Fourth network meeting for professional development

On June 15th we held our fourth professional development meeting. The theme was funding with a focus on Grants for the Arts by Arts Council England. We invited guest speakers Rachel Johnson and Monica Nicolaides, who have both applied to GftA.

Both Monica and Rachel were very generous and we cannot thank them enough for sharing the wealth of their experience with the attending choreographers and us.


Monica Nicolaides, artistic director and choreographer of MonixArts, is currently working on the new work ‘Signs’, in which she fuses contemporary dance with British Sign Language (BSL). The piece received funding from the IdeasTap Innovators Fund and Monica secured some more funding to extend the work and devise a workshop to promote BSL. At the time of our meeting Monica’s first GftA application had not been successful, but just a few days later she was successful and we cannot congratulate her enough!

Rachel Johnson is the founder and artistic director of Experiential Dance. Her work ‘Bridging the Void’ has twice toured nationally with the support of ACE. She is now developing her new work ‘Trapped’ – inspired by Chilean miners who were saved after 69 days of being trapped in a collapsed mine. For ‘Trapped’ she has received funding from ACE, Chilean- Anglican Embassy and a successful crowdfunding campaign.


The necessary preparation

  • “everything 99% ready to go”
  • applications are assessed based on risk
  • reduce your level of risk by having as much confirmed as possible: dancers, collaborators, partners, venues
  • other funding, savings from your own work
  • in-kind support is essential
  • have work, preview or work in progress ready, depending on application (tour or R&D)
  • if touring: you must have shown the work publicly prior to applying and provide evidence there is demand for the work
  • begin application preparations more than year ahead
  • seek venues 9-12 months ahead
  • apply early in the year
  • register to Grantium system – 1 week
  • wait for eligibility decision – 1 week
  • submit your application by 5:30pm on Friday to register for that week
  • six weeks turn around (under £15k), 12 weeks turn around (over £15k)
  • have enough time to reply or do a second application
  • have public liability insurance and include it in your budget
  • use Equity and ITC rates to determine payment
  • have employers insurance even if your dancers are freelance (you are responsible regardless of a theatre’s insurance)

“When Arts Council read an application they sit around as a panel and there may be no dancers. At first they critique an application based on risk. If your venues are unconfirmed and some of your partners are unconfirmed then you are ‘high risk’. If touring you need to confirm all venues and be speaking to them in advance of an application. Ideally you want to have everything ready other than 50% of the budget you are seeking from the Arts Council.” Rachel




  • Arts Council prefer to fund several smaller projects rather than one big one
  • apply in the under £15k bracket for your first application
  • apply for as small a percentage of your overall budget as possible
  • apply with lots of in-kind/other support (minimum 10%; in London aim for 50%)
  • seek to apply for less then 50% of your overall budget by including high levels of in-kind support, payment, donations etc.


Raising other funding

  • income from (school) workshops
  • donations from people who believe in you
  • private investments from your other (non-dance) work
  • embassies (if non-UK nationality)
  • investments from organisations/corporate funding (ask yourself what organisations might be interested in your work)

“I got an investment from a lighting company because ‘Bridging the Void’ is about sunrise. A Cave Company has provided a day’s research in-kind for ‘Trapped’ because the owner loves theatre. This is all support in-kind from sources I never expected to be so generous – but you will never know unless you try.” Rachel


The big “how?”

  • plan in your own, unpaid time while holding down another job for your first application
  • invest your time in the knowledge that down the line you will be paid
  • tour booking: have a preview, invite people
  • have a pilot tour at venues you already have a relationship with: a venue is unlikely to book a show without knowing you or your work
  • five venues outside London constitute a tour

“I sent out 250 emails to programmers each with an individual paragraph and then phoned them. Follow up is key.” Rachel

“They’re getting 100 emails probably, they are getting emails from people they’ve never met before, they’re getting emails from people they know but haven’t got time to deal with. You’ve got to try to get through all these masses of emails. It may just be the subject of your email that might get you through. The more they see your name the more they will be like ‘ok, I need to look into it’. […] I have been contacting people for two years already and just now they have responded back.” Monica


Approaching venues

  • plan long-term
  • contact the person in charge of programming
  • email persistently, inform of relevant news, get your name in their inbox (‘soft sale’)
  • participate in scratch nights
  • be ready when the time is right for them, e.g. scratch nights, they need a new choreographer, they need your kind of work, a local artist, etc.
  • be visual, image at the top, link to very short trailer
  • use stunning images
  • collate a tour pack: a brief E-flyer with company info, image and description of work, audience and press quotes, technical info


What help should you get?

  • a producer
  • arts managers
  • Arts Council relationship managers
  • people outside London to help with knowledge, connections and planning

“The Arts Council know you’re the artists, they know you have so much else to do. Ideally you do not want to spend your time on budgeting. They want to know that when you are so busy rehearsing, securing tours etc. you have someone extra overseeing that you have not made any mistakes.” Monica


Working with an arts manager or a producer

  • do all application writing by yourself
  • get an outside eye, not to do with project, to read your application and advise on changes
  • get help with the budget
  • get help with the management
  • increase credibility and trust from Arts Council by bringing in the additional person
  • pay them by the hour

“Arts managers give a lot of advice and it is worth it. In just that one hour meeting we broke down everything I was doing with the project including advice and key people to contact based on what I had been working on up until now. […] You can also contact the Arts Council relationship managers, they are super busy, but they will read your application even if it is a draft.” Monica


What about reach and audience engagement?

  • dance performances, in comparison to other arts, reaches small numbers of people
  • engage target audiences through other means than performances
  • in R&D projects audience participation is difficult to produce
  • workshops are a great way to engage with new audiences
  • research what successfully funded projects do in terms of reach and engagement
  • understand that the Arts Council has targets to meet too, e.g. reaching minorities, being inclusive, reaching audiences outside of London
  • be clear on who your audience is
  • be strategic and specific on how you target your audience, e.g. give figures (“I’m going to target them through my mailing list of such and such number.”)


Case study: audience engagement for MonixArts’ ‘Signs’

  • R&D to create work and a preview to generate interest with venues
  • workshops with the deaf community
  • contacted all schools for deaf people in London and Greater London
  • booked workshops with children of different ages at two schools
  • got Candoco as mentors


Contacting schools and working with children

  • know the regulations
  • all artists involved and yourself must be DBS checked
  • learn about SKE (Subject Knowledge Enhancement) courses
  • specify why your offer is valuable and unique for the students
  • base your workshop for 14-18 year olds on GCSE/A-Level criteria
  • make contact at the beginning of the academic year or at the end of the final term
  • don’t offer workshops for after April (exam season)
  • call front desk, ask for arts/dance/drama teacher’s name and email address (if allowed to give)
  • ring between 8:00 and 8:45 – optimal time to reach teachers, don’t ring in the afternoon
  • email, follow up
  • keep spreadsheets (name of the school, phone number, project, group, contact name, log dates/times you spoke to them)

“Just do it. Do the research. Even if your application fails you will feel better because you know the process. […] Send in drafts, talk to the Arts Council. Listen to them because they are giving you hints.” Monica


Further information

Experiential Dance and Rachel Johnson

MonixArts and Monica Nicolaides

Interview with Monica Nicolaides

Arts Council information about GftA

ITC (rates tables; tour booking, fundraising and other workshops)

ACE Grants for the Arts – application TOOLKIT / CHEATSHEET by Rachel Dobbs

This post was written by Lucia Schweigert.

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