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Don't be Depressed:
in the Big Society

Puppet Centre Trust's director Linda Lewis offers advice and hope for new and emerging companies in need of funding

In today’s difficult financial climate, many may say there should be less funding for the arts, and it is a fact that many of the Arts Council's Regularly Funded Organisations are likely to receive considerable cuts in the coming financial year.  The arts have to take their share of the present government’s cuts for the Big Society. The wind has changed, and the pleasant climate of support for the arts which we have enjoyed for the last ten years has gone. There is now a fundamental change in the air.

However, some believe that in times of depression both financial and psychological, the arts play a huge part in keeping us together and sane, helping us to appreciate and enjoy life and to investigate and understand others’ problems – which may very well be greater than ours. The arts contribute to quality of life, whether you are a participant or a spectator, and they have a clever way of assisting in economic regeneration.

So while we recognise that securing funding will be no easy task for our artists, we also believe we should advise and encourage them as best we can.

The Grants for the Arts programme is, at the time of writing this article, still open for applications. This is lottery money to support the arts. Smaller applications more suited to emerging companies’ needs may have a better chance of receiving funding.

There is also a Heritage Lottery Fund for those artists who have projects about peoples’ memories and experiences. Stories and puppetry reflecting cultural traditions or collections of objects and books are more suited to the Heritage Lottery.

Puppetry is just beginning to come into its own. Its rapid take-up and development in the last few years with shows like War Horse at the National Theatre and the rise of puppetry in West End shows such as The Lion King are evidence of its rising popularity and inclusive use as a theatrical technique in mainstream, large-scale theatre.

The Puppet Centre Trust (PCT) is here to continue to develop the work and audiences for the art form in the broadest sense and we offer a range of services to assist the puppeteer.

This year PCT has been concentrating on developing artists who aspire to work with or try out the large-scale. We are collaborating with The University of Winchester, ISAN, Emergency Exit Arts and The UK Centre for Carnival Arts to deliver a conference, 'Big Ideas', on large-scale puppets and live animation for the outdoor arts and carnival events. We believe there are opportunities here for puppeteers to benefit from all the celebratory work which will be happening around the cultural Olympiad and the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and who knows even the World Cup. For some years now the UK has been bringing large-scale live animation and puppetry work into the country from abroad. Now is the time to start raising the game and the profile of our own large-scale scene.

The Big Ideas conference is addressing this by bringing together attendees from a range of artforms for cross-fertilisation, collaboration and exposure to each other's myriad artistic techniques. The aim of the event is to influence and inspire carnival, puppetry and street artists. There is so much we can learn from each other's expertise.

However, how can artists take these ideas and run with them?

Some of the questions most asked by emerging puppeteers are:

'How can we find funds to develop a new show?'
'How do we ever manage to have our work seen?'
'How do we find cash to help us to show our work?'
'Where can we best show our work? In London or in the regions?'
'How can The Puppet Centre help us?'

Since taking up my position as director of the Puppet Centre in BAC, London, I have found that appeals for assistance in applying for funding come from many emerging artists – those that we mentor as well as Residency Graduates and those who belong to our Associate Groups.

Of course we address many continued professional development needs, but in the main the questions are about how emerging artists can identify appropriate funds through grants, trusts and foundations. They also request help in the physical writing of these applications. Whilst puppeteers and artists interested in puppetry may perform brilliant work, they may not have acquired the writing and advocacy skills necessary to persuade funding bodies that their work is of a very high standard and is well worth investing in...

In response to this, on 1 September 2010 PCT organised an afternoon session at Battersea Arts Centre, 'Grappling with Grants and Battling Budgets', to demystify the task of completing application forms and drawing up budgets. Whilst graduates have learned about their artform at University or College, on the whole they have not addressed how they will be able to find the necessary finance to support the practice of their art. I remember suggesting a series of workshops on fundraising to a particular University Department when I was running a successful festival out of the Arts Department, but it was declined. How short-sighted, I thought!

First, how do you get a show on? For example, where does the money come from to take a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe? It is usually young graduates who believe that going to Edinburgh will help in their careers. For the first few shows, unless you are known to the funders, you will have to raise the cash from friends, relatives and through your own fundraising events and by doing the ‘the day job’ to pay your way. Once you have raised the £8,000 (approx quote) you must make the most of your presence in Edinburgh. You have to work very hard to get programmers, promoters, funders, producers, and audiences in general to see your work. It's all about how you sell yourself and modesty is not an option here! You must not be afraid to market yourself. As a promoter, I was persuaded by a young company to attend their show at the Edinburgh Fringe; there were only three people in the audience, but two were promoters. Today, the company is still touring and in demand.

Young artists and companies will generally make applications for their first grants from Grants for the Arts (GFA) once their work has been seen and highly assessed. But there is absolutely no point in applying to GFA until one of the officers from the Arts Council in your region has seen your work as they are always going to be asked to give an assessment of your work and application.

