Awards, Bursaries and Grants

Awards, bursaries and grants are not only ways of supporting your career but can also signify success and contribute greatly to the development of your practice.

An award can vary from a monetary endowment to a residency period, exhibition or workspace provision. Those offering awards or funding do so for a wide variety of reasons. Awards are granted to enable you to support your practice in some way; perhaps providing you with the necessary funds to put on an exhibition, to make new work, to take up a residency, to travel, to create a publication, for further education, a research period or to fulfil a proposed project.

To break into such a funding system may seem extremely daunting; however the main thing to keep in mind is that it is your practice you are trying to support and you will know which award will best suit your work and help you achieve your aims.

Once you have reached some sort of understanding as to what kind of award would be most beneficial to you, you need to look at what kind of awards are available and who is providing them. Each funder will have their own set of criteria for who and what they fund and what they expect from you.

It is worth keeping in mind that the most valuable award is not necessarily the one with the largest financial pay out. Other aspects should be taken into account – perhaps the award will give you the opportunity to develop a relationship that will lead to future work? Perhaps the project will be widely viewed and critiqued? A financial lump sum might come with strings attached or compromises that would be unacceptable to you and damaging to your work.

The ultimate benefit of any award needs to be considered in relation to your own practice.  Will it provide the time, space, money or support you require? Will it help you to come to the attention of your sought after audience, be that the public or arts professionals or will it help you develop through continued learning or exposure? It is important to have a focused approach to selecting awards for application, although there may be a myriad available, only some will fit the criteria of what you need or desire.

The Funders
Get into the know about funders and funding opportunities; get on email news lists from arts organisations and search hub info web sites. Get used to who is out there and what they are offering; this is a continuous task as new awards crop up all the time. In this text, I will outline some of the main and important funders that artists should be aware of and also the broad categories under which they fall.

Government Bodies
The Arts Council of Ireland is an independent government body under the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. It is the Irish State’s principal instrument of arts funding and an advisory body to government on arts matters. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the Northern Irish equivalent and the lead development agency for the arts in Northern Ireland.

The Arts Councils are the most important funders for artists in Ireland in that they both administrate a number of awards that support artists’ practice. They are also important from the point of view that panels of arts professionals and artists select the awardees; therefore, selection can also be seen as a seal of approval from a professional authority. Both Councils publish lists of those who receive grants and bursaries on their websites, making interesting reading for all.

The Arts Councils support not only the visual arts but also architecture, dance, drama, film, literature, music, opera, community arts and multidisciplinary projects through a number of awards and revenue funding to arts organisations. To apply to the Arts Council of Ireland you must be born in, or be resident in the Republic of Ireland and be in possession of a valid PPS number. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland accepts those domiciled in Northern Ireland who “have contributed to artistic activities in Northern Ireland for a minimum period of one year.”

As an emerging artist or recent graduate you may feel that you do not have a chance of winning a grant or that only more established artists receive them. This is not the case. The criteria for assessment of awards can be found on both Councils’ websites – key areas being the quality of the work and proposal (both the idea and planning) submitted and evidence of how the proposal may advance your career. It will of course be necessary to submit a CV but an emerging career does not put you out of the running. In fact the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has in 2006/07 “ring fenced… 20% of its awards to support emerging artists and/or first time applicants. The emphasis on track record has been removed and applications will be judged solely on the quality of works submitted.”

The Awards programme run by the Arts Council of Ireland for individuals or groups of artists includes: Bursary Award (to allow artists to buy time, space and freedom to concentrate on developing practice or body of work); Projects: New Work (to enable individuals or organisations to carry out stand-alone projects); Commissions (to encourage creative partnership between diverse range of commissioners and artists) and the Travel & Training Award (to improve professional development and formation; to encourage networking opportunities). The Arts Council also offers schemes managed or run in partnership with other organisations. For example, the Location One Fellowship is administered by the Irish American Cultural Institute on behalf of the Arts Council – an annual fellowship which provides a studio space for ten months at Location One, New York including accommodation and a monthly stipend. The Banff Residency is offered in association with the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta and The Artist in the Community Scheme which is managed by CREATE is for artists working collaboratively with communities.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland supports individual artists through a Travel Award; International Awards (to develop exchanges and take up residencies); an International Artists’ Profile Scheme; General Awards (for specific projects, specialised research, personal artistic development and certain materials/equipment); Major Individual Awards (open to established artists to develop ambitious work) and residency awards run in partnership including the Banff Residency, Winnipeg Exchange Residencyand The British School at Rome Fellowship.

