Jerwood Arts talk about collaborating with the Wolfson Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Linbury Trust to create the Live Work Fund

Awarding 33 creatives with a £20,000 grant and career support, the Live Work Fund – made possible by Jerwood Arts, Wolfson Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Linbury Trust, demonstrates the significance of collaboration, from the consortium of funders bringing with them their own valuable expertise to Jerwood Arts’ Artist Advisers offering their insight which in turn supports the decision making process. After the recent announcement of the Live Work Fund recipients, Jerwood Arts tell us more about the crucial fund, how they’ve found responding to growing need and what they’ve learned from their survey of 1200 applicants.

Jerwood Arts, the Wolfson Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Linbury Trust recently announced the 33 awardees of their new funding programme, the Live Work Fund supporting early career artists financially and career-wise. What does it mean to be able to provide this much needed support during this challenging time?

It is a very true cliché to say it has been a huge privilege to design and deliver the Live Work Fund over the last six months with our brilliant funding partners, all of whom recognised last summer that there was a gap in government and organisational support for freelance artists. The gap is very much still there, and latest research backs up our own survey findings that it has been particularly challenging for those normally reliant on live performance for their income. We made a conscious decision to fund fewer artists with larger grants, which has felt counterintuitive at times given the increased need but is allows us to provide substantial financial and career development support with the aim of achieving greater long-term impact.

The fund has further highlighted the financial support needed by freelance artists, with a marked increase in demand for support compared to previous grants. How have you found responding to the increasing need within the industry?

Responding to the increasing need since everything shut down on 23 March last year has been challenging for many reasons. We are highly aware that our funding, and indeed all the funding available from all the independent and public funders in the arts, is only a drop in the ocean compared to the need experienced by artists. As the situation became clearer last spring, to have any hope of making an impact we realised we would need to join forces with like-minded funding partners who shared our concern for live performance artists to work with us and pull together a much larger fund. Alongside the Live Work Fund, we ran two other opportunities for artists after the pandemic struck, and across the board we saw the number of applications increase, in many cases doubling. We are now reflecting on this rise in demand and what it means for how we work. It begs us to ask tough questions of how we and others in the arts sector offer opportunities and whether competitive calls for entries are really fit for purpose. We are all aware that the pandemic has shone a light on which bits of the system are and aren’t working for artists and grantees, and we will continue to discuss, explore and test solutions going forward.

What was the process for deciding the recipients of the funding?

Over the last two years we have worked with Artist Advisers, who have become embedded in our selection processes. Comprising of a pool of established artists from various backgrounds and creative disciplines, from across the UK, our Artists Advisers have changed the level of artistic insight and lived experiences that go into making decisions about the applications we receive.

For the Live Work Fund, we worked with 13 Artist Advisers and it is true to say, that we were led by their expertise throughout the process. Very practically, without them we simply could not have made decisions about so many applications in four weeks. Every application was read by two Artist Advisers with relevant artform knowledge to the bid. It was based on their recommendations that applications were longlisted, then shortlisted and then finally selected. This means that each of the final 33 awardees has received their enthusiastic support and our decisions were enriched by their rigour, intelligence and challenge.

As with previous funding rounds Artist Advisers have been part of, we have chosen not to name them so that they could work with us freely and alleviate some of the pressure they felt about making recommendations on fellow artists and creatives. In their anonymity we thank them enormously for their invaluable contribution.

You’ve conducted a survey of over 1200 applicants, highlighting the impact the crisis has had on early career artists, what have you found?

We’ve only shared first set of insights from the survey, and plan to release full findings in due course. We are working with academic colleagues to make sure we make the most of what is an extraordinary set of data from a rarely researched part of the sector. The headlines so far are: 50% reported their main source of income as emergency funding from national arts councils, private funders and unions, while only 45% cited the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

The survey highlights the stark impact of Covid-19 on all areas of early-career freelance artists and producers’ professional lives: over half (53%) said they have been less active creatively since Covid-19 hit, and are experiencing slower career progression because of reduced opportunities (52%). Most thought they were unlikely to abandon their artistic practice, but the survey suggests that their ability to be creative due to financial and sector constraints has been seriously hindered. Over a third (34%) reported less time to practice due to having to seek income elsewhere, 23% said they were less able to pursue their career due to impact of Covid-19 on their mental health, and 17% due to its impact on their friends, family and community.

