Endless Experience with Unlimited

3 people sit at a table in discussion. To the left, a woman in a blue jumper, in the middle a man with brown hair and to the right a man in a dark blue jumper
Sokny sitting at the panel discussion. photo by Rachel Cherry

Sokny Onn, General Manger at Epic Arts, was one of our recent International Placement holders. Following her first visit during the Unlimited Festivals in September 2016, Sokny came back to take part in our 2017 International Commissions selection panel. She shares her reflections with us.

Before the selection panel took place in the UK, I had read through the Expressions of Interest – submitted online by Unlimited applicants – from Cambodia and long listed my preferred applications. The two-part selection process is a really interesting way to manage grant giving to the arts sector; the Expression of Interest form was a short summary of the project giving panel members an overall idea of the artistic proposal, which saves both parties time in both writing and reading applications.

One day before the International Commissions panel in London, I had a chance to observe the Emerging Commissions Panel. This was really useful for me to understand the structure and nature of the panel discussions.

During the International Commission Panel I found it a really interesting, intense, challenging but really productive process. It started with a bird’s eye overview of each application and then it focused harder and harder on the potential impact of the work.

The panel has 100% control of how they want to carry out decision-making, but all decisions made have to be based on Unlimited’s commissions criteria, which includes disability-led, quality, artist / producer relationship, collaborations and partnerships, flexibility / adaptability, strong track record of work. Unlimited also have a system of Declarations of Interest for all panel members, to prevent conflicts of interest.

There were 11 voting panel members and one member nominated to be Chair and to facilitate, and members of the Unlimited team were there to support. We discussed each project separately and identified both stronger and weaker projects, and then other factors such as ambition, budgets and risk were considered.

I found the process really interesting and challenging. Myself and other members had to speak out our opinions of applications we preferred, and had to do what I called ‘’the professional fair fight” to arrive at the final list of works we would support.

I found really insightful to highlight just a few words that often appeared in the panel discussions – these words made me think more and also made me change my mind too:

Positives

“High quality work”, “strong plan”, “strong supporting documents”, “interesting art form”, “great development plan”, “reach wider audiences”, “great ambition”, “producer has great experience”, “strong access plan”, “clear tour plan”, “great budget”, “good partnerships”, “strong voice of the artists”, “clear project outcomes”.

Negatives

“Inexperienced artists”, “not a clear enough idea”, “lost the voice of the artists”, “too many art forms mixed in one project”, “not strong enough partnerships”, “project ambition too big”, “less strong project plan”, “budget plan less clear”, “less strong with audience engagement”, “loss of artistic ideas”, “project appears very risky”.

The panelist experience gave me more thinking tools to use as an arts manager. It increased my critical thinking, deepened my thinking about health and safety of the project, and made me more aware of the balancing between artistic creativity and practical impact and qualities.

Now, after the panel discussions, I am so satisfied with the final result, even though some of the successful applications weren’t my personal preferences – the point here is not about your personal tastes in the arts, your favorite project, or if the artists or producer is your friend, it is about the overview outcomes of Unlimited’s mission, and I love the fact that this mission is owned by each panel member. Each panelist bring different expertise, from different backgrounds in the disability arts sector, different generations, different countries and cultures, and some are artists, arts managers, arts sector funders and programmers involved with disability arts.

For my personal take – it is a really fair, transparent and genius process. There is such great philosophy behind each panel, and I can see a lot of thinking in there. It’s such a wise choice to acknowledge and value the expert resource network that Unlimited have for serving disability arts – helping to echo its voice louder and wider through arts and culture.

I can see more clearly the reason behind why Unlimited had chosen to fund the commissions I saw at Southbank Centre’s and Tramway’s Unlimited Festivals last year, and I am now really excited to see all commissions that have been selected this time round as they develop.

My experience with Unlimited’s selection panel has been a blooming marvelous one. It feels like a spring of difference, and the yellow of the daffodils I saw in England reminded me how powerful nature is. This experience is a life treasure for me.

I am really deeply thankful to the Unlimited team, Shape Arts, Artsadmin, British Council, Epic Arts, my family and my daughter for allowing me to part of this golden experience. Without you all to support me I wouldn’t have this chance to gain these experiences.

 

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