Údarás Na Gaelteachta is the organisation for “the preservation and strengthening of Irish as a community language in Gaeltacht Communities and its transmission to the next generation”. Údarás na Gaeltachta and the Arts Council of Ireland set up a partnership and subsidiary company called Ealaín na Gaeltachta in 1997. Its aim is to develop the traditional and contemporary arts in the Gaeltacht and provide financial assistance and advice to artists and arts groups working there. To this end Ealaín na Gaeltachta run bursary and project schemes for both groups and individuals.

A scheme that has seen many artists achieve large-scale projects since its implementation has been the Percent for Art scheme – first introduced in Ireland in 1988 by the Department of Environment. This scheme allows for one per cent (up to a current maximum of €63,486) on a construction budget or combined budgets, to be spent on commissioning art. Alongside individual works it has also provided for important programmes to emerge such as Breaking Ground the percent for art strategy for Ballymun. Although the Percent for Art scheme may have previously been seen as a commissioning award to create monumental works attached to very specific developments, it has now developed to encompass temporary projects, multimedia and participatory works as well as ongoing programmes of commissioning and community related projects.

Culture Ireland was established in 2005 by the Minister for Arts, Sport & Tourism to “promote and advance Irish Arts in the International context”. If you have a project with an international angle or you have been invited to show or work abroad, Culture Ireland is the organsiation you should approach to seek support. It does however have tight reporting procedures on which the grant release hinges and will request receipts of spending before it grants any money. This is not a retrospective granting of the award however; it will grant you the award amount before the project happens but will not give you the money until it has received receipts to this amount. This means that you will have to keep meticulous accounts during your project (as yes they do go through every receipt!) and will have to find the means to bridge the gap between needing the money to fulfil your proposal and actually receiving any money. However, as with many other grants, the time between applying and finding out whether you have been successful can be considerable so depending solely on a grant can at times, be detrimental to the time scale of your work. It is wise to plan well in advance.

Local Council
Both the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland work with and support local authorities. Each local authority has its own arts programme, officer and funding stream. County Council’s can be very supportive of local artists (from or residing in their County) through their Arts Office. It is worth getting to know your local arts officer, the arts programme they are running and the awards they offer. Bursaries offered usually cover professional development and the creation of new work and are assessed by independent, external expert panels.

Alongside these grants some County Councils run specific awards like the Mayo County Council’s Liam Walsh Award which offers funding of €15,000 over a twelve month period to assist in the making or completion of a body of new work by practicing professional artists or arts-workers, born in or now resident in Mayo. Other examples are the Laois County Council’s Patronage Award (€7,000 offered to an artist with proven needs, working to a high standard, open to artists’ residing in or originally from County Laois). Several of the County Councils run residency awards to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (a residential workspace for artists in Annamakerig, County Monaghan).

Arts Organisations and Galleries
Arts organisations and galleries may have available grants, awards or support opportunities as part of their programmes (some of these will be revenue funded through the Arts Council) or they may administer awards on behalf of others – such as the Butler Gallerys Tony O’Malley Travel Award. These programmes generally ‘fit’ with the remit and aims of the organisation – thus receiving an award from a gallery or arts organisation can align you with the reputation of the organisation and expose you to their audience.  Oftentimes important relationships can develop through the award and into the future. The value of a supportive association with an organisation or gallery should not be dismissed, you will usually need more than money to achieve a projects aims and advice and help from the gallery / arts organisation could prove pivotal.

Private, Independent or Corporate Foundations & Trusts
Private, Independent or Corporate funds may be available as part of a legacy or charitable bequest or established by a company as a trust, foundation or charity, named as such because of their legal constitution. They are often named after the person who bequeathed the original money – for example the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Wellcome Trust or Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Usually the money a trust gives out is the interest it has earned from its investments. These awards are likely to have a specific aim or remit which may include contributing to a certain community or cause or to improve the image of the company. A trust may give out grants for arts and culture or if not it may be possible to apply if you are proposing an arts project relating to another category. Foundations and trusts may have set up their own administration or may be administrated by others on their behalf.

The AIB Prize, awards the winner €20,000 for the purpose of creating new work, having an exhibition and publishing an accompanying catalogue. Unlike the majority of other awards artists cannot apply for the prize themselves but must be nominated by a publicly funded visual art space that is committed to holding the exhibition and publishing a catalogue if their nominee wins. Nominees must be emerging artists residing or having been born in Ireland (thirty two counties).

