Brand New ACE

As of now the Arts Council of England and the Regional Arts Boards that provided funding and advice to artists from all art forms across the country have ceased to exist. Arts Council, England and 9 regional offices have replaced them; essentially they have become one big organisation. So what do the changes really mean and what does all this name swapping mean to you?

The sweeping changes have been on the cards for a long time but it is only now (or April 1st officially) that the changes have come into effect. Gone are the differences between central and regional funding to be replaced by one large umbrella organisation that speaks with a single voice and, perhaps more importantly, a unified funding policy. You now apply to Arts Council, England (ACE) through the regional office that covers your particular area.

If you ask for funding information from any office around the country they should provide you with exactly the same information depending on the questions you ask of course. Direct contact with the ACE office, in London, should no longer be necessary unless you actually live in London or you happen to be the director of the Royal Ballet (that particular company we understand is no longer run by one of the cleaning staff, Ed!).

One of the biggest changes comes with the acknowledgement that individual artists actually exist and need to be supported. During a recent briefing seminar (on February 20th) Andrew Dixon, Executive Director of Arts Council North East, stated that £550,000 a year would be made available for grants to individuals with that figure rising to at least £700,000 over the next 3 years for the North East region (figures for other regions may vary).

Previously individuals were excluded from applying for the Arts Council ‘s flagship funding programme R.A.L.P (Regional Arts Lottery Programme) but this has been swept away. Individuals can apply for up to £30,000 to support their activity but the anticipated grant level is expected to be somewhat less.

All ACE applications are now handled in one form (except for the much maligned Stabilisation programme and Capital Development projects) that covers organisations, individuals and touring programmes. It was suggested that this one form replaces over 100 previous forms that ACE issued but we are not sure things were ever quite that bad. At the time of writing we are unable to confirm what these 100 other forms were actually for.

Within the form itself there are just as many questions as anybody who has applied for funding previously will be used to. One big difference is the ability to describe your project or company in your own words. Essentially this means submitting your proposal in an essay format, or a proposal as ACE puts it, with the number of words required or expected dependant on how much money you are applying for. If you are applying for over £5,000 then you have to turn in a proposal of no longer than 2,500 words and an application of less than £1,000 requires no more than 350 words. There are no minimums specified.

ACE considers a written proposal to be more appropriate for artists submitting their information as apposed to trying to fit your artistic ideas around the questions on an application form. This is almost certainly a step forward but the application form itself still stretches to 16 pages. Although most of this is purely pragmatic information there are still some questions which will duplicate the information that you will include in your proposal document and the guidelines given for writing the proposal are a little over the top and could do with being reigned in a little.

Another significant step forward is not so easy to quantify. If the information we managed to gather from the briefing seminar was correct then ACE would seem to operating a policy of inclusion with regard to what they will actually fund. The best way we can describe this is by using this very website as an example.

Previously if we applied for funding from what was Northern Arts we would have been turned down because this website, although about contemporary dance and dance related activity, was not considered to be artistic in itself (something that we would dispute, Ed). Although Article19 is pretty much unique in terms of the information and editorial we provide online there were no policies or guidelines that enabled us to apply for funding from the arts funding system as it used to be. We know this because we tried and the response we got was essentially that they had no idea how to deal with us so the application was rejected.

The new policy would seem to correct this with the application guidelines stating that arts activity can be funded if it is considered to be “arts-related” which this web site almost certainly is. In fact when asked specifically if the new ACE covered on-line activity; Andrew Dixon, ACE North East Executive Director responded in the affirmative.

Now this is not just significant for us (Article19) but for any dance artist out there who would like to explore the potential of the vast online community for their work in the coming years. We have been saying for a very long time how contemporary dance is not using the Internet enough to reach potentially millions of viewers.

So now you have a green light from the funding body itself to make applications that can use the Internet as a distribution medium for your work. Even if your new piece is for sole distribution over the Internet the new guidelines, it would seem, do not specifically exclude this from happening. With that in mind we expect to see a lot more dance work online in the coming months and years.

Also a thing of the past is the regionalisation issue. Previously if you lived in one region and needed to carry out work in another region covered by a different arts board you would be unable to obtain funding from one or the other because either the activity or the artist were not based in the appropriate region. The application form no longer states that you are restricted to carrying out your activity within the geographic region covered by the office you are applying to.

Obviously the individual offices will be emphasising applications where the majority of the delivery is carried out within their geographic area but the ability to stray into other areas with your particular work is no longer specifically barred as it was before. This is a welcome addition to the new organisation and gives a great deal of scope for artists from one region to begin working with artists from another region without worrying about which lines they will be crossing on a map and dealing with multiple funding bodies.

There are many other changes to the way the new Arts Council will be operating compared to the arts boards of old but we have covered what we consider to be the major points here. Overall the new Arts Council, England gives the impression of being more open to ideas and innovation than they were previously but they are still using sound bites like “cultural diversity” and “inclusion” a little too much for our liking. Here in the Lab we have yet to hear a coherent explanation of what either of those two statements actually mean.

Placing more emphasis on the individual artist is a massive step forward and we feel sure the new system will encourage many recently graduated dancers and choreographers to apply for funding and get their foot in the funding door on their way to greater things. The old R.A.L.P system was somewhat terrifying for the newcomer even if they were eligible to apply.

This has now been swept away to replaced with a fairly simple form, (albeit with some slightly overbearing guidelines), and the opportunity to explain what you want to do with your art in “your own words”. Now more than ever your application stands a pretty good chance of being judged on its merits rather than fitting in with predetermined “priorities” which those on the outside were not privileged enough to know about.

Only time will tell if these changes will have been worthwhile. The new system does not come into operation until April of this year and it will take a good six months for the bugs to be ironed out (and we are sure there will be some, it ‘s only natural). Whatever happens though this is how it’s going to be from now on so we had better get used to it and if something breaks then the repercussions could be wide reaching. On the other hand if it works the way it is supposed to then we have no doubt this is a step in the right direction.

Until then we will be donning a tin hat and heading for the trenches; anyone wishing to join us can do so at the usual address.