Arts Funding Is Broken For Us (and other news)

So this is going to be a bit of a ranty blogpost – brace yourselves. Since I last updated the blog, I’ve had three important meetings. With a Relationship Manager from the Arts Council, with the Arts and Culture Officer at Sheffield City Council, and with Dave Thornett from an organisation called KeyFund. So, a brief synopsis of the interviews before I get ranty (to skip to the ranting click here):

Rebecca Maddox, Sheffield Council

This was a pretty positive getting-to-know-you meeting, just introducing myself and Tim, and explaining a bit about what we want to do, and when we want to do it (ie. Opening in Feb/Mar 2019). Rebecca was super helpful – she said she would send any surveys or questionnaires for artists round her various mailing lists, and try to help out any other way she can. She also gave us some other people to get in touch with doing similar things in Sheffield. Most usefully, she gave us a contact in the Planning Department, who can hopefully give us some advice on what to look for/avoid when trying to find our building. Thanks, Rebecca!

Dave Thornett, KeyFund

We wanted to talk to KeyFund to get advice on company formation, and social investment for the longer term. We got in touch with Dave through the UoS Enterprise Team (thanks, Darren!). This was a super helpful phone call – Dave talked us through different types of structure for social investment – a standard Limited Company isn’t usually the best option – and what types of finance we might get under each structure. It’s pretty clear that a Community Interest Company (CIC) is the way forward, so we’ll be registering one very soon! Dave also told us a bit about what types of documents and information KeyFund like to see when helping with investment (3-5 years cashflow erk!) which will help us get better prepared in the next couple of months!

Relationship Manager, ACE

Now, this meeting. I’m not naming the Relationship Manager here because I’m not angry with her personally. I’m angry with ACE and the whole insane arts funding structure. Basically, we went into this meeting with 2 aims – to figure out how/if we can get funding for the Audience Development we want to do, and to ask about sources of capital funding for the bigger theatre project. Capital costs, by the way, are for stuff, rather than short-term projects – it might be for buying equipment or a building or paying for permits etc. Anything that you pay for once and then its yours. Obviously, we will have quite a few of that type of cost – refitting a building into a theatre isn’t super cheap.

So, first off, the Audience Development application. We were planning to make a Under £15k Projects Grants (previously G4A) application. But the RM said that as our project was purely research, and would have no artistic outcome, it could never achieve the Artistic Excellence quality that ACE looks for in applications. So it could never be funded. That does directly contradict the Projects Grants guidance, which says that you can apply for non-artistic activities, but the RM was very clear that we would be unsuccessful.

Secondly, capital funding. To do a project of long-term ambition, you’re going to need this, inevitably. So, there should be a way to get small amounts of capital funding, right? WRONG. Firstly, as we expected, Projects Grants will not fund capital costs. Not unless they’re bound up in a project-based application anyway (we may end up doing something like this out of desperation). But secondly. Secondly, there is another fund called the Small Capital Grants Fund, which I was hoping would be our salvation. The ACE website says you have to have permission to apply, so I wanted to know how we get that. Turns out, we can’t. The Small Capital Grants Fund is, secretly, exclusively for NPOs. Yes, that’s right, the organisations that are already receiving secured annual funding for running costs and umm, what is it, oh yeah CAPITAL COSTS. And yet the only fund theoretically open to small fry like us, is actually closed off for them. Which makes no real sense – how are new organisation supposed to get off the ground? – but then what does with the Arts Council?

So there we go. A very frustrating and negative meeting. I should stress, the RM was not negative or closed off herself – she did want to help. But she also wanted to save us from writing doomed funding applications, which is how we now know that ACE can’t/won’t help us with the theatre.

We’re going to keep going, but things just got harder and scarier – we will probably now be relying on social investment and/or start-up loans to cover our initial costs. But, we have found support and positivity with the council, and with KeyFund. Onwards!

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