Sponsorship can also be sought from businesses outside of specific funding opportunities. Companies will often put aside money to cover a number of selected sponsorship requests or may be open to requests for ‘in kind’ sponsorship. Sponsorship ‘in kind’ refers to anything that is not received as money but as material or service, for example getting free printing done due to a sponsorship deal with a printer. Companies may be inundated by sponsorship requests therefore it is best to narrow your appeal to companies whose product or service has something in common with your project or is local to you or the area you are working in. Sponsors will also be concerned with their image and will not want to associate themselves with anything they may deem damaging to this. They will also be looking at what branding opportunities and exposure you can offer. Be careful when negotiating sponsorship terms that you are aware of what the company expects from you in return for their support.

International Opportunities
If working or looking to work in another country it is a good idea to research funding opportunities in that country as well as your own. It is possible that funds will be available to support international artists. For example, residency programmes often have funds set aside for visiting artists.

There are also international bodies which have funding programmes for artists such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) which was established in 1945 to promote international collaboration through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for the rights proclaimed in the UN Charter. Awards are available to artists through its culture programme, including The UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of the Arts. International Residencies for Artists (IRA) helps fund artists to undertake residencies and solo exhibitions in countries other than their own. Applications are accepted by letter (including detailed information on the residency, exhibition etc) rather than a specific form.

Awards application criteria can be restrictive however this is not always a negative situation. Yes there may be plenty of awards that you are not eligible for but there may also be those that fit your circumstances specifically.

If you are a student, for example, you may not be eligible to apply for awards from many of the bodies mentioned in his text but there are some awards available specifically for students and recent graduates. The RDS Student Awards aim to “recognise excellence in young emerging Irish artists and provide support to enable them to further their talent and artistic development.” The New Contemporaries award is open to final year undergraduates and current postgraduates of Fine Art at UK colleges and “gives people still at, or just after, art school the opportunity to show their work in the context of a professional art gallery”.

Other criteria like where you are from or being a native Irish speaker could also be an advantage. Remember if you are a Northern Irish artist you could be eligible to apply to both Irish and UK opportunities.

The parameters of your work can also act as a way of defining opportunities. For example, there are awards specifically for those who use certain materials such as awards for painters, printmakers, photographers and video artists. Or the content of your work may determine the opportunities available to you – for example if your work has science related content you should look to a funder such as The Wellcome Trust who through their Sciart programme support “experimental, collaborative arts projects investigating biomedical science and its social contexts” by applicants based in the UK and Ireland.

There are of course also awards to which you cannot apply but must be nominated, however there is nothing stopping you steering yourself into a ripe position for these!

Strings and Bonuses
Before even applying for an award you should look into what exactly it is you are being offered. All opportunities will come with restrictions; make sure you are clear of what comes with winning or accepting an opportunity and are sure it is something you can and wish to fulfil.

There is an array of residencies available to artists however what such awards offer can vary greatly from an all expenses paid trip, studio, living facilities, stipend, materials etc to those offering nothing bar the opportunity to pay for the honour of taking up their residency. Read or find out what exactly you are applying for and decide if it is worth it to you.

Remember that what you are offered goes beyond the awards pitch; you are also accepting to associate yourself with that body. Winning an award may have a certain amount of press coverage attached to it or be well regarded by curators or your peers and thus would be good for your profile as an artist. If the award is from a prestigious or recognised body you may wish to put this on your CV as it will add to your professional image. Even if you are not selected your application will have been viewed by professionals in your field and may lead to other opportunities or at least make these professionals aware of your practice.

If an award is offered from a body or gallery you do not recognise, it is wise to carry out some research on the organisation before applying, particularly if an application fee is requested. Unscrupulous offers do exist, as do advertising opportunities disguised as awards.

Funders may be supporting your practice on the basis of your excellence and professionalism but most will still look for reports on the use of the award, how their money was spent and the fulfillment of their criteria. It is therefore important you check the requirements on applying and receiving an offer.

Some bodies will request that you complete a formal report and include documentation of the work created and copies of press coverage or catalogues. Some funders such as Culture Ireland will look for a breakdown of expenditure and original receipts. Grants may require you to adhere tightly to your proposal or timeline or what you stated the funding was for whereas others may be completely hands off once the money has been allocated.

