I’m now five months into my twelve-month contract with the Writers’ Centre Norwich (WCN) as a Business Development Assistant, a position that is funded by the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme. Coming out of university into my first 9-5 job with a sense of actual stability, it is easy to forget that my position, this fantastic opportunity designed to help me and 39 other graduates crack into the elusive world of the arts, is entirely funded by charitable organisations. Understanding quite how that works as part of the bigger funding picture has been probably the most taxing part of this learning curve.
Before I started in September 2015, my very poor understanding of how arts organisations operate financially consisted primarily of a jumble of acronyms, and a dreary awareness of the constant state of fatigue among arts and culture professionals, all down to the perpetual funding cuts to the DCMS …what ever that meant. Now, five months in, I can draw you a mediocre flowchart of the ACE funding streams, and I know what NPO stands for. I’m getting there.
I have been very lucky to have joined WCN during a huge development drive. Just before I started, WCN moved into the 15th Century Dragon Hall, providing a home for the offices and a magnificent space to host their artistic programmes. Just before my training session, Arts Council England confirmed to generously support our Capital Campaign to extend and refurbish the building and become a National Centre for Writing. In light of these exciting developments, and working mostly operationally within the building with the General Manager and Executive Director, my main hope for the fundraising training day was that it would better inform me on fundraising after Capital – using a building to bring in revenue without compromising the organisation’s programmes or ethics. It did just that… and more.
The day started at Somerset House with introductory speeches from Jonathan Reekie and Diana Spiegelberg, Director and Deputy Director of Somerset House. They discussed the tensions of using a building either as a resource for constant revenue, or as a primary home for their artistic programmes: a question most venue based arts organisations seem to face. Somerset House uses its space as its main income, letting out residency space and creating a home for a host of artistic and charitable organisations, in order to eventually fund its own artistic programmes. It notably homes Makerversity, a vibrant community of artists, makers and creative businesses who inhabit the lower floors of Somerset House, and Unmade, an exciting techy textile collaborative. Director of Somerset House Studios, Marie McPartlin, gave us a pit stop tour of the building, weaving in and out of renovated spaces, bustling with activity, and spaces during and still awaiting development. Somerset House Studios’ business model of affordable residency space for artists was a really fascinating example of how to create a continuous stream of revenue, while not compromising your organisation’s cultural and artistic goals and ethics.
We moved on to Donmar Warehouse, opening with an introductory speech from Artistic Director Josie Rourke, who noted the difference between finding funding to initially make something happen and continuously finding funding to sustain something. Having previously held the position of Artistic Director for The Bush Theatre, she explained that fundraising to ‘Save the Bush Theatre’, a campaign with a quantifiable goal of keeping an organisation in a space, was very different to seeking funding in order to sustain the everyday running and artistic programmes at Donmar Warehouse. She explained that “private money will always find a way to do something extraordinary… the hard part is funding a way to just be…” Or something like that… I’m paraphrasing of course. Josie’s talk helped to clarify my bitty understanding of Capital and Revenue funding, and dispel that myth that fundraising is as straightforward and finite as shaking a bucket or throwing a gala.
To follow, a key note speech from Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair at Arts Council England, which provided a reassuring and empowered case for arts and culture. He noted that though seemingly difficult to quantify, the intrinsic social, economic and even health benefits of arts and culture are well documented, and can and should be used while fundraising. Right on!
Freelance fundraiser Hollie Smith-Charles gave an informative ‘Intro to Fundraising’ as well as a guide on ‘How To Write A Brilliant Case for Support’. Having seen WCN’s own income breakdown, it was particularly interesting to see how it fared to all of the NPOs as a collective. As well as the hard facts and figures, it was stressed that fundraising relies predominantly on mutual relationship building – learning to match the needs and wants of one organisation or individual to another. It also relies on things just being right; “Ask the right person, at the right time, in the right way, for the right thing and…for the right amount.” No pressure, huh.
Concluding the fundraising part of the day and marrying it all together, was a panel discussion led by Jerwood Charitable Foundation Director Shonagh Manson with directors and managers from four leading cross art form organisations discussing their three top fundraising tips. Each speaker’s advice offered personal testimonials putting into practice those techniques we had been taught during the day. Aaron Wright, Curator and producer at Live Art Development Agency ((LADA) and soon to be Artistic Director at Fierce Festival), discussed how, due to the governmental cuts to the DCMS, ACE were forced to cut around 30% of their budget over 4 years, resulting in organisational fundraising strategies tending to steer towards a culture of philanthropy in private giving, in comparison to corporate and governmental funding. With this stateside style of fundraising, comes a particular set of tensions, testing the ethics of how Art and Cultural organisations fund their activity. Aaron pointed us to a guide produced by LADA titled ‘Take the Money and Run’ which sets out to document and question the ethical implications of the routes we take within fundraising. The panel discussions gave me an opportunity to hear fundraising experience first hand, and a potted bibliography of places to continue looking to better understand this acronyms and jargon-filled fundraising world.
Even though my job role at Writers’ Centre Norwich hasn’t directly been involved with fundraising, I have tried to throw myself into understanding it – everyone in the arts is a fundraiser I hear. At any opportunity I have been probing the brains of my colleagues; most frequently an Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Fellow placed alongside me at WCN, and have been militantly attending regional What Next? meetings. The Fundraising day with Weston Jerwood helped to start to piece together the profusion of sector information, opinions and strategies surrounding fundraising that I have received over the last five months and I felt like it applied seamlessly to my experiences with funding so far in my host organisation.
Of course, the fundraising day also gave me the opportunity to make friends and connections in the sector; an opportunity to hear how the other recipients were getting on, to chat to Jon, Shonagh and Kate from Jerwood Charitable Foundation about their experiences, and finally an opportunity to experience contemporary dance at Akram Kahn’s Until the Lions, making sure that we remind ourselves that the power within art and culture is the reason we fundraise in the first place.