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In this blog series, we explore with you the various ways in which collectives and individuals have financed their projects. This week Emilia Telese shares her advice.

Emilia Telese is a visual artist and researcher. She started the workshop Dodge the Shredder in 2001 to help people with fundraising proposals. Here she shares her advice for funding in 2017. You can book tickets for the workshop here.

Could you tell us a bit more about what you do? 

I'm a UK based, Italian visual artist and researcher with over 20 years' experience. As an artist, I have used many mediums and art forms, including painting, sculpture, photography, digital media, video, public art, installation and performance and I have exhibited in over 70 exhibitions worldwide in places such as the Louvre, the Freud Museum and the Venice Biennale. Because of the non-commercial nature of most of my work, I usually work on public and private commissions, and have fundraised for many large-scale projects, for my own projects and also on behalf of other UK arts organisations. As a researcher, I've always been interested in the relationship between artists and economics, I guess this stems from being trained in Italy, where artists were traditionally part of the social fabric and seen as holding a profession. I'm interested in the way artists are part of local and global economies and their worth within them. I'm currently writing my PhD in Cultural Policy for Loughborough University on this subject, funded by the AHRC and a-n The Artists Information Company.  I'm also a university lecturer specialised in professional development for artists, and a former Regional Council Member for Arts Council England. 

What is the Dodge the Shredder workshop?

I invented Dodge The Shredder in 2001, when I was asked to run a workshop on fundraising at a London university. I thought it would be interesting to have a very hands-on, practical workshop focused on understanding the UK culture related funding systems, and minimising rejection (hence the name), which can always cause frustration when asking for funds. It's inevitable to expect a degree of rejection, as there are always more applicants than funds available, yet it's also important to build from that and create more chances of success for the future. I have now run DTS for over 15 years all around the UK for hundreds of UK arts organisations, universities and local authorities and even adapted it for other countries. It covers all the practical aspects of financing your practice and relates it to real situations, keeping a strong practical element where people can apply the advice there and then, tailor-made to their own projects. I am convinced that learning about how the arts are funded and how the arts economy works is key to run a successful career and one where we are more sustainable and financially independent as artists. 

What are the most reliable sources of funding for artists?
There are no 100% reliable sources of funding for artists as all of them - public, private and corporate funding, and even crowdfunding - have a degree of unreliability. In my opinion, it depends on what you want to fund, as the many different types of funding sources are suitable for different kinds of projects. For example, public funds may be somewhat reliable if your work has a public benefit element to it but may have a high degree of rejection if it hasn't. Crowdfunding usually works well the first time but is less reliable on a second or third try. Private sponsorship may not come in the form of money but products or services. So I suppose my answer to that is to think what kind of project you want to create and find a funding source which would be most reliable in that particular context. 

What would say makes an overall strong funding proposal for a project?
Many elements do, I will mention a couple: being clear about what you want, and precise about the financial aspects of it. Vagueness and bad maths are always a recipe for rejection. Also, don't expect the funder to do any research for you: assume they know nothing of you and you need to explain in detail what you are about and why they should part with their money.

What problems have you faced yourself with funding proposals in the past?
When I first started out many years ago, rookie mistakes were things like not providing enough information and writing applications that were too convoluted. When applying as a group of people, it is also important that you're on the same page. A couple of group applications were unsuccessful as we were disagreeing on several points and this came across in the application.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to get funding in 2017?
Public funding for the arts in the UK is getting lower and funding cuts make it more and more competitive. This means that there will be inevitably a lot more rejection for funding applications. I would suggest thoroughly researching sources of funding and making absolutely sure what you want to do falls within the remit of what a funding body is looking for. But this comes with a warning: never force a project into a funding application. If you completely alter your work to fit funding guidelines, your application may seem to be at odds with your previous work and you may end up stuck doing something completely different from what you set out to do. 

Check reputable sources of information on funding and other artists' professional development advice such as a-n The Artists Information Company www.a-n.co.uk or Artquest www.artquest.org.uk as well as the sites of the funding bodies you have found. 

New for 2017, a joint initiative between Nesta, Arts Council England (ACE), the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the DCMS, has set up a matched crowdfunding pilot scheme for the  arts and heritage sectors. One of those, Artists + The Crowd, is aimed specifically at individual artists and match fund up to 25% towards crowdfunding projects. More information can be found here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/funds/arts

And finally.... come to one of my workshops! 

You can book tickets for ‘Dodge the Shredder’ here.

Image:  Life Begins At Lands End © Emilia Telese

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