The current European Union culture programme draws to a close this year, to be replaced by a new support programme for the cultural and creative sectors, Creative Europe. Given the diminishing funding pot in the UK, is it worth UK arts organisations looking again to Europe for growth?
Over the past seven years of the EU programme, the UK success rate has been high. For the most popular strand, which requires partners from three European countries, UK applications had a success rate of 46% in 2012, almost double the overall average success rate of 24% and second only to Germany of our larger European neighbours.
In total, 46 UK organisations will receive support from the culture programme in 2013, with 12 acting as lead organisations and 34 as partner organisations.
Ffotogallery in Penarth, Wales is one of the successful lead applicants with its project, European Prospects. Another is the Green Art Lab Alliance, which brings together Julie’s Bicycle with Creative Carbon Scotland, Tipping Point and nine other organisations across Europe to focus on environmental sustainability in the visual arts and design. In the larger projects, the UK had the second highest number of partners from any European country, with 12 UK organisations. In total, an estimated €5.7m has been slated for UK organisations and their projects.
So, the success rate is high and yet the UK puts in fewer applications per capita than other EU countries. Why is this? Visiting Arts is the UK cultural contact point for the EU, providing information and advice to potential applicants. Our research shows that successful projects over the past seven years all talk of the value in working with European partners, even though it can be hard, time consuming and frustrating.
This value lies not just in the artistic and cultural stimulus. Many projects also talk about how they have “grown” as organisations – in confidence, skills and experience. There is a lot more involved than money and end product. There is planning and project management, negotiation and consensus building, understanding and dealing with cultural differences and managing innovative, complex and multi-layered programmes.
So why is the application rate relatively low? Visiting Arts runs seminars and training sessions to support applicants across the UK and worked with all 12 successful project applications from the last round. But our research shows that there is still a lot of resistance to working with Europe. Those barriers are expressed as:
• Reluctance to find partners across Europe: As an island it is slightly more difficult for us to connect than mainland Europe, but the barrier is largely psychological – and financial
• Lack of research and development: Arts Council England’s grants prioritise public benefit, hard to prove for those involved in preparatory work as this tends to come further down the line. The arts councils of Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Creative Scotland, have a more generous approach to creating links and are more proactive
• Scant information about European arts: Europe’s main cultural networks – online and off – are still relatively poorly populated by the UK arts sector. This may also be due to a lack of funding. As a result, awareness of European organisations and artists is lacking
• Gaps in match funding: This is a major barrier. The problem lies not so much in the funding itself but in synchronising the application cycles. The EU is very precise about its financing. Accepting funding acts as a binding contract to raise the projected amount of match funding for a project
• Preconceptions about the process: There is still a sense that the process is unwieldy, overly bