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Jo Caird: Funding the Young

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These days most higher education institutions are wise to the importance of creative entrepreneurship. Through being encouraged to form companies, write and devise their own work, take productions to the Edinburgh Fringe and experiment with different roles, students are better prepared to navigate the tumultuous seas of professional theatre.

The trouble is that even with this type of pragmatic training under their belts, emerging artists very often find themselves in situations where their creative ambitions are limited by their financial means. Applying for arts funding is a tricky business, whatever stage you’re at professionally, but for young people with little experience of the trials and tribulations of funding applications, it can seem well nigh impossible.

Finding the grants, awards and prizes to apply for in the first place (bearing in mind that some trusts have very specific USPs), conveying your passion for your project through the dry medium of an application form and then completing the often lengthy and complicated paperwork takes time, patience and expertise.

Back in 2008 Colin Marsh told me of how he first came across Felix Barrett, when the Punchdrunk director submitted an old suit in a battered suitcase as a funding application, the suit’s pockets filled with bits and bobs, photos and a hand-written blurb with Barrett’s ideas for a show. Barrett’s application was approved, which lead to Barrett working with Marsh and choreographer Maxine Doyle for the first time. The rest is Punchdrunk history. It’s a great story, which makes applying for funding sound like a fun and creative task, but the reality is that most funding applications are tedious and time-consuming and, such is the competition for cash in the industry, unlikely to succeed.

Fortunately, there are organisations out there trying to make the whole process easier for young people in the arts. One of these is IdeasTap, a creative network and funding body which works with a wide range of partners – as well as drawing on its own large funding pool, supported by the Peter De Haan Charitable Trust – to offer support in cash and kind for all manner of creative projects (full disclosure: I do lots of freelance writing for the organisation’s online magazine – and very good it is too!).

IdeasTap’s focus, as the name suggests, is on ideas, and this is reflected in the simplicity of the organisation’s funding application procedures. Where other funding applications can cause artists to lose sight of their creative intentions as they battle with box ticking, IdeasTap’s keep them engaged in the project they’re seeking to realise, says Natalie Ibu, a young director recently awarded £1,500 to produce ’Ave It! a multi-disciplinary chain play exploring drinking and clubbing culture. ’Ave It! will be taking place next month at the Old Vic Tunnels as part of Coming Up Later, a series of late night events presented by Ideastap in assocation with Old Vic New Voices.

This is the second time Ibu has received money from IdeasTap, having been awarded £1,000 in 2009 for Remix, another multi-disciplinary performance project that took place at the BAC as part of their Scratch Festival in May 2010. Both Remix and Ibu’s current IdeasTap project have been very ambitious in their scope; this was down to the organisation encouraging her to “think big”, says the director. She has been able to learn the art of producing on the job and feels more confidence in her work as a result.

IdeasTap funding alumni, Ibu included, will still have to fight for their future projects just like any other theatre makers, but with such experience behind them, they’re surely more likely to succeed. It is only by funding the young that UK theatre can hope to grow in the future.


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