Man installing exhibtion

In this blog series, we explore with you the various ways in which collectives and individuals have financed their projects. This week we speak to Nicola Shipley, mentor of Redeye's Lightbox programme group 'Seven Day Suit'. The collective consists of Jo Booth, Shiyin Gu, David Hadley, Francesca Jones, Kevin Percival, Karen Rangeley and Richard Stout.

Nicola Shipley is co-founder and Co-Director of GRAIN Photography Hub and Director of GRAIN Projects CIC. She is an independent Producer, Curator, Project Manager, Mentor and Consultant, her her background in the visual arts and artists’ professional development, exhibitions and commissioning and takes a specialist interest in contemporary photography.  Her work is often in response to research, stakeholder consultation, site-specific opportunities and the public realm. 

Could you tell us a bit more about your Lightbox group “Seven Day Suit”?

My Lightbox group was made up of 7 artists and photographers all of which were introduced to me following their introduction to the programme at Redeye. The individuals were from different corners of the UK, from London to Leeds and Cardiff to Newcastle, at different stages of their career and with a broad range of ambitions. Their work was also broad in theme and content. What they all had in common was their aim and wish to work collaboratively, to share and learn new skills, make contacts and develop new networks and ultimately to work towards exhibiting at a major UK photography festival.  

The group are a wonderful group of individuals, emerging and enthusiastic photographers, whose work and interests ranged from portrait photography, social documentary, moving image, conceptual photography and participatory practice. The mentoring was scheduled in group sessions via face to face meetings, as well as through skype and google hangouts and more occasionally one to one phone or online conversations.

How was the project funded?

Lightbox is funded through Redeye, supported by Arts Council England and Redeye's other significant partnerships. Once the group decided to aim for an exhibition at Brighton Photo Biennial we knew that fundraising would be a big part of our objectives to support the costs that would be incurred in securing a venue and creating the work for exhibition. The group did achieve their main aim and The Seven Day Suit exhibition was one of the main shows at Brighton Photo Biennial 2016 - Beyond the Bias - Reshaping Image.  It was funded by Crowdfunding, business sponsorship and the photographer's own funds. There was also a high level of in-kind support provided including from the venue.

Did you face any setbacks in the funding application process?

The group applied for Arts Council England funding through their Grants for the Arts strand. This was declined. This was the main setback. There were others but they were minor in comparison. I have been writing and enabling applications for over 15 years and I still do not have any strong sense of why this application was declined. The group wrote, in my opinion, a very strong application and proposal with a suitable level of public benefit, high quality and ambitious aims in terms of the art form and professional development and an appropriate level of match funding. I can only think there was an extraordinary amount of competition for funds at that time.  

How did the group overcome this issue?

The group overcame this issue by pulling together and working on the contingency plan. There was always a plan B, as there always should be so that you do not fall down at the first hurdle. We worked quickly and collaboratively to source alternative funding opportunities, we amended the budget accordingly and we worked hard to enable parts of the project to be supported in kind and in partnership. I am in no doubt the photographers had to work doubly hard to prepare for and present the exhibition with a modest budget rather than the budget they had planned for. In overcoming the issue they developed more skills in fundraising, partnership and collaborative working and budget management that they possibly would have had the Arts Council application been successful.

Early on in the mentoring sessions, we defined roles and responsibilities and these came into play as the need to take on and do the curation, marketing, press, PR, printing, framing, installation came into play. The exhibition was a great success and the lack of funding in no way undermined the strengths of the exhibition which were to approach the Biennial theme thematically with a strong curatorial concept and a firm research base. The exhibition was unconventional, the work was very strong and the audience feedback exceptional.      

What tips would you give to anyone applying for arts council funding?

-   Build in plenty of time to plan for your application, to read the guidelines, criteria and relevant Arts Council policies thoroughly and to follow their advice

-   Always seek advice from an Arts Council Officer, attend a workshop and seek advice from other artform professionals

-  Register on the portal early on in the process so you can become familiar with the questions and requirements

-   Work out the budget and project plan accurately and based on realistic costings, quotations and timescales

-  Ensure you have a good level of match funding in place and a substantial amount of in-kind support that you can articulate clearly

-  Always make a Plan B.  How will your project take place without Arts Council funding?

-  Talk to a photographer or artist that has made a successful individual application before

-  Ensure you are able to demonstrate high-quality work and a track record of delivery

-  Think carefully about how you will demonstrate 'public benefit' and how the public can engage with your artwork and project in new and interesting ways

-  Don't forget to build in a phase for evaluation

-  The process can be onerous but don't be put off - if you are serious about your work and practice it is important to pursue avenues for funding support and to place your ideas and artwork in front of the Arts Council so that they are aware of you and your work.

You can find out more on our Lightbox programme here


Read our other blogs in this series -

Photographers share their funding advice: Interview with Emilia Telese

Photographers share their funding advice: Interview with Simon Bray and Tom Musgrove


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