In this blog series, we explore with you the various ways in which collectives and individuals have financed their projects. In this interview landscape and documentary photographer Simon Bray and painter and sculpture Tom Musgrove share their advice.
Could you tell us about your project “The Edges of these Isles”?
The Edges Of These Isles is a collaboration between two Manchester based artists, Tom Musgrove, a painter and sculpture, and myself, Simon Bray, a photographer, exploring the British landscape and representing it through our respective mediums. The project, although inherently about place, was driven by the collaboration. We were able to explore how two artists would approach and depict the same subject matter in totally different ways. Through conversations on long car journeys and walks, we were able to discuss our processes, our thinking behind our approach, mentally and technically, and discover more about how each other might go about creating and representing a place, and in turn discovering more about how we would do so ourselves.
Having visited seven locations from all corners of the UK, we each created one piece from each place, which were then exhibited side-by-side according to their geographical location within an installation at The Whitworth. We also created a 25 minute documentary about the project, as well as a 120 page book, both of which you can find out more about on the project site: www.theedgesoftheseisles.com
How was the project funded and why?
The trips to the first five locations were self-funded. We were confident that we had a strong idea, but weren't able to find anyone to support the project from the start, but we weren't going to let that hold us back, so we embarked on the first trips and gradually built up awareness and support for the project as it developed. We ended up being supported by Arts Council England for the final trip over to Northern Ireland and for the production of the book and exhibition. Having already put a significant amount of time, energy and resources into the project, it was a real boost to have the support from the Arts Council. We also received significant support in kind from The Whitworth, who hosted our exhibit as part of their Thursday Lates series, from DoodledoMOTION, the production company who created the film, and from G.F Smith and Pressision who supported the book through paper and printing. Without the support of all of those people, the project would not have come anywhere close to being as complete as it is.
Did you face any setbacks and what were the key issues?
We submitted an original grant application to Arts Council England at the beginning of the project, and although they liked the project idea, we didn't have a formalised plan for how our audience would engage with the project, and the application was rejected. This didn't come as a huge surprise, neither Tom or I had applied for funding before or embarked on a project of this size and I've since learn't that it's not uncommon for a first application to be denied.
How did you change your approach to gain a successful grant?
It became apparent to us that the creation of the work was a very separate part of the project to the behind the scenes development and management of the project. What the failed Arts Council application had shown us was that we needed to be proactive in developing a plan for the public engagement for the work. By this stage, we had more of an idea of what we wanted that to look like and we begun emailing galleries to see if anyone might be interested in showing the work.
We only got negative replies, including from The Whitworth, who said they couldn't show the work, but they would pass it on to their development team who might be able to help us put on a workshop or event, which wasn't really what we were aiming for. We went to meet at The Whitworth, unsure of what would come of it, but knowing that we didn't have many other options at our disposal! We were offered the chance to show the work as part of a one night event in a gallery that had just won Museum of the Year, so we set about making plans for the night. Once we had our date at The Whitworth, it was far easier to gain support from other places.
G.F Smith were incredible in supporting the book with their amazing paper, and because of their relationship with the printers Pressision, we were able to receive support from them as well. Essentially, once we had a clear plan of what we wanted to achieve, it became far easier to gather support, and with a structured audience engagement plan in place, the Arts Council supported us through their Grants for the Arts fund.
What would be your top tips for anyone applying for Arts Council funding in 2017?
Take your time and make sure it's the right time for you to ask for funding. Ensure you know all the goals and end points for your project, if you don't know what you're aiming for, then you can't ask someone else to believe in it and support you. With that in mind, answer the questions on the grant submission forms carefully. Try not to repeat yourself and be clear in how you present the project, who is involved and mainly who it's audience is. If in doubt, find someone who has previously submitted an application and ask them questions. It can be a fairly daunting prospect, but there's no sense in shying away from it, at worst, it will help solidify your ideas and structure of your project, at best, you'll receive some funding to make it a reality!
Image: Simon Bray
If you need help with a funding proposal remember there are still spaces available on our 'Dodge the Shredder' workshop 27 January 2017. This session offers tailor-made feedback sessions for funding proposals in progress in a friendly, supportive environment with expert Emilia Telese.