Never Been ACE Funded

By Thea Stanton, ITC Communications Co-ordinator

I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the 90's romcom ‘Never Been Kissed’ starring Drew Barrymore? It’s a (very archaic but surprisingly watchable) story about Josie Gellar, a woman in her mid-twenties, who goes back to High School as an undercover reporter, harbouring the shameful secret that she has ‘never truly been kissed’. A strange analogy some might think for a blog about funding but as we prepare for our 2018 Conference ‘Shaking the Tin’ which will explore all aspects of holistic fundraising for the Independent Theatre Sector I find myself in a similar predicament. I am the Communications Co-Ordinator at ITC but alongside this role, I am also an active producer and choreographer, in her late twenties who has never been funded by Arts Council England.

Whilst there are certainly many others who are in the same boat with a healthy turnover of great creative work, I have to admit that my failure to get Grants for Arts Funding (one attempt in 2013, another in 2014) has at times led to self-doubt and a level of imposter syndrome when networking in a room of colleagues who have mostly received funding from Arts Council England, Wales or Creative Scotland. Do I really belong in the arts? Is my work good enough? Funding applications are long and highly detailed requiring a great deal of preparation and investment and acceptances or rejections of this work have the ability to validate one’s existence in the sector or shake one’s confidence and self-belief.

It wasn’t until the ITC ‘Effective Fundraising’ course led by brilliant trainer and ITC member Joanna Ridout, where we were asked to contribute to a ‘basket of fears’ that I realised, successful record or not virtually everyone had insecurities about fundraising. Morale, both for individuals and teams is a vital component to a successful or unsuccessful campaign but is so rarely addressed in seminars and workshops. I was particularly appreciative when Zoe, our new General Manager suggested ‘Managing Morale’ this as one of the breakout topics for the conference and I look forward to hearing insights from our two speakers for this session, Frankie Bridges and Joanna Ridout.

There some positives though never having been ACE funded though as I learn last year at the East Meets West conference. One of provocations during the breakaway sessions was ‘What would happen if the Arts Council didn’t exist’. Of course in reality I hope this doesn’t happen, public money for the arts is essential, Arts Council England, Wales and Creative Scotland fund a lot of vital work and we need to keep talking about better ways to spend it. However at this session I discovered a new found confidence with my ability to creatively fundraise and of my work being valued by a range of different sources.

The character of Josie Gellar thrown in the deep end of a ruthlessly cliquey American high school explores friendships with a range of different groups, developing and learning about different facets of herself, and establishing her own values in the process. Similarly, the absence of an ACE grant on all my projects has led me on a journey of developing skills and gaining essential experiences in variety of areas of fundraising. From running crowd-funding campaigns to sponsorship, support in kind and box office deals as well as approaching individuals of high net worth, I learnt that the key to all these approaches was knowing our work, knowing our mission, and developing relationships.Here were some key takeaways from the experience:

Crowd Funding
1.) Whislt ran two successful crowd funding campaigns from 2014-15. We learn that it was utterly worth investing the time and energy in making a short video. Some argue that including this ups your chances by 50% as well as it serving as a secondary form of marketing.

2.) It’s not enough just putting the link out on social media, or even asking your friends to. People want to respond to a story that captures their imagination so a personalised anecdote/plea for money/thanks has to come with the crowdfunding link every time. The choreographer Theo Clinkard recently ran a very affective crowdfunding campaign where he posted personalised thank-you photos in the styles of well-known artist from Seurat to Klein to Van Gough. The campaign picked up momentum incredibly fast and was completed in 24hrs.

3.) You have to move beyond your social circle if you want the campaign to really take off. If I asked friends who worked in a large offices to send round the campaign to their co-workers, I asked distant family to share to campaign with their friendship circles. Gradually our reach grew with two surprising results. Firstly, this was how we found individuals of high net worth. Secondly was the emotional investment that contributors felt with the project. We had individuals buying tickets for performances who we had never met, who we would not have associated with contemporary dance because they felt invested in our work and wanted to see it through to the end result. I still keep up with some of these people today.

Box Office Deals
With the absence of ACE funding we were more reliant than ever on our Box Office revenue. I appreciate that not all venues are flexible with the deals they offer, but we noticed that in the spaces that were less familiar with dance there was more openness to box office agreements favouring the artist. The first venue we used was a residential property, which we were able to use for free with total box office control. Of course not every production is able to do this, but it is becoming an increasingly popular option. The cross arts collective Bastard Assignments have done a series of concerts called ‘At home’ whilst the globally popular concert/gig series Sofar Sounds built its whole mission around this concept.

Trusts and Foundations
There are a lot of trusts and foundations out there and where we had the most success was in isolating certain aspects of the production, be it music or the technology and applying to grants specifically aimed at those areas. I also began to stop seeing these organisations as so unapproachable. Too often we have a tendency to think of funding bodies or donors in an ‘us and them’ sense. Not only was is an unhelpful thought process, it’s completely incorrect. Funding Bodies for the arts exist to give money to the arts, not to prevent it and whilst their criteria may be highly specified, ultimately their aim is to change and reflect the world through the performing arts, just like us.

At the end of ‘Never Been Kissed, penning a newspaper article Josie admits to the whole town that she has never been kissed and then boldly stands the middle of a baseball field during a major match having asked the romantic lead to meet there if he returns her feelings, demonstrating the importance of showing up and being vulnerable if you want to form real relationships. I certainly won’t be doing this at our AGM and Conference but I do look forward to interesting, honest, creative discussions and I will be around if anyone wants to come and share their successes or woes with fundraising. After all, as I have learnt through all these experiences, fundraising and making art becomes a much more rewarding and nourishing experience when you find people who want to change the world in the same way as you do.