Dear funders…..did we just break-up?

On Coronavirus and independents

It’s in our nature to dream and imagine better. Like many, at the start of this I hoped it may lead to a rebalancing of how we value each other; a reassessment of our inter-dependence, a recognition that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable.

I spent this afternoon looking for solace in the assessment dates of my pending DYCP and Project Funds I’d applied for on behalf of others through ACE, and the Originators bids submitted to Bristol City Council last year. Ok, the activity would be delayed but the promise of future work would have given some hope. Some of that resilience the sector talks so much of.

In recent years many of us working independently had grown tired of NPO announcements that they are ‘supporting artists’ by offering space for a week, or if we’re lucky, a much-reduced commission pot. In practice the artists ‘supported’ usually support the NPO by using their own unpaid time to write Project Funding applications that enable the space to be used meaningfully. The sector needs artists and independents. The support is mutual. Thankfully, some organisations got this. They championed artists as leaders. They paid for time on steering groups. They valued our voices. We began to think things might get better.

So why does the COVID 19 support announcement from ACE feel like it heralds a return to ideas of Renaissance and Victorian era philanthropy? That if we’re lucky, an organisation may share some charitable breadcrumbs with needy independents? Already, we pick up the slack when over stretched organisations are unable to deliver the support they promise commissioned projects. We usually say nothing and bite the bullet, continually dipping into our thread-bare pockets, because our sector is a small world and because we recognise we are all under pressure.

Together, we worked on improving diversity and equalities. ACE brilliantly pioneered Access Funds. It even went a step further than current protected characteristics policy in recognising that class and socio-economic background matters. How will this agenda progress now? Today’s announcement feels like a death blow to those of us already struggling financially, those of us in single income households with no family safety net, those whose partners are self-employed and those battling the complexities of Disability Working Allowance.

And this same day, the Local Authority announces it is cancelling Originators funding. Funds that were originally due to be announced earlier this year. It’s only because they were delayed that Bristol City Council can cancel them this way.  We’d all re-shuffled for the delayed announcement. Instead of offering a lifeline we’ve been handed bricks and shoved in the water. It’s like they’ve just sent out a break-up text that reads “Hiya, you know all that talk about valuing independents as leaders? Soz, we were only joking.”

Now is the time that funders could be brave. They could champion that brighter future that not only leaves the door open but moves the door frame and recognises our inter-dependence. But like many freelancers, I am left reeling and disorientated by statements that seem to kneecap hope.

Some steps that could lessen the blow:

Assess all applications received up to today’s announcement as planned. They represent thousands of hours of unpaid work. Ringfence the funds. This is the gift of optimism that will help people hang on.

Work with NPOs to ensure that independents receive fair treatment and are not encouraged to self – exploit by accepting under resourced fees. Join some dots with independents in your evaluation processes to ensure that this happens.

Find ways for producers, who often apply on behalf of artists, to make transparent their entitlement to forthcoming support.

As above for artists who regularly collaborate but don’t lead on bids.

And please, let us be proved wrong. We are waiting for the government’s much promised announcement about self-employed protection and hoping it really might be spring and this all is just bad timing…

24/3/2020