Image: Rhiannon Newton in Aimee Smith's 'Wintering', Next Wave Festival 2012. Photo: Eva Fernandez
In 2013, the Australia Council for the Arts will deliver more than $170 million in funding for arts organisations and individual artists across Australia in an effort to continue enriching the nation by supporting the practice and enjoyment of the arts.
Whether Australian artists are in the process of creating, presenting, publishing, performing and exhibiting their work, the Australia Council is committed to investing in excellence across all artforms. Artists who wish to develop new skills, undertake residencies and fellowships and access both national and international markets can also find invaluable support through the Australia Council’s 92 grants programs and initiatives on offer in 2013.
The funding pool is limited and the competition can be quite tough. Success rates vary from around 15 percent in some categories to 35 percent or more in others. Applications are assessed on two basic principles: peer review and funding decisions that are arm’s length from government. Decisions are announced between 12 to 16 weeks after closing dates.
‘Although it was eight years without any Australia Council funding toward making projects, I didn’t give up,’ said Jenny Fraser, a 2011 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts grant recipient, in a statement. ‘I kept producing and presenting works and this served my support material for a Fellowship application very well – fourth time lucky!’
But with more than 4,000 hopefuls applying each year, what's the secret of a successful application? artsHub spoke to director of Inter-Arts, Andy Donovan, who provided important advice for creative individuals and organisations planning on applying for one of the Australia Council's grants or initiatives in 2013.
How many grants and initiatives are there on offer for 2013 and how big is the pool of money?
Our 2013 Arts Funding Guide lists 92 grants and initiatives currently on offer; the number of initiatives we offer can change as different artforms respond to particular issues in their sector. It’s a good idea to check our website for updates. The Australia Council’s total arts funding budget for 2013 is over $170 million. This money is distributed through project grants to individual artists, groups of artists and arts organisations and through multi-year grants to 28 major organisations and 140 key organisations. There are also fellowships, artist residencies and other professional development grants on offer.
How is the funding pool divided up between artforms?
Our funding is split across our different divisions and artform boards. Our annual report will provide a good picture of how the funding is distributed across the organisation. You can ask us how much funding is available for a particular category – this will give you an idea of the level of funding you can apply for – in some cases we do prescribe the size of the grant on offer.
On average, how many applications does the Australia Council receive?
The Australia Council receives, on average, approximately 4,600 applications per year.
What new funding opportunities are there in 2013?
The most significant additions to our 2013 grants are a number of touring programs, which were previously offered through the Office for the Arts. They are: the Contemporary Touring Initiative; the Contemporary Music Touring Program; Playing Australia; Festivals Australia and Visions of Australia. Another new opportunity for funding in 2013 is the Creative Australia Artists Grants. This five-year, $10 million program provides funding for artists, including young and emerging artists, and will support more than 150 additional artistic works, presentations and fellowships for outstanding artists working across all artforms.
How many grants can one artists or organisation apply for in a calendar year?
Every artist and organisation can apply for up to five grants in a calendar year, however you cannot apply for more than two grants from a single artform board. Key organisations may have other restrictions on the number of grants they can apply for – it’s really important to check with the board to which you are applying to make sure you fully understand the eligibility requirements.
What are the core considerations when applying for a grant/initiative?
The most important consideration is to understand the purpose of the grant or initiative. It’s really useful to have a quick conversation with one of our artform team members to make sure that what you are proposing is suitable for the category – there’s nothing worse than finding out your project was never going to get supported because it didn’t even meet the guidelines for the category. It takes a fair amount of time to submit an application so it’s important you are not wasting that time by submitting an application that isn’t competitive from the outset.
Another key consideration for first-time applicants is eligibility. If you are applying to the Australia Council for the first time (and even if you have applied before) it is really important that you’re familiar with eligibility requirements for each grant category. If you are unsure please speak with a program officer before you begin to fill out your application form. Applications can take a lot of effort and it’s frustrating for us – and even more frustrating for the applicant – when all that work is for nothing, because they are simply not eligible to apply for a particular grant.
What are common problems the Australia Council observes with applications?
The most common problem is applicants not describing what they are planning to do in plain English. The assessors are really wanting to know some pretty straight-forward information about the project – what you are planning to do, why you are planning to do it, how you are going to do it and who is going to be involved. Addressing these questions thoroughly and in easy to understand language makes it much easier to assess your application.
Another common concern for assessors is that budgets don’t balance and so they are unsure whether an applicant has enough resources to successfully complete the project. Or conversely, the applicant has listed sources of income that far exceed the anticipated project expenses – causing assessors to wonder whether the applicant actually needs the Australia Council grant to complete the project!
Can you briefly describe how the assessment system works?
All of the applications we receive are peer assessed. Assessment is undertaken by artform boards, committees or assessment panels. Each of these is made up of peers who review the applications and score them against the published criteria prior to attending either a face-to-face meeting and occasionally, a teleconference. At the meeting the peers’ scores are aggregated to form a ranking of applications – based on how well they meet the selection criteria. The peers then discuss the applications, agree on a final ranking and make decisions (or recommendations in the case of assessment panels) about which applications to fund.
What are the core considerations panel members consider, across all artform genres, when assessing applications?
All applications are assessed against the published selection criteria for the grant category. So the core consideration for panel members is whether or not the application meets the selection criteria to a high degree.
What advice can you give artists/organisations to maximise their chances of success when applying for a grant/initiative?
Write in plain English and describe clearly what it is you plan to do. Provide good quality support material that represents the previous work of the artist or artists who’ll be working on the project. Ensure this support material is submitted in the appropriate format and accompanied by clear notes that detail what and whose work it is and why it’s relevant to the proposal.
Who do you talk to if you have questions?
You can talk to any of our team members in the different artform sections. They can provide advice and guidance to give your application the best opportunity for success. But it’s important to remember the funding process is very competitive. If your application is unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean that your proposal wasn’t any good. There is limited funding available. It’s important to read about funding outcomes through our assessment meeting reports. You may also speak about the outcome with a team member from the relevant artform. While we can’t provide detailed commentary on the assessment of every application, we can at least give you a sense of whether the application was competitive in the round or not. This will help you understand whether it’s worth trying for funding again with the same or similar proposal, or whether you really need to rethink the application completely.
Are there any resources that you can point to to assist applicants in applying for a grant/initiative?
The Australia Council website has tons of information about projects and organisations we’ve funded in the past. This can really help you to get a sense of the type or work funded through the grant categories. There is also a database of all grants we’ve made since 2008 online. This is searchable based on artform, year, and category amongst other things – this too can give you a great overview of our recent support for artists and organisations.
The other great resource is your own peers. Talk to them about your ideas and let a trusted friend read your application before you apply. They can help you determine whether your application is written in plain English and is easy to understand.
Does the mantra ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try again’ apply?
Yes, but we encourage you to try again in an informed way by speaking with a member of our team before making future applications. Our experience shows that applicants are more likely to be successful on their second or third application as they gain more experience in their practice, as well as an understanding as to how their previous application went in the assessment round.
For more information visit the Australia Council for the Arts website.