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Written by Ash
[Length: 6.5 mins]
The funding landscape has been looking even more arid since the pandemic, unsurprisingly. While there have been some innovations in how support might reach individuals such as Strike a Light’s Let Artists Be Artists, on the whole the system is based in competitive, zero-sum game cap-in-hand applications. As individuals we’re an unpaid workforce in an unregulated market spending days at a time writing explanations for why we need money, knowing that each time we win there are many, many more who lost.
They say the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at maths. In fact, it’s likely a tax on the poor, the desperate, the ones in need.
A lottery ticket costs £2 for an entry with very, very unlikely odds of winning millions at best. Competing for funding in the current application-focused structure costs vastly more in unpaid writing time, and while the odds are better, it will likely be for a few thousand at best. Around 1 in 5 eligible applicants were awarded DYCP in round 9, while 1 in 7 entries into a 49 number lottery will get 2 numbers correct. You don’t get any money for 2 numbers, but you do get a free lucky dip, giving you another crack at it. Under current rules you are only allowed 2 goes at an ACE DYCP. Even as a seasoned DYCP writer it takes me around 2 days to write a DYCP application. It takes around 45 seconds to buy a lottery ticket if you’re already in the shop, so somewhere in that equation cost/labour wise you might not necessarily have totally better odds at the lottery, but you could certainly get a ticket and repurpose the time you would have spent writing an application doing some actual paid work.
A bursary, derives from the Latin for bag or purse. It’s just a chunk of change to enable someone to live and get on with the stuff they need to do. We all need this, all of the time. We spend so much time scrapping around for money to make work, to show work, to see work, to go to work, to pay for someone to care for our children while we work. We all need a bag of money that alleviates all this wasted money-searching labour so we can just get on and actually work. So, I don’t know how bursaries are assessed. I’ve not sat on an awarding panel, and so I’ve never been given the information on how someone can say who should receive that bag of money and who shouldn’t. Who should feel relief, and who should feel like they didn’t ask nicely enough. Who should feel the comfort of knowing bills are paid for long enough to focus on their actual work, and who should feel like they wasted their precious time on this earth writing a begging letter to a room full of salaried people who don’t know or can’t remember how it feels to wonder if you have enough money to see you through to the end of the financial year.
We wrote two lots of two bursaries into our Producing for the End of the World project and then realised we didn’t know how to give them out at a time when every freelancer just needs money. Money to work, money to be able not to work. So we decided to give out 4 bursaries of £600, specifically for producers, on a lottery basis. They just needed to send us a CV by way of entry, which we only checked to make sure they were actually producers in the Live Art/performance sector. If they were, they were eligible and were entered in.
In the first round, for self-identifying early career Live Art/performance producers we had 56 applications and did a random number generator on google. This lottery selected Natalie Chan and Beccy D’Souza. We’ve done some mentoring with these folks as well which has hopefully been helpful, although the money will have probably just compensated their time doing this mentoring.
In the second round, for self-identifying mid-career and established Live Art producers we had 21 applications and again did a random number generator on google. This time it selected Siân Baxter and Rafia Hussain. We actively invited applicants to spend the money on something that directly benefited themselves, and not to allow it to subsidise someone else’s project. They assured us they did that. The things they spent it on were basic - alleviating some precarity, knowing that bills are covered, and some time for rest can be accounted for.
£600 is going to change nothing in the long-term, and will change very little in the short term. But that’s why it was even more important to just get it out to people, without application or judgement of “quality” or “merit”. It was just a bump, maybe a lifeline, ideally it would be a luxury.
With freelancers working on average 2 out of every 5 days unpaid, we shouldn’t have to beg and plead for an amount of money that won’t even cover our monthly childcare. We should, without explanation, be able to go on fucking holiday. We should not have to show the amount of work undertaken for it, or endlessly evaluate how “timely” and “significant” it has been for your practice. Because it’s just a few hundred quid, helping a few individuals and their families. And in the middle of a pandemic, when most producers lost everything and still reached their arms out to support the sector around them, that’s a pretty good spend of public money.
These bursaries were generously supported by Arts Council England. Who is generously supported by National Lottery. Who is generously supported by people like my nan, Beryl Bates, who played every week, twice a week, for the 25 years before she died without ever winning more than a tenner. Thanks Beryl.