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  • Trina Dalziel

Peer Led Research Workshop for Visual Artists in North Northumberland to discuss and share knowledge

Follow up Report and Feedback by Northumberland based artist Trina Dalziel

as part of Creative UK (via North of the Tyne Combined Authority)'s Challenge Fund activity awarded and delivered in 2022.


I received a grant to host a research workshop from CreativeUK and North of the Tyne Combined Authority as part of their CreativeUK Freelancer Challenge Fund.

My activity took place in early November 2022 in the Community Room at the Chapel at Christon Bank, near Alnwick.

Twelve people attended with an almost equal split between ‘fine’ artists - painters/paper artist and ‘applied/commercial’ artists - illustrators/designer/animator/documentary film maker. The aim was to examine and map the group’s knowledge and awareness of perceived barriers and opportunities around applying for funding in the Visual Arts in North Northumberland.

As well as sharing success stories for some of the artists’ funded projects and touching on our sense of awareness amongst some of us that there is currently several arts funded opportunities available in the North East for creatives, we also recognised there were challenges to identifying and accessing funding. We felt there was a need for a clear, unified or coordinated way to research and access funding opportunities both regionally and nationally; for funding opportunities to feel related to who we are, what we do and what we can provide. And for the process of applying to be simplified and less time consuming in many cases. We also recognised how useful meeting with other visual artists is, both for connection and for sharing of resources and information.

Outline of the Afternoon

On arrival, I asked everyone to place a dot on these four sheets. Red dots were given to those with a fine artist background and Blue dots to the applied artists:

This shows that the majority of participants had either never applied or applied once but never received funding. About half felt funding wasn’t currently part of their practice, interestingly including two of the fine artists. However most expressed some interest in applying in the future. There was a wide spread of feeling about how informed and confident the participants felt about making a funding application, with the applied artists feeling less informed on the whole.

We started by going around the table introducing ourselves and speaking a little about our experiences (or not) of arts funding. This section took longer than I’d timetabled but felt very valuable for setting the scene and allowing us to get to know each other. Three of the attendees had several experiences of funded research and projects and it was really useful to hear about their experiences.

We then had a discussion around our assumptions and perceptions about arts funding. I particularly wanted us to do this exercise as I felt this event was a level playing field for us to express preconceptions that we might be more reticent about at a larger event with funding organisations present.

Although we may be aware that our assumptions and perceptions are not necessarily fact they nevertheless shape and influence our actions or inactions. Doing this as a group it was useful to compare and contrast our experiences and opinions.

We stopped for tea and cake mid afternoon. I think one of the key take aways from everyone was how special it is to connect with other artists; that the in-between chats and the cake and tea can be as binding as the main purpose of the event.

In the second half of the afternoon we initially broke into four groups of three at small tables dotted around the room. I had asked several people I know at funding related organisations, including CreativeFuse NE, CreativeUK and CultureNorthumberland, to put questions they’d like answered to the artists. I’d put these in twelve envelopes to be selected randomly.

We only had time for one round of this activity - ideally we’d have done a couple more rounds. We had 12 minutes to discuss then rejoin the main table to feed back and discuss.

Questions included:

  • How important is it to get feedback on funding applications?

  • What is the worst thing about the funding landscape currently?

  • Where do you usually hear about funding opportunities? E.g. Peers / networks / funders / online search etc

Resources some of us had found useful that came up in discussion included;

  • the North East Cultural Freelancers page on Facebook

  • Community Foundation

  • CuratorSpace

  • Arts Jobs and Arts News bulletin/e-newsletters from the Arts Council.

After the event, I put all the questions including the ones we hadn’t had time to discuss into a Google Doc. Many of the artists answered them and I was able to share this information rich document back to the people who’d asked them.

The last activity we did was a very playful one. Four paper bags were passed around. Everyone selected a piece of paper from each bag so they had a location, a time span, an amount of money and a project theme. They had a couple of minutes to create a funding proposal from their selection. There was lots of laughter at peoples’ imaginative ideas but it also raised serious discussions around such things as the possibility of feeling overwhelmed if receiving a large amount of funding, remote residencies not fitting those with children or caring duties. etc

To finish we went around the table with each person saying a few words about how they felt about the afternoon or their main take away.

