Feeding back on the Commissions

Photo showing a selection of fabric rolls in various colours and patterns.
Kristina Veasey - My Dirty Secret. Photo by Kristina Veasey

After each round of applications, we ask our applicants to fill in a survey detailing how they found the whole experience – this allows us to make improvements and ensure our applications are easier to fill out, more accessible and better for all.

We like to find out how artists applied for Unlimited so that we can see what aspects of our marketing are most influential in keeping people up to date. 35% found out about the recent callout via Unlimited’s monthly e-newsletter, whilst Shape and Artsadmin also shared roughly 30%. Interestingly, Unlimited’s Allies – including Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales and Disability Arts Online – significantly spread the word too – another 30%.

So who applied for what? The Main Research and Development Awards were the most popular, receiving 35% of applications; our main commissions made up 26% of applications, our Emerging strand formed 23%, and our International Collaborations made up the remaining 26%.

Of the 24 awards, the majority – 16 – were made to artists new to Unlimited (67%). Previously, one person had an award in 2012 when Unlimited was part of London 2012 (3%); 3 had a Main award (13%), 2 were supported to tour existing work (8%), and 2 had an R&D award (8%). For the shortlist as a whole the figures were broadly similar: of the 60 artists/companies shortlisted, 46 were entirely new to Unlimited (77%), and previously 2 had an award in 2012 (3%), 4 had a Main award (7%), 3 were supported to tour existing work (5%) and 5 had an R&D award (8%).

The artform spread is wider and more balanced than ever before, partly due to the increased number of awards; with most awards is visual arts (7 awards, 29%), followed by combined arts (6 awards, 25%), theatre (5 awards, 21%), dance (3 awards, 13%), music (2 awards, 8%), and literature (1 award, 4%). Again, the shortlist was broadly similar, although there the ‘front runner’ was combined arts (32%), followed by both visual arts and theatre (both with 23%), music (8%), dance (7%), literature (2%), and other (5%).
Whilst literature looks low – and there is clearly work still to do here – the theatre category does include 2 poets and 2 playwrights all working on new pieces, and the combined arts category includes 3 awards which have strong musical elements – in pop, samba and reggae respectively.

This year we introduced an Expression of Interest (EoI) stage, allowing artists to submit a brief proposal to the panel who subsequently worked together to compile a shortlist of the most popular applications. The majority of the artists surveyed saw advantages in this (85%) stating benefits to themselves (less time on completing a full application) and also the benefit to the panel members too.

Whilst completing the EoI, many had a general phone call with one of Unlimited’s team whilst others had a Skype chat. During the 1-1 assistance available for those completing a full application, 70% of respondents found the help to be ‘very useful’ and 15% found it useful. One very affectionate artist described it as ‘very thorough and patient and personable’, whilst another referred to it as ‘AMAZING’…!

We provide guidance materials for each of the commissioning strands. Whilst they do not replace the 1-1 guidance offered, they are there to support the application, because each strand demands slightly different levels of information. Overall, feedback on these was positive, with 80% of applicants saying the materials were easy to understand. However, roughly 15% said some aspects required greater clarification. Others stated that the language was a little too complex and that there were some small contradictions with what was said during the 1-1 and the advice in the FAQ. We’ll be working on all this valuable feedback as we prepare for the next round.
Along with the guidelines, Unlimited supplies a budget template to which the applicant can input all relevant information. 75% of applicants found the application relatively easy to complete and found the whole process pretty streamlined.

A problem that many artists highlighted for us was the word count on the online form. The indicated word count appeared not to match up with the actual one. This was the first time we had used a new ‘portal’ so it was great to get detailed information about what we still need to tweak. Many people complimented the application process’s simplicity, claiming that compared to other application forms, Unlimited’s was ‘a breath of fresh air.’

Ensuring all access requirements are met is integral to Unlimited’s ethos, and this includes support where needed with making EoI’s and full applications. This year we spent an unprecedented £2,065.00 during the EoI stage and an extra £6,840.24 to help artists complete the full applications. This included a large amount of BSL, travel support, sighted assistance and written access support for people experiencing dyslexia.

Overall, feedback for this round of applications was overwhelmingly positive – but it also highlighted a number of improvements we can make to the process, which is welcome. Applying for funding is always complex and sadly always stressful. It’s great to have concrete information on how we can keep improving our processes so that we can make it as beneficial for all.