£1.8m Reinvent Performing Arts funding awarded to 40 arts organisations

Graeae Theatre

We're excited to announce 40 new grants worth £1.8m, which we have made through Reinvent Performing Arts funding. This one-off funding is part of our response to the pandemic and provides additional support to some of our grantees as they re-open and lockdown eases.

Please note that this page was updated on 7 July 2021 to reflect an additional grant made through this funding, making 40 grants in total.

When lockdown hit, we knew it was going to be a really difficult time for all our grantees and, through our emergency response to COVID, we saw how much the performing arts were being affected. The combination of lost ticket income and the ongoing challenges to reopen, provide reassurance to audiences and test new models for social distancing continues to test this sector.

What we also saw was the amazing strength, agility and inventiveness of performing arts organisations. Theatres, orchestras and dance companies pivoted within weeks to offer online performances, workshops and events. They worked out new ways of getting resources and performances to their communities, including plays by telephone and bicycle deliveries of activity packs. New collaborations and networks sprang up, supporting artists, audiences, and the public. In return, the public responded to the new offers in huge numbers, showing just how important culture and creativity are to our wellbeing.

Now, after a couple of false starts in 2020, the sector is reopening, still faced with social distancing and feeling the devastating impact of the last year, but with all the learning and new skills gained and with renewed determination to support audiences, artists, and the wider community.

Priorities for Reinvent Performing Arts funding

As the lockdown was beginning to lift, we started to think about what more we could do to support our arts grantees. We read reports and talked to grantees about their plans, and in response, we created Reinvent Performing Arts. This funding offers additional support to our performing arts grantees, prioritising projects that build on work created during the pandemic which also offer potential learning for other organisations.

When thinking about the priorities for this funding, we had two further aims. Following the injustices highlighted by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, the re-opening of the cultural sector offers an opportunity to strengthen commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion. Reinvent funding will prioritise work that does this. We also know how critical the freelance cultural workforce is to the sector so we wanted to consider the impact of the pandemic on them. Whilst we are not able to fund individuals directly, Reinvent funding prioritises work that supports and employs freelancers.

The process and how we made decisions

We knew this funding was urgent, so we decided on a one-stage process asking four key questions and we promised a five-week turnaround in decisions. We also ran a webinar, asking people to focus their questions in one event rather than contact us individually to save time for everyone. Finally, we decided that as this fund was about the future of the sector, we should work with our Involving Young People’s Collective in making decisions about funding.

As the Involving Young People Collective, working on the Reinvent grants with Esmée’s grant managers and senior staff was a rewarding collaborative process. For what has been such a difficult year for so many organisations in the arts, reading through applications that were hopeful, innovative, and creative in their response to the pandemic really highlighted the resilience of the sector in a way that has left us feeling all the more excited to see the impact these grants will have on various communities. The Collective always wants to ensure that all decision-making processes are fair and inclusive, which made working on a fund that explicitly championed diversity, equity, and inclusion a meaningful experience. This process has underscored the importance of funders needing to take on the same reactive and dynamic attitude that the organisations that they work with so often do.

Amira Ismail, Involving Young People Collective

Four members of the Collective worked with four Esmée grant managers and senior staff, and together we considered the applications and made our decisions. The staff brought their grant-making skills and understanding of the context of each application, whilst the members of the Collective brought their strong critical faculties and their own experience to the decisions.

The fund was open to 100 grantees all working in the performing arts, and we received 84 applications. The 40 resulting grants will support new performance models, use of new and different venues and spaces, the development of digital offers and new ways to co-create and co-design projects with audiences and the wider community. All the grants will be published onto 360Giving and we look forward to sharing more about the work that will be supported in due course.

Of course, we recognise that there are limits to what this funding can do to address the huge challenges facing the sector. Unfortunately, the scale of need in the sector means that Reinvent funding will only reach a small number of organisations and we were unable to support everyone who applied for funding.

We hope, however, that the ideas and approaches it supports will provide useful learning and inspiration for others.

Challenging how we fund

This is also a valuable learning opportunity for us. For a funder who usually offers multi-year, core or unrestricted funding on a rolling decision-making basis, this quick, responsive and targeted fund has given us a lot to think about. Is this a good way for us to respond to emergency needs or opportunities? Should we add more targeted funding streams to our offer? Could we open up our decision-making processes more widely and if so, how? These are all questions we will continue to explore and we welcome any feedback or thoughts about this.

As we announce the Reinvent grants this week, we are very excited to see what happens to the work funded, how audiences, artists and participants react to these new ideas and how they help arts organisations to re-open and reinvent.

If you’d like to get in touch, please email communications@esmeefairbairn.org.uk.

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