it all goes wrong the blame for wasting funding will be spread between all the organisations involved. So when apply to ACE we always recommend that you have at least two established partners involved supporting any project before you put in your application.
No matter who you’re applying to for support you need to bare some basic points in mind. All organisations will have a specific set of aims and objectives which they look to support. In most cases these will be explicitly laid out and easy for you to find. In the case of smaller organisations they may be more opaque – though a sure way to know what kind of work an organisation wants to support is to look at what it is currently supporting. It should go without saying that you should only apply for funding from the organisations who’s aims and objectives fit the aims and objectives of your project. ACE regularly publish and update the aims and objectives they’re looking to support. Always check their website and make sure you’re project fits what they’re looking for before applying.
You also need to bear in mind the kind of funding you can apply for. When you’re starting out this will almost exclusively be project based. That is to say funding to support the creation of a specific artistic project, rather than ongoing funding for your organisation or overheads. Within project funding there are several tiers of funding you can apply for. At the beginning of a project you can apply for Research and Development funding. In general this will be for a relatively small amount of money – usually less than £5k and will cover the initial exploration of an idea or project. For younger and less experienced companies this gives you the opportunity to build up a relationship with the funding body – with relatively little money at stake – in order that they can trust you will larger funding bids in the future.
The second tier of project funding would be looking to get a show into full production. This will be a significantly larger sum of money than the R&D funding. Every project is different so it’s hard to give a ball part figure for how much you should be looking at. The advice we always give however is that funders are far more likely to refuse to invest in your project if the budget is unreasonably low – than if the budget is justifiably large. This particularly applies to ACE. One of the main objectives of ACE is to ensure that arts are paid in England. So while they may question very high overhead costs or admin, it is rare they would ever question fees to artists. Indeed you would be far more likely to be refused funding for paying artists too little than paying them too much. For an ACE application never budget to pay creatives less than the Equity / ITC agreed minimum fees. And please do bear in mind these fees are the minimum you should be looking to pay – not the suggested amount.
The final tier of project funding for the theatre is tour funding. While it is possible to apply for tour funding without a finished show, this is obviously asking ACE to take a larger risk than if the piece has already been created and performed to a warm reception. We’d therefore always recommend that companies without a long track record of success behind them – would wait until their show has been performed successfully before applying for tour funding.
There is no fixed rules about which tier of funding you apply for. There is no reason you couldn’t self fund the R&D and production and then apply for funding just to tour the work. Or conversely acquire funding for the R&D and then self fund the production. It really comes down to what’s right for the project and which stage your at as a company. For example for a newer and less experienced company it might make sense to self fund the first stages of the project until you’ve got the show into production with a handful of glowing reviews in your pocket – before applying to ACE for a touring grant. That way your show will have a proven track record and, as previously discussed, this will make you far more fundable from ACE’s point of view.
No matter what stage you’re project is at you shouldn’t ever ask a funder to put up more than around 50% of the total budget. Once again this is about minimising the risk for the funding body as well as yourself. There are many other streams of funding that can make up your total budget – from ticket sale, to donations, to crowd funding, not to mention support from other trusts and funds. Making sure your budget has a diverse range of funding channels coming into it will not only make you more appealing to funding bodies, it will also make your project more financially stable for yourself. If you’re receiving 100% of your budget from one source and they pull out then the whole project will collapse. Having multiple income streams will insure you against any one of them not bringing in as much money as you’d planned for.
Finally be strategic about which area you’re applying for funding in. The Arts Council divides England into several different regions, each with their own budget, and each with a different level of competition and demand for that budget. No matter where you personally live, you apply for funding from the region where your company’s registered office is based. So think carefully about where this is. There currently isn’t enough money to go around all the eligible projects in any of the regions. But this is especially the case in areas with high concentrations of artists such as London. In the case of London this is coupled with a desire to reallocate the already stretched funding away from the capital to the rest of England. So do consider registering your company office in a region where there is less competition for funds. And also don’t forget that everything said here is about Arts Council England, the other countries that make up the UK all have their own arts funding arrangements. At the time of writing this there is an anti-arts funding consensus within English policy making, so it is well worth considering moving out of England all together and basing your company elsewhere in the UK, where the devolved governments seem much more supportive of the arts.
The only other thing to say is don’t be disheartened. Especially to begin with you’ll write a lot more applications than you’ll receive funding for. Make sure you have a plan-b, don’t take it personally, and keep persevering.
Flavia Fraser-Cannon and Alexander Parsonage run Finger in the Pie Theatre company. They offer regular workshops on fundraising and producing theatre. For more information please visit www.fingerinthepie.com