The Negative Impact of Traditional Arts Funding

The Negative Impact of Traditional Arts Funding

Most of us have failed at something. Whether we didn’t succeed at a job interview, didn’t win an audition, lost a sporting match… failure is a part of our lives, and for the most part we take it in reasonably good spirits and move on. The arts funding space is no different – we go into applications and auditions, sort of expecting that a high level of competition and limited resources will see the majority of applicants walking away with the opposite result of what they would have hoped. In theory, we feel like we’re okay with that because we understand the practicalities of being an artist. We know there is little support in government for art and beauty, and we know there are many artists grappling to pick up what little funding is available.

However, I would like to explore what the impact is on an artist when they are declined funding.

The grants space feels like a maze and a minefield. To start with, even finding the right grant in the right jurisdiction, for a project that sounds like something you might be able to [adjust your artistic output to] do, in a time frame you can work with, in a location and budget that would keep you afloat, is a full time job in itself. Frequently there are no grants for doing what we already do (or  want to do), so we have to look for a grant that funds some other thing to offset the real cost of the art. Applying for a grant requires a level of expertise, networking, public-service-speak and time, when usually all we want to do is be creating our art (or doing our day-jobs well enough that we can keep arting in the wee hours). For many of us, there’s just no time to sink deeply into the grants space without compromising our primary income stream.

In many cases, government arts grants are applied for in a streamlined (faceless) application process. You enter all the wonderful things about your project, a bullet-proof budget, international collaborations and bazillions of in-kind dollars from your team – but it’s a trap. If you miss one peripheral – something that’s not important to your project, but ticks a box on a form – the application is declined, and through no fault of the artwork. These processes appear more concerned with themselves than the thing they are creating. One would think that a government arts agency would coach/review/guide artists in this process, so they at least know that they have a fair chance of being competitive as the applications pour in, rather than the panel wasting time reviewing ineligible applications.

But I personally have a bigger beef with this process. When an artist is declined funding – and in particular when they’re declined because of a peripheral non-project-centric reason – the message to the artist is that they have failed. Not failed in the application – failed at being an artist. Their trailblazing project is not good enough. Their international collaboration is not important enough. Their art is not relevant enough. Nobody wants to experience their product. The official government message is that they are not good enough.

At a time when we are launching mental health organisations specifically for artists, I would like to voice my opinion that perhaps it would help if we stopped telling artists that they are invalid. By the sheer maths of it, the vast majority of applicants will receive this message at some point. Instead, I feel we should either use our government resources to coach artists in preparing successful applications, (imagine if the committee evaulated the artists’ potential, and then coached them to prepare the funding application!), or even scrap the grants concept altogether and look at alternatives, like employing or commissioning more artists. We would have a healthier arts scene and address some of the mental health issues that artists face.

That is one of the reasons I have created Armchair Philanthropy. I know that every artist has a fan base, and I want to enable those people to be able to support artists more easily and in a bigger way. I also know that there are people wanting to support artists, who can’t get out to support them as much as they would like. Therefore, I have created a way for us to support the art we love from our armchairs.

I feel like it is time for us to take hold of the arts funding space and shape it the way we want to see it, rather than leaving it up to committees and peer panels to decide who filled out the best form.