Changes to enquiry calls in Arts Access and Participation

Published: 18 November 2021 
Author: Ushi Bagga 
Two people are in a dance studio with wood flooring and black walls. One young man is in the front, with arms raised towards the ceiling
SLiDE Dance. Photo credit: Sarah Hickson

After a period of making emergency grants during the first lockdown, we reopened the Arts Access and Participation Fund in November last year with a number of changes. Ushi Bagga, Head of Programme – Arts, provides more context for these changes and outlines next steps.

At the forefront of our thinking has been our commitment to addressing inequalities and tackling structural racism and the recognition of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on those already facing inequality. In saying this we think it is important to acknowledge our own role in the system we are seeking to change and consider where we might be part of the problem as well as the solution. With this in mind, and recognising we have further to go, we’ve been thinking about how to make our processes more accessible.

We started by looking at the entry point into the Fund. Prior to the pandemic the first port of call was to submit a first stage application via our online grants system. But we know that this route works well for people who already understand the system and that the application takes a lot time and energy. It can feel impersonal and leave too many feeling that PHF is not for them.

This led us to introduce the option of an enquiry call’ which is a 45 minute conversation with a member of the arts team about a potential application. The calls are optional, offering advice not assessment and are not a prerequisite to apply. One of the benefits of the calls is that it allows us to be clear with applicants at the start if we think it is unlikely they will be funded. Given how precious time and effort is for organisations, particularly those that have been historically underfunded, we think being clear is important even if it is disappointing. Equally, for those proposals we think might be a good fit we can provide a steer on how to present their strongest case.

To date we’ve completed over 300 enquiry calls and have recently undertaken a review which included a survey and call with a sample of recipients. We’ve learnt that this new approach has been welcomed and 60% of the requests for calls were from organisations not previously funded by PHF. 

This is having an impact on who we fund – since reopening, 66% of the grants we’ve made have been to organisations who are new to the Foundation.

In response to the learning from our review – principally that these calls are very helpful for those organisations who might not have been in contact with us before – and what we are learning from the wider sector about how processes need to be more intentional about the change we want to see, we are looking to prioritise groups that we have historically under-invested in.

This means we will limit this pre-application support to organisations that are led by people who experience racism, people who experience the effects of ableism, people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, those who identify as sitting at the intersections of several minoritised identities, and people from economically marginalised communities or experiencing poverty. We will also talk to any organisation based in Northern Ireland because of geographic underrepresentation. In addition, we will only offer calls to smaller organisations who are likely to have limited capacity for fundraising.

Giving priority in this way presents challenges. For example, we are grappling with how best to support much smaller organisations who we know are unlikely to be funded through the Arts Access and Participation Fund. They are crucial to developing a thriving, diverse arts ecosystem and many have been in touch with us through this first phase of enquiry calls. It may be that we can better support them through partnerships with other funders, or more on-granting’ where our funding is given to trusted organisations that distribute the money on to the communities they know well.

We know that to get these approaches right we have to involve and listen to the individuals and communities that we are aiming to support. We haven’t done enough of this yet and need to do better.

We are aware that some organisations who don’t fit the eligibility criteria will be disappointed by not being able to have a conversation with us in this way. We are still very happy for organisations to apply straight to the Fund through our online grants system and we of course will always answer questions through our email address.

Our new approach to enquiry calls is just a small step. We have a long way to go and we are definitely on a journey. We need to listen more, to share power and be ready to change in ways that are beyond our ken right now. James Baldwin’s quote says it perfectly a journey is called that because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do with what you find, or what you find will do to you.”

Head of Programme – Individuals