Once you have succeeded in having your work seen, you should discuss a possible application with the relationship manager or officer who has seen the work or with an officer at the Grants for the Arts offices in Manchester. Depending on where you live you may or may not be successful in this task. For example, in London officers are so busy, with a huge workload, that they may be unable to see your work. But you must persevere, especially if you believe you have a great piece of work to show. On the other hand if you are in a Northern region, you may be more successful in getting Arts Council officers to see the work and in gaining the opportunity to meet and talk with them.

It is likely that a first application would be for the 'Research and Development' of a piece of work, and would be for no more than £5,000. Remember that you have to contribute at least, and probably more than, 10% of the amount requested by accessing other sources such as ticket sales, private funders, fundraising events, and sales of programmes and t-shirts. So if your project were to cost £6,000 you would need to be able to find at least £600 income and preferably more. This income may come from ticket sales, workshops around the work, other donors, or private means.

Build up an ongoing relationship with your officer or relationship manager at the Arts Council. Keep them informed of your work, where and when you are performing, and offer them tickets to see your performances. Remember that they work during the week so it is advisable to programme at least one performance on a weekday later in the day. It is unlikely that they will come to see your show on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Once you have received your first grant and providing you deliver what you have said you would and the quality of your work is extremely high you can move on to applying for the next grant, which may involve a small tour of work at several venues. This application is likely to be made for more than the first but no more than £10,000. To do this you would need to have approached at least four venues in England and persuaded them to present your show. By doing this you will demonstrate that there is a need for your work and that you can earn fees from the venues towards your performances. In these hard times, many venues may not be able to offer fees, but try to secure a smaller fee plus a percentage share of box office income at least. It is advantageous that the venue has an interest in selling your show too. There is nothing noble about performing to an empty house.

Often the space which venues can offer you for rehearsals can be given a value as a contribution in-kind. For example, if a venue charges its rehearsal space out at £500 a week and offers you three weeks’ rehearsal then their contribution will be worth £1,500 in-kind. If over and above that they can offer some technical support in-kind this could be valued at say £150 per day.

Of course there are other avenues such as charitable trusts and foundations who make grants to arts organisations. Few give to individuals – you must research them and read their guidelines and priorities very carefully to avoid wasting your time and theirs by submitting an application which is ineligible.

If you happen to have a really good address book, or connections with large businesses, you may be able to secure sponsorship. Most sponsorship comes your way through your personal relationships and powers of persuasion. The subject matter of your show is important: an obscure foreign writer may attract funding from their country's Cultural attaché here in the UK, or a show about India or Indian food may find you some sponsorship from your local Indian community or restaurant. If you are looking at a topic which is science based, then do take a look at The Wellcome Trust.

My advice is think laterally and creatively around all potential donors, even when you are starting out. What can you offer them that they could value? Training in presentations, confidence building, speaking on the telephone? You never know when you might hit gold.

As I said earlier in this article, available funds are likely to shrink and opportunities will disappear, but the puppeteers with drive, ambition, marketing and persuasive skills and immense creativity will find a way to make and show their work no matter what the climate brings.


PCT's upcoming Big Ideas is a conference event at which artists and creative producers take centrestage. Showcasing the latest developments in large-scale live animation structures as used in carnival, street arts and puppetry, the conference will give insight into a field of practice that includes such productions as Warhorse, Big Man Walking and The Lion King, and the work of companies like Handspring, Mandinga Arts, Kinetika, Compagnie La Machine, Emergency Exit Arts and Imagineer Productions. The conference is on 7 & 8 October 2010 at UK Centre for Carnival Arts, Luton. See here for details and booking.

Grappling with Grants and Battling Budgets was the second in PCT's ongoing series of How To... workshops, and took place 1 September 2010 at BAC. The speaker was BAC's head of development, Tim Burley. 

Some potential funding sources:

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-giving foundations in the UK. Two of its key programme areas are the Arts and Education.

The UK branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation supports programmes in the Arts, Social Welfare and Education. It also initiates projects and commissions research and publications.

The Heritage Lottery Fund uses money from the National Lottery to award grants to support a wide range of projects involving the local, regional and national heritage of the United Kingdom.

The Jerwood Foundation is dedicated to imaginative and responsible funding and sponsorship of the Arts, Education, Design, Conservation, Medicine, Engineering, Science and other areas of human endeavour and excellence.

The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies awards grants from three funds, with a focus on youth work, conservation, and apprenticeship schemes in applied arts and crafts.

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is another key funder of Arts and Education. One of its priorities is to support projects that address inequality of access and lack of opportunity to experience and enjoy the arts, particularly for young people.

The Arts Awards have been set up by The Wellcome Trust to support imaginative and experimental arts projects that investigate biomedical science.




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