Respond and reimagine grants: Lessons from the first round of our Covid-19 response funding

Visitors return to the Garden Museum after it reopened on 1 August 2020 from the Covid-19 lockdown
Visitors return to the Garden Museum after it reopened on 1 August 2020 from the Covid-19 lockdown

As the first recipients of Art Fund’s crisis-response funding are announced, head of grants Eleanor McGrath shares some thoughts and guidance on what makes a strong application.

Today we announced the first organisations to be offered funding through our new Respond and Reimagine grants programme – Art Fund’s response to the crisis currently facing museums.*

The number of applications we received shows just what an incredible demand there is. In total we have £1.5m to allocate over three funding rounds. The first received 114 applications, and we were able to make 18 offers. That’s a success rate of just 16%: challenging numbers, both for applicants and for the Art Fund team who’ve been working at lightning speed to review the applications.

There might be people reading this who have been unsuccessful, or those considering applying who are wondering if it is worth their time. Applying for funding can be time-consuming, and deflating when the outcome isn’t the one that you’d hoped for. But take heart. We have two more rounds of funding, and will do all we can to be helpful and transparent in our approach (having signed up to the Covid-19 funders' pledge), in addition to giving clear direction where we can’t offer you funding as to whether we think you should reapply.

For those who are considering applying, it’s crucial to read the guidance and carefully consider the programme’s aim and priorities. I wanted to take this opportunity to outline some of the things we’re looking for and provide a few pointers as to how you can make your application as strong as possible.

What did people apply for?

In addition to reopening costs, new programming and staffing support, three key themes emerged:

  • Moving or adapting school learning programmes to online or hybrid ‘in-person’ formats. It was very inspiring to see so many organisations focusing on provision for schools and young people, with some also pivoting school learning to include family-focused activity as well.

  • Connecting with local audiences, including hyper-local visitor engagement strategies. With people remaining closer to home, organisations are thinking about their local communities and how they can offer services and interesting activities to bring people together safely in person, but also online.

  • Equality, inclusion and diversity in audiences, curatorial programming and artistic practice.

What makes a great application?

The first round included some high-quality applications. Our guidance provides full details of how we assess and prioritise applications, but here are a few suggestions on what sets great applications apart from others:

  • The best applications identify a problem and then answer how they will solve it, clearly outlining a thread of activities and outcomes that link these two things together. Make sure to re-read your application as though you don’t know anything about your organisation; if you can’t see the thread yourself, then you’ll need to rework the application.

  • Applications that did well had a real understanding of their current and target audiences, clearly showing how they might work with specific communities and demonstrating a track record in developing partnerships with other organisations.

  • Avoid inclusions for costs which might be ‘nice to haves’ – something where we don’t understand how it connects to what you are trying to achieve. Focus costings around your must-haves instead.

  • While the funding is intended to support short-term need, applications that also considered the longer view tended to do better. So, think about short-term actions that could result in longer-term impacts or benefits.

  • The main aim of the funding is to support organisations through the Covid-19 crisis. Many applicants proposed some great ideas, but they didn’t meet the main aim. If you have an idea which doesn’t have a strong focus on Covid-19 response, you might want to look at our small project grants or consider the potential of crowdfunding through Art Happens


The funding ecosystem

Funding in the UK is complex. A common question from applicants is whether receiving emergency funding from sources such as the NLHF or ACE prevents them from applying to us. We don’t exclude you from our funding, but you need to make a strong case for needing our support. Where you receive support from elsewhere, we need to understand where that support ends, and where our support, if offered, could take you. We have also tried to place the emphasis on you telling us what you need, so we can better fit in alongside other funding you might be able to access.

Looking ahead

The next deadline for applications is 17 August 2020, and then we will have the third and final round which has a deadline of 12 October 2020. If you think Respond and Reimagine grants could be for you, then do have a look at our guidance. You may also want to consider our other funding opportunities as well.

You can also watch our recent webinar about current funding opportunities, which included a Q&A on the Respond and Reimagine grants. If you have specific questions, you can also contact us directly, but please remember we’re a small team and are unable to give feedback on your idea in advance of you applying.

Finally, and most importantly, keep on going. Hold onto any positive change identified during this period – and let’s keep advocating for one another. Art Fund will be looking forward to hearing further details of the Government’s recent funding announcement for the arts and how that will be helping museums and galleries. We’ll also be looking ahead to 2021 to make sure that our programme continues to meet your needs and aspirations.

Find out more about Art Fund’s revised funding programmes for museums, galleries and arts professionals or please do get in touch with our team directly.

* The full list of first-round funded projects are:

  • Aerospace Bristol, Bristol: £30,000 to create a new interactive online platform, transforming unique archive material and community stories into a digital storytelling experience.

  • Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Bath: £40,000 to support their campaign 'Forward to the Future', a blend of digital and traditional activity to adapt to Covid-19, including the development of a new app.

  • The Box, Plymouth: £25,390 to supply visitors with a loaned stylus so they can safely interact with the exhibits and develop digital assets.

  • Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth: £40,000 to support an exhibition and digital project to engage the communities of Ceredigion in recording their experiences of Covid-19.

  • Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff: £40,000 to deliver a visual art exhibitions programme in 2021-22, support staffing and the creation of a new digital engagement programme.

  • Collective, Edinburgh: £40,000 to use insight from programming in response to Covid-19 to renew the organisation, commissioning research and digital projects with artists and audiences to improve the organisation's civic role.

  • Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee: £44,759 for a broad package of support towards recovery, implementing measures to support audiences, digital engagement and workforce affected by Covid-19.

  • Florence Nightingale Museum, London: £45,934 for a project drawing attention to Nightingale's health legacy in connection to Covid-19, and the setting up of an interactive guided experience to manage social distancing, while immersing visitors in Nightingale's world at the time of her bicentenary.

  • The Foundling Museum, London: £37,000 to adapt to the new normal, focusing on the hyper-local to build new partnerships, increase collections access and engage with the community.

  • Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast: £38,000 to support the reopening of the gallery, enhance operations and staffing for the future and continue to support the visual arts in Norther Ireland.

  • Jaywick Martello Tower: £23,000 towards the provision of a digital programme and gallery to help this unique heritage space reach its audiences in a safe and accessible fashion and keep its important community spirit alive.

  • National Civil War Centre, Newark: £40,000 to adapt their schools learning programme to a blended offer of film, objects travelling via loan boxes, 3D printed artefacts and live streamed sessions and workshops.

  • National Glass Centre, Sunderland: £40,000 to reimagine and adapt their glassmaking experiences offer, support new income generation opportunities and encourage visitors to return.

  • The National Videogame Museum, Sheffield: £40,000 to support their National Videogame Gallery, a key digital development facilitating collections access and online learning.

  • The Novium Museum, Chichester: £21,646 towards an ambitious collections-based digital learning programme in response to the challenges Covid-19 poses for primary schools, consisting of virtual field trips and digital interpretation of their Roman Gallery.

  • Side Gallery and Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: £20,000 to install outdoor exhibitions in marginalised communities, create a virtual cinema season of screenings and talks and collect photography that documents Covid-19.

  • Void Art Centre, Derry/Londonderry: £30,000 to support the online expansion of their learning and community outreach programme Void Engage.

  • Wycombe Museum, High Wycombe: £35,000 towards a new pop-up exhibition space and community hub in a shopping centre in High Wycombe, improving collections access and trialling new ways of working.

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