Unlimited behind the scenes – what happens now

Jo Verrent, Senior Producer tells us more about the decision making process …

Just how do the applications get whittled down to a coherent programme of works? We think transparency is really important, so here, in a nutshell, is the selection process.

Before the deadline

To support artists applying to the programme Unlimited held 101 face to face surgeries, 53 Skype and phone call surgeries, exchanged over 250 individual emails with artists and spent over £6000 on access support for artists wanting to apply who experienced barriers to the application process.

After the deadline

So how many people applied? We had 162 applications for this round from disabled artists and companies across England, Scotland and Wales, with a request of over £8 million in total. We had applications across all art forms: 53 for visual arts, 41 for theatre, 14 for dance, 13 for music, 10 for literature and 31 for ‘other’.

After checking the application is complete (and contacting the artist if we need to address any issues, such as a incorrectly uploaded document or a broken web link), all of the applications go to the panel to read. It’s the panel that make the final decisions about what work Unlimited supports. They are a widely diverse bunch and include observers as well as voting members.

Shortlisting

So how do they decide which to fund? There simply isn’t the time to consider every application in person on the selection day, so a shortlist is pulled together.

To get to this, each panel member ‘long-lists’ the applications they would like to consider at the selection meeting – they do this by reflecting on the pieces that really grabbed them, and also by referring back to our key criteria: we want work that is of quality, is disability-led, shows innovation and ambition and is from artists/companies with a strong track record of creating work and reaching audiences. We require that a strong artist/producer relationship evidenced, and we also look for collaborations and partnerships (including with both disabled and non-disabled led companies/artists/producers) where relevant. And we look for flexibility/adaptability to ensure works engage with a range of venue sizes/scales across the nations.

Not every panel member can consider all applications. We log both major and minor conflicts of interests (and you can’t long-list an artist or company if you have either). A major conflict of interest might mean a panel member is named in the application or has been employed by or received funds from the applicant. A minor one means the panel member might have recently funded, awarded support to, or booked the lead artist/company in the application. This is to avoid criticisms of favouritism or cronyism and means, for example, the projects that have been supported by Unlimited at R&D stage aren’t given preferential treatment.

The long-lists are gathered together, and from these a shortlist is produced of the most popular works (we use a mathematical formulae to arrive at a percentage – it’s the number of people who long-list the application divided by the number of people who could have long-listed it (i.e. those who didn’t express a conflict of interest). We need to ensure we have a balance of art forms too – not weighted towards a particular region or type of work.

This shortlist is not fully fixed until the day of the panel meeting itself – there is always an opportunity for wildcards. If anyone on the panel feels that an excellent application has been overlooked, there is an opportunity for the rest of the panel to revisit it on the day to see if it should join the shortlist. We also have the option to call in responses from any external assessors we might have used if we felt there was an application from an artist whose practice falls outside of the experience of the panel.

Selecting the commissioned works

Then at the selection panel meeting, our chair – Ruth Gould, Artistic Director of DaDafest (announced in December 2013) , has the unenviable job of leading the process. All the voting members of the panel work together to take the shortlist down to our final list of works – no one person can sway the vote, everyone has an independent choice and to make it absolutely fair, no staff from Unlimited, Shape or Artsadmin have a vote.

We will have £500,000 to spend (16% of what we would need to fund all applicants). The money is directly linked to the funders and their areas of operation so there is £320,000 for England, £120,000 for Scotland and £60,000 for Wales. This time we funded nine projects, just 6% of those who applied. This came to a total of over £5 million – more than our original budget. (We are funding the excess through underspend in year one – savings that we made on the administrative delivery of the programme).

It’s a difficult – almost impossible – job. The final selection needs to be balanced – in relation to art form, scale and focus. Unlimited is about art, not about disability: some work may reference disability and some may not. The art has to be the central defining decision making element – is it a work that excites the panel, work that simply just has to be made?

“Selecting work is always hard – selecting work for Unlimited is even harder as the demand for the programme is so high. We could have spent 3 or 4 times as much without a drop in quality, the standard was so high. I know that there are many disappointed artists and companies out there who didn’t get funding this time, but I – and the rest of the Unlimited panel and team – are confident that we have done everything we can to make the process as clear and clean as it can be.”
Ruth Gould, Chair, Unlimited Selection Panel

Once the decisions are made, we have to act fast to notify artists and prepare everything for today’s launch (follow the action on Twitter #UnlimitedCommissions).

Next steps

Throughout April the Unlimited team will then meet up with all the successful artists to talk through detailed plans and budgets and build project timelines. Contracts will be issued and the work begun in May.

For those who haven’t been successful, we will provide feedback upon request where we can, usually a couple of weeks on from the decisions being announced. We can do this most easily to those who were shortlisted as we have notes from the panel’s discussion.

Unfortunately, it is harder to provide feedback for those who weren’t shortlisted but we will seek to provide as much support as we can. Where other funding opportunities might be appropriate we will signpost artists to these. It is never easy to know exactly why a panel member didn’t select work and often it’s just that other work was prioritised instead. It’s the most heartbreaking part of the whole process but a vital one.

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