The budget tells the story…

Laying out the budget of a project can be a bit daunting – especially when the activity is still not completely set.  As a producer, I work with artists to use the budgeting exercise as a means to make concrete decisions about how the project might unfold.  It’s an opportunity to decide the ideal line of action for your project: does it need development? Can you measure that in people’s time? Do you need to invest in materials or equipment? Do you need to invest in time for project planning and production? For connecting with and meeting new people? What are the different strands of activities within your project, and how much time and resources will you spend on each?

When asking these questions, we keep the artistic drive of the project at the heart of every decision, guiding our way through the numbers.

Decisions, decisions.  How can I budget for a tour if I’m not sure just how many venues I’ll be taking the work to?  What I tend to do is budget for one performance/exhibition, and show that clearly in the budget.  Then, I dream a bit about the venues I will take the work to – a couple of concrete options, and a few ambitious yet realistic ones – and I multiply the original figure.  The price of taking the work to each venue will be roughly the same, (travel/accommodation costs are the main changing elements).

Clarity is key.  The budget needs to tell the story of your upcoming project.  With a glance, someone should be able to understand what you have planned, over what period of time, involving how many people and what type of resources.  It’s important to keep categories clear, so that the story unfolds.  The budget should give a clear idea of the stages involved in your activity, the partners and what they are contributing.  For Unlimited Commissions, you need to include income from the presentation of your work: fees and box office splits, as well as any support in kind you may have from partners.  The funding from Unlimited will then fill any shortfall between the costs of redevelopment/touring/marketing, and the income you’re getting.  The budget should be laid out in such a way that the cost of one performance/installation cost is clear, and the panel can understand the scale of the work and its needs to reach audiences.  We’re not providing a template for applicants to work from, simply because this proved unhelpful to meet the diversity of projects, across artforms, being pitched to Unlimited.

Nothing is set in stone. A budget is forecasting the activity, and funders understand that.  Whatever happens, you will need to deliver your project within the budget you set out for it – but if some things change during the artistic process, that’s not an issue if you still reach your aims and targets.  For research and development, especially, you may set out to work with a certain type of material, for example, and in your research you find something more adapted to your idea: this is fine, it’s part of an artistic development, which often involves surprises! When you are shaping the budget, however, you need to be confident with the decisions you are taking, and that you can deliver what you say with the amounts you’re setting.  Be ambitious and creative, but remain realistic…there’s nothing worse than being caught half way into a project and realising the budget was not forward thinking enough.

Budgets are a key step of shaping the activity and making clear decisions of how everything will happen, so enjoy the opportunity to lay out the story, and dream!

Clara Giraud
Assistant Producer for Unlimited