Explaining “Emerging”

A man wearing a red baseball cap speaks into a microphone held by a woman wearing a pink floral jacket
Emerging artist Delson Weekes with Vicky Hawkins at Unlimited's Welcome Day 2017

With applications currently open for emerging artists to apply to Unlimited, the team’s Becky Dann and Fiona Slater take a more in-depth look at our funding criteria and unpack some of that potentially tricky terminology…  

What do we mean by Emerging? 

When people first hear “emerging artist” there may be an assumption that this means “young” and because of this, it can exclude older artists.  

In an article on the British Council Theatre and Dance website, Eleanor Turney, freelance journalist, editor and arts consultant, asked a variety of artists how they felt about the word “emerging”. There were a variety of responses and words such as “experimentation”, “movement” and “fresh” were mentioned; some liked to use the word as a process term rather than a self-identification. But there was a double edge to this label, with concerns also raised about next steps – and whether there are as many opportunities for mid-career and established artists as for those that identify as emerging. 

Unlimited have hosted and taken part in a number of conversations and panel discussions on this topic. During the ‘The Generation Gap’ panel, at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival in 2016, Producer Kim Simpson summed up her thoughts: “There is such an enormous value to being at an early stage in your career. I used to think of it as naiveté, but it’s freshness. You’re not polluted with the old ways of doing things.”  

We asked Jo Verrent, Unlimited’s Senior Producer, what she felt emerging meant to her: “I think of an emerging artist as someone that hasn’t quite got big name support, partnerships or contacts yet. An artist might have had a group show but not a solo exhibition. An actor might have worked for years and gained great reviews, but not directed a piece themselves. A musician might be looking for the chance to create a first album, a writer their first novel, a dancer their first choreography. It might be someone fresh out of school or university, or someone that’s changed direction or even someone who has gained an impairment and is reframing their involvement in the creative sector.” 

Unlimited defines an emerging artist as someone who has yet to receive a major exhibition or showcasing opportunities and someone that has not had extensive media coverage for their work. We do not define an emerging artist by age. 

Having said all this – we do not want to discourage younger artists from applying! In 2016 only 12% of applications to Unlimited were from artists aged 18-24 so we are looking forward to receiving new and innovative applications from emerging artists of all ages!  

Evolving our support for emerging artists 

To explore who these awards are for and what they fund, it might be helpful to look back at our reasons for setting up two distinct support strands – “Participate” and “Create” – for emerging artists.  

Between 2014 and 2016 we ran a programme, with funding from Spirit of 2012, which gave small bursaries to emerging disabled creatives and spread the geographic reach of their work by building a network of venue and allies. This supported projects such as Touretteshero’s Ideas Amplifier, a two day workshop at the Roundhouse in Camden for young people with Tourette’s to devise, script and shoot a short film on a subject of their choice.  

We deepened the discussion surrounding the work and explored the accessibility of the wider arts sector, through a number of talks such as a series that looked at disability arts and the mainstream in the North 

This programme developed into our current commissioning strand for emerging disabled artists, however we were keen to continue some of the exciting conversations, training and workshops that began during this period and we wanted emerging artists (as defined above) to be leading this activity.  

Spirit of 2012 and Unlimited recognise the importance of bringing different people together, who may not hold common views and values, to challenge perceptions and affect change. Whilst all the activity we fund will be disability-led, we encourage participation from disabled and non-disabled audiences and participants.  

We spoke to Helen Killingley, Grant and Learning Manager at Spirit of 2012, for her thoughts on the developing programme; “Spirit of 2012 is proud to be funding the emerging artist strand of Unlimited Impact.  As the success of the project continues to thrive we look forward to the year ahead and the launch of the next round of commissions.  For Spirit, this strand offers an exciting opportunity to support and encourage emerging artists to empower positive change within their communities and build sustainable employment in the arts.  The programme also looks to engage both disabled and non-disabled audiences and understand its impact on challenging perceptions of disability.” 

So what exactly can you apply to do? 

Emerging creatives can apply to Unlimited for either a “Participate” or a “Create” award. A “Participate” award is for emerging artists to run a series of events or participatory workshops, focused on the process of working collaboratively. We do not expect this work to be shared with wider audiences in a final performance, exhibition or sharing, but are keen artists document and evaluate their progress. There is a variety of activity we will fund through this strand. It may be a series of workshops, discussion groups or creative sessions that are open to disabled and non-disabled people.  

The “Create” award is (hopefully) more straightforward – it’s what it says on the tin: for artists, working across any art form to create new work. This should include an element of Research and Development (R&D) and should work towards a sharing, scratch, performance or exhibition for audiences to engage with the work. This may be an informal event but ensure you have an opportunity to gain some all-important feedback.    

If you have an idea but are not sure whether it fits our criteria please do get in touch by emailing info@weareunlimited.org.uk or calling Fiona Slater at Shape on 020 7424 7336. 

Alternatively, you can now make an application for our current Emerging Artist award   

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