Another day, another arts funding bulletin that lists available grants. The problem is, most of the larger grants do not seem to go to the smaller organisations like mine, so should I even bother to apply? Also, if these organisations, desperately in need of funds, aren't getting the grants, who is? Where is the money going?
Since the start of the economic downturn and change in government, our voluntary community dance programme has struggled to find funds. Most of the money available is going to large organisations, in the expectation that it will then be filtered out into the community and into smaller delivery projects like ours - but this isn't working. The small grants are of course being made available, but the sums of money parcelled out are often too small to make a difference. The cost of art provision has risen in line with everything else, yet grant sums are getting smaller. There is only so much you can do with tiny funding pots like these - and they often mean an arts organisation will scrabble from small fund to small fund until they either give up or something unforeseen happens and they go under. Another problem with these small grants is that there is a lot of competition for them, as the application processes are usually easier, every arts organisation on the block will be putting in an application.
This system means that the funding decisions have been outsourced to the larger managing organisations, instead of the funding bodies themselves. So, what does this mean? Who is making the decisions to award the grants and how? Do these organisations have the resources it takes for proper fund management - the days of the project visit seem to have gone at the same time that the funding bodies outsourced their work. There is little face to face contact any more - how do you know whether someone is doing a good job? Someone may run fantastic programmes, but not just be so good at the application side of things, and if you never go out in the field, you would never find out.
It is perverse that funds are being awarded to organisations who are using them to create workshops to teach smaller organisations how to apply for funds... These larger organisations are also often out of touch with the communities they purport to serve - so tens of thousands of pounds are being awarded to companies that are providing these workshops and training from the confines of an office desk but never actually finding out about what is being done at ground level. Also, some of these organisations run their own dance provision - how does one guarantee their impartiality when parcelling out the funds?
The community dance project I set up when I was 15, Bruk Out (slang for dance) officially closed its doors last year, after receiving almost £150,000 from grants and sponsorship in its lifetime. In the end, we just could not compete within the current grants system. Instead, starting in 2010, I had privatised a lot of the company arms under the new name of The Movement Factory, just to keep things going. Even though I am now setting up a new Movement Factory Dance Foundation, it was still an incredibly difficult decision to close down Bruk Out. Hundreds of kids came through the doors of Bruk Out in the years we were operational: most classes were full to bursting and they were the only way some of these kids were able to pursue dance (and get some good role models while they were at it). This programme had stellar outcomes - many of these young people have since gone on to run their own dance companies, or have very successful performing and teaching careers! This would never have happened without the grant investment we had.
Today, much of the arts funding seems to be going into paying bureaucrats and managers full-time salaries to monitor and administer schemes. This is way too much management - the arts cannot support this!
In addition, this approach makes the arts about statistics - as this is what managers do. The art itself gets lost somewhere in between the management layers.
As a youth-led dance company, we get calls every day from budding dance groups, asking for rehearsal space, as they are resorting to rehearsing in parks, in the entrances to buildings and similar spaces. These young people call us asking for help and wanting to know how we started. Unfortunately, the grant system that allowed us to get started is no longer there for them.
This is why we are launching our new programme, the Movement Factory Dance Foundation later this year. We are in a position where we know what is going on at the grassroots level, and we want to get real help to these young people who are starting out. We will run the foundation in the lean way we do all our programmes, and ensure that the minimum amount of the money raised is spent on administration. We will have a hands-on approach, meeting young dancers face to face and ensuring we know what is going on in the field. In addition, we aim to raise enough money to give these new groups funding that will really make a difference.
In addition, I will use my personal experience of setting up Bruk Out and the Movement Factory to offer these new companies guidance and mentoring and help them not just survive, but thrive. I started up the foundation because I want to make a real difference to these dance start-ups.
If you want to be part of this and make a difference too, by donating money, time or expertise, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.