The survey also highlighted where artists are witnessing the greatest change to their practice, what have you found?

It is perhaps unsurprising that we found there has been a marked shift towards digital, with over half (55%) taking a more ‘blended’ digital / in real life approach to both making and sharing their work. This shift is also shown in the current jobs and opportunities artists are being offered, with digital commissions (34%) and online talks, panel discussions (32%) being the highest responses. We have only scratched the surface of the information in the survey, and there’s further information to digest about what respondents hoped wouldn’t come back in the sector, and what they were looking forward to, and our impression is that it will shed further light on this digital/in real life headline.

We were also interested to see a trend on support structures outside of arts organisations featured as the most critical non-financial source of support. 58% of respondents said that peer-support networks were the most important resource and over a third (34%) said they have greater involvement and awareness of sector-wide issues. It supported our anecdotal observation that as arts organisations were struggling over the last year with financial precarity, artists were self-organising and engaging in conversations about the future of the sector outside of institutional spaces. As funders committed to supporting early career artists, we feel a responsibility understand and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. We hope that this survey will help us understand the support artists and freelancers will need for the foreseeable future, ensuring that we are creating opportunities that will positively and significantly impact individuals and collectives.

What are your hopes for the recipients?

We hope that this funding will relieve some of the financial worries that have been perpetuated by the current crisis, and provide a bedrock of security and certainty that will enable new creative ideas to flourish. We are excited by the Awardees’ energy and enthusiasm for the future. This is a slow programme, where the results may not be immediately obvious, and the ripples may last for a long time. We do not have fixed expectations of what the awardees might achieve with the funding. Instead, we want them to have a connective, restorative, surprising and creatively rewarding period, that will set them up to navigate our uncertain future with confidence.

You also offer the opportunity for applicants to request feedback if they were not awarded during this round. What does this element of the process mean for development and practice?

Feedback has become increasingly important to us over the past few years, and we now strive to provide written feedback to every unsuccessful applicant who requests it. We use the assessment notes to pull together what we aim to be useful insights into how the application was read, and usually find ourselves going back to the artists’ application or website to see if there might be further thoughts we can offer of encouragement, to help them build on their ideas. Responses to the feedback suggests that it is overwhelmingly appreciated and helps applicants get that critical third-party view of their approach, and enables them to strengthen future applications to other funders as well as us. We don’t always get it right of course, and given the high quality of the vast majority of applications we receive, it is hard to convey that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with an application, it was simply that others’ stood out more compellingly on the day. Providing feedback has taught us a lot about the labour application making and given us greater insight into artists’ practices, and, as with the high number of applications, made us ask critical questions about the nature of arts funding too. In a less than perfect system, it’s one way we feel we can try to soften the edges.

You’ve mentioned how “Covid-19 has highlighted how valuable collaboration between different funders can be to create new ways to support the arts ecology.” From this way of collaborative working and information gathered from the survey, how will you use what’s been learned moving forward?

This is a great question! We’re still digesting the survey findings and hope to be able to share these widely back with those who filled in the survey, and with our funding and arts sector colleagues. We believe there will be very real insights and learning we can take from it about some of the intersecting challenges of the pandemic, the gaps in existing support, and what future funding opportunities might we need to focus on as we come out the other side and learn to create and enjoy culture while living with Covid-19.

We’ve recently joined over 40 other funders in pledging to more open and trusting grant-making, and there is new appetite for collaborating between funders. There are of course also benefits to having a diversity of funders with different focus’ and we don’t want to dilute that, but the pandemic has made us realise that where one funder is best positioned to meet a specific need, collaboration is smarter than duplication.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To find out more about the Live Work Fund, visit here…

To find out more about Jerwood Arts, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop