Written for Museum Freelance
Haven’t we all thought about our dream museum project? An inspirational programme of activity, exploring collections in innovative ways or working with that one amazing Museum partner? Maybe applying for funding as a freelancer could be the way to make that dream a reality. Well, that is what has happened for me least!
It has been a difficult year for freelancers, with cancelled or postponed contracts as a result of Covid -19 and many individuals have been ineligible for furlough and government grants, me included. However, Arts Council England have recognised this gap and for the first time promoted project grants that individual ‘Creative practitioners’ and freelancers can apply for. This will continue into 2022.
This grant has been invaluable for me and enabled my passion project to be brought to life. I’m Jessica Hartshorn (Jessi illustrates), a freelance illustrator and educator for museums. I have been freelancing for nearly 3 years after a long career working in museums as an education manger. In my past role, I had applied to plenty of funders for projects for my organisations and had experience delivering and manging these. But as a freelancer, it took me a while to really focus on applying to the big funders myself.
This changed when Museums Freelance provided a free virtual workshop in August 2020 to hear about the Arts Councils new project funding focusing on freelancers working with museums. This was extremely useful to ask Arts Council staff those key questions that may have put me off applying. I had recently been working with a new heritage partner and a group of museums as an illustrator and we had discussed collaborating…. it seemed a perfect fit. And it was.
I developed an application for a project called Hidden Histories Illustrated, working with Sporting Heritage CIC and 50 sporting museums, showcasing heritage through 8 illustrated online family resources. We connected the museums by collaboratively sharing their untold stories of women in sport, disability in sport and unusual objects.
The Arts Council application process was not too onerous. If you are unfamiliar with project grants, you need to complete an online form on the Arts Council’s website in a sectioned called Grantium, (an account needs to be created, so make sure you leave time, as it needs to be approved). I would advise downloading the questions and creating a word document, as it is easier to spell check, word count and send to partners before you insert it into the online form. There is plenty of guidance about the process, but I do recommend setting aside a good week to write it!
Personally, the experience has been extremely positive and rewarding so far. I have a sense of ownership, I’ve learnt an incredible amount from the museum partners and their team. I’ve worked with a range of amazing collections, and we have enabled families to have fun and engage with heritage in an interactive way.
My Adobe Illustrator skills have improved due to the opportunity for training within the grant and I have expanded my network and profile. It has also provided a consistent income for 11 months. For the first since covid hit, I feel I’ve received paid time to think, learn and grow in collaboration with these amazing partners.
But of course, there are a few cons to consider. The weight of the project can feel heavy at times, but don’t be afraid to reach out to other freelancers for a chat and gain advice. As its your passion project, I guarantee you will put more hours into it for the love of it, make sure you have capacity to do this. There is a lot of data collection and another online evaluation at the end of the project, so collect evidence and stats from the beginning.
If you think you have a project in mind, here are a few things to consider before applying:
· Am I eligible? Check the criteria before you go any further!
· Do I have an original project? Are there opportunities for
self-development, growth and learning?
· Is it something you are passionate about?
· Is it a realistic project I can deliver? Do I need to bring in other professionals/freelancers to help? I brought in a freelance access advisor to approve all the resources in the Hidden Histories Illustrated project and proof-reader.
· Do I have a museum partner who I can trust, who is reliable, and I have worked with before? (Must be accredited for Arts Council).
· Am I skilled in project management to monitor the grant and if not, who could I bring in to do this for me? Could the museum project manage it?
· Do we meet all the grant criteria, is it what they are looking for?
· Do I actually have time and capacity to do this properly?
If the answer is yes, then it sounds like your passion project could become a reality, but the tricky part can often be writing the application. Take time to read all the Arts Councils supporting documents and ‘How to apply’ material, it can really help. Make notes of key words they use which you can drop into your application. Have a clear list of aims and objects which you wish to achieve, some of these need to link to the funds criteria. Have a list of partners who will help you make your project happen. What can they bring to the table? The application will ask you to confirm partners and deliveries are committed to the project therefore speak to partners in advance. Remember to show case your enthusiasm in your application, it will shine through! And finally, speak to professionals and if possible, the funders. Do not be afraid, they are regular people too and generally happy to help!
Maybe my experience may tempt you to apply for funding with The Arts Council or other funders? Freelancers are some of the most resilient and motivated people I know, so go fourth and make your dream project happen!
Image credits: Jessica Hartshorn, Freelance Illustrator and Educator
Image credit: Jessi Illustrates, Female Sporting Heroes Game, Hidden Histories Illustrated project.