You may think that reporting is not important especially if you have already received the money. However, be aware that this information will be kept on file and may be referred to if you apply a second time so it is worth keeping in good stead with your funders. It is also good practice for you to document your work and keep financial records.

Practically all awards/grants or bursaries will ask for some acknowledgement, this can take the form of a logo on an exhibition catalogue, on your website or exhibition documentation. Make sure to check with the funding body as to the stipulation on this (some funders will even put in a clause to state that the funding is redeemable without this). It is particularly important to check this if being funded by a business – will they be happy with a logo on the back of the catalogue or will they expect it stuck next to the work? . On the other hand, some funders expect a very low level of acknowledgement

A grant’s criteria for application or acceptance may also put certain restrictions or requirements on you and your proposal. You may be requested for example to contribute to an education programme through workshops or talks, delivering a paper or having your project be of a certain length or involve a particular community or number of participants. A degree of flexibility may be needed to conform to these requirements.

When deciding to make applying for awards, grants and bursaries part of your practice, it is important to take into consideration that the process of application is very time consuming. Winning awards is not guaranteed and many have conditions that you might find constricting, frustrating or unacceptable. On consideration you may not find them necessary or you may find them too much of a hindrance to your work and decide to eschew them entirely and work without their assistance through selling, exhibiting and undertaking commissions.

A big part of applying for awards is being organised and prepared as the work involved in making applications can be extensive. You have to continuously research opportunities, be aware of deadlines, fill out endless forms as well as prepare supplementary information. Deadlines and the gap between applying for awards and receiving notice of your success or failure can be lengthy and is a frustrating part of the process. In any year you may have a deadline before you are ready to apply (perhaps the concept for your project has not solidified or you do not have the material for application ready) or you could be waiting months to hear from an award to assist a project you wish to proceed with now.

Only a percentage of applications are successful and some successful applicants receive only a portion of what was requested thus contingency plans are important. However, being unsuccessful does not mean that all is lost – at the very least the experience of going through the application process will help you to plan your project and focus your practice. Going through the selection process can also have other positive effects; it may bring you to the notice of jurors who are well thought of in your field who will see your development and determination. If you are unsuccessful one year with a particular funder it does not necessarily mean you will be unsuccessful the next as your practice will have grown and your proposal will differ.

In conclusion
Just because an award is available is not a reason to apply for it. Not only would it be time consuming to apply for every opportunity available but it would also dilute your focus and muddy your projected path. Remember you do not just want the award you want it for a specific reason.

Awards, bursaries and grants can allow for a certain type of work practice; perhaps freeing you from commercial considerations and constraints, or allowing you to work on a scale, in a location, within a timeframe or with an organisation or community you would be unable to consider without the assistance of an award. Awards can allow you to set your own agenda and become part of a patchwork of systems to maintain your practice, bringing you into contact with organisations and individuals that could be key to your development. They can also act as an accolade, career milestone and developmental accelerator and are recognition from professionals on the value of your work – their value going beyond the material prize and befitting you well into the future.

Applying for an award does need to be a considered process and it is one which is undoubtedly time consuming. However when woven into your practice it can also help you to be more organised, to be articulated and efficient in writing about your work and competent in handling time scales and budgets; all key to other aspects of your work.

You may not end up completely supporting yourself and your practice through awards and bursaries however, they can if successful go a great distance to support the creation and presentation of your work and lead to relationships and development that will have a lasting impact and become a building block for your future career.

By Neva Elliott
Born 1976, Neva Elliott is an Irish artist living and working in London and a Masters graduate of Central St. Martins College. Elliott has taken part in a number of curated and selected exhibitions and projects, including in 2006 Archiving Skibbereen at the West Cork Arts Centre, Ev+a, 30th annual, 6th Biennial exhibition, Limerick, Ireland, Curated by Katerina Gregos, Fresh, Re-Imagining The Collectioncurated by Pippa Little at the Limerick City Gallery of Art and The Taylor Arts Award Retrospective at the National Gallery Dublin. In 2006 Elliott also represented Ireland at the International Artists´ Residency in Argentina (RIAA, Residencia Internacional de Artistas en Argentina).

Exhibitions in 2007 include Singing the Real, National Gallery of South Africa, Capetown, curated by Patrick Murphy, Director of the Royal Hibernian Gallery. Curatorial projects include in 2005 Flagged for Visualise Carlow and in 2007 At Your Convenience, Madame Lillies, London, Co-curated with Emily Clay and absolutezerodegrees.

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