This included:

As an artist who's been looking into funding for the last three months, and found the whole process very bewildering…it’s been lovely today to meet people who have managed to get funding and are being so positive about it…So I’m coming away actually feeling a little bit positive for the first time about it.

Seems to me that the whole funding thing is rather a disorganised mess, isn't it? And it needs some kind of easily accessible and generally known starting point. Maybe a provider of a road map or something like that.

Would just say it's useful to hear other people's experiences and find out that I'm not the only one bamboozled!

It's been really great to meet other people, to hear about lots of organisations and funders that I didn't know about because we assume that the only one is the Arts Council so often. So it's been great from that point of view and just to find out the challenges, but also the possibilities as well of what we can do.

Six takeaways from the workshop about Arts Funding

No centralised system - there was an overall feeling that finding and researching funded opportunities was a challenge. There seems to be no centralised system. This was definitely the main challenge to the artists.

Vocabulary - many words and acronyms used in applications and organisations websites etc are initially unfamiliar to those applying. These may not be recognised as unusual by the organisations using them as they are embedded in their culture.

Language - It was acknowledged that the business type language sometimes used on funding sites can make us feel like we don’t fit and may resonate more with more business led individuals and small business enterprises rather than freelance artists and designers. This is why real life conversations with funding organisations are useful so we can see how what is being offered as support relates to who we are, what we do and what it can provide.

Time and Space - repeatedly we hear this is what visual artists most need and would like provision for. This doesn’t feel as if it’s something that is often funded. Is there a perception among funders that this is self indulgent rather than beneficial to the wider community? Funding time and space for an artist may not feel like an immediate Win for the funding organisations or the communities they wish to support but without Time and Space to develop our practice we as visual artists struggle to get to a place where we can then share, support and inspire others.

Concern over time applications can take

In an arts organisation often there is a dedicated person to make applications and this is budgeted for. It may be their key role and they will have gathered experience, also when they reach out for help/advice there is the credibility of the name of the organisation behind them. For individual artists it is an unpaid activity with no certainty of success. So to make an application is to take a financial risk - one which could be very beneficial. However in a time of scarcity sometimes it is more appealing to stick with what we know - as applied artists to continue to seek commissions and work from clients and as fine artists to continue to produce artwork for sale and continue with related activities such as workshops/teaching/community arts etc. During the workshop several artists referred to the significant time investment (often a few weeks) that they’d put into applications.

Clarity on who arts funding is for There was an assumption from some of us that funding isn’t so available for applied/commercial artists. There was also the perception that within fine art backgrounds painters were less likely to receive funding than other art forms such as performance art or community art.

Suggestions for changes

  • Centralised and easy to search regional or national system for researching all visual arts funding opportunities. Or a regular e-newsletter/bulletin that contained this information.

  • Funded opportunities for both applied and fine artists to take periods of time out from the work they do to earn a living to explore and develop their practice.

  • More direct contact/access with funders particularly for conversations before making applications and during applications (recognise this is something that is sometimes available but we may not be aware of it).

  • Quicker and more simplified application processes for applying for funding (recognise this is happening /being recognised as beneficial by some organisations) and feedback on applications - why they were or weren’t successful.

  • Clarity over who is who and who does what within the funding bodies/arts organisations in the North East.

I hope this feedback is useful to funding organisations in Northumberland, accurately reflects the conversations we had at the workshop and in the feedback forms some of the artists completed after the event and I hope also resonates for other visual artists in Northumberland too.

I’d like to thank Creative UK and North of the Tyne Combined Authority very much for funding the workshop and research, Culture Northumberland for sharing this post and the one prior to the event, Claire Venus for acting as my mentor throughout the process and contributing helpful suggestions and also patient kindness to me when I was slow with this final step. And I’d like to thank the eleven artists that attended for their time, knowledge, thoughts and huge contribution to this project: Tania Willis, Cally Johnson Isaacs, Dennis Sisterson, Dale Maloney, Daniel Weatheritt, Nat Wilkins, Anna Parker Chapman, Yvette Ja, Gillian Lee Smith, Katherine Renton, Luke McTaggart


If you are interested in applying for the next Challenge Fund the first workshop to support your process is THIS COMING THURSDAY 12 JAN - more details here.

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