Page from book object as part of 'Fragments' cabinet of curiosity, Creative Reactions, 2018 in collaboration with Dr Dylan Bergan show at Hamilton House, Bristol & Visions of Science, The Edge Gallery, Bath
I'm not suggesting I'm an expert on this by any means but sometimes hearing from others who have done what you're trying to do helps, so I thought if this is useful to one person then it's worth writing! ACE have loads of information on their website that is straight from the horses mouth so go there for the official info and know this is me just writing down my own opinions and experience.
It started with a conversation with a friend and Curator, who had also received the grant herself for some R&D to write a collection of articles. I had just been made redundant from my gallery job and had no idea about what to do next, except for applying for endless jobs. I said, if I could, I would love to spend the next year continuing with my art experiments, researching creativity and meeting other artists who are also mothers. Then I could document it all and turn it into a book and workshops about ways of approaching being creative. And she said "It sounds like a book." I was mulling it over for a couple of days and I thought you know what, why not? And so I spent the next 10 days working on my application in the evenings and submitted it just in time! I was not holding out hope and continued to apply for other opportunities along the way and put it to the back of my mind. Just before Christmas they emailed to say I had got it - which I still can't quite believe. Over the moon is an understatement!
So for anyone applying this is how I approached it:
1. Do your research
Read the Arts Council advice and watch all the videos - seriously! You can even download lists of successful applicants and look them up if you have time, I think there are some case studies on there too.
Equally, research your own ideas too. Can you map it out on timeline? is it realistic? (i.e. keep it manageable) and when you're writing your budget, actually find out the real cost of things you will need.
2. Ask for feedback
I find this so hard because when I've worked on something and see it as done, the last thing I want is someone to notice everything else I should have done and now have to do again. But having feedback on this was so, so useful! Once I got over the pain barrier of rewriting bits, I was much happier with how much more I had managed to say in the same wordcount.
Ask someone who you trust to be kind but will also point out where you could make it stronger (the application itself and your supporting info.) Have you really showcased your best work to date? Someone with an outside perspective might just point out something really obvious you would otherwise miss.
Give yourself ample time to explore a few ideas of what you want to do. Maybe you have something in mind and it's very specific, that's great, get writing! But if you're like me, it can take time to iron out exactly what you would prioritise.
Then there's: writing time, cutting it down, sending back and forth a few drafts, budget research, timeline planning, creating your supporting documents, time for someone else to write a recommendation, setting up your online account. I think realistically a month at the least. I did mine in 10 days and that was a bit ridiculous.
So grateful for the people who helped me out and their willingness to send me things quickly or chat late at night! It did feel like a push and an element of luck that I got it finished in time.
4. Recommendation Letter - who to ask
Depending on your level of experience, I would ask either someone who you have worked closely with, who can speak highly of your character, work ethic and quality of what you create and/or the most established person you know in you field. They just want to know you're trustworthy and professional and will spend your budget as you say you will.
5. See your application as an investment
I only gave myself 10 days to write it and it was hard work and late nights! Give it longer than I did.
Spend your time really researching your activity. Don't guess your budget look up some costings. they want details. Think about, who exactly will you be working with and why them? What will you be doing and how will you do it? How will this enhance what you want to do in future or build your CV? Have you paid yourself enough? (look on the AN website for up to date payrates - judge it by your career stage if you are not used to working freelance.)
This was the worst part for me (I've probably written more on this post than I did for the application) because the word count is so tight! So write what you think, then word count it and you'll see what I mean. Then cut, cut, cut. But keep as much solid information in there as you can. You might have to sacrifice some elements by being briefer but if you are choosing between a sweeping statement and a detailed explanation - go for detailed.
It might sound a bit robotic after all that cutting so then go back in and switch out some boring words for some with more punch or poetry. e.g. 'work with people' for collaborations, connections or building community or 'I will' for 'I'd love to', 'ideas of' for 'a curiosity with', 'develop' for 'growth' etc. etc.
7. Supporting Evidence
Because I was so angered by the wordcount ordeal haha, I went overboard with this and made an illustrated Artist CV but I think it probably doesn't need to show off everything you've ever done. Consider, what are you most proud of? What might act as evidence that you are capable of completing what you say you will? Pick strong images (light and bright is my personal preference with this).
8.Don't be put off
I was told this fund is competitive but it's no where near as competitive as jobs I was applying for at the time (I worked out the last round was a 1 in 7 chance and most jobs I had been applying for had around 100 applicants or even 200 in one case). Go for it!
9. Look at what they want to fund
This is one of the more flexible funds and they mention taking risks, being experimental, time to reflect and play, no clear project outcome (but it is arts council so I think you probably need to have a bigger goal your are aiming for in future. Essentially they are investing in your future so tell them what they could expect). As you're going through the application info notice the areas they are trying to give you money for (what are the tick boxes in the form). Put more of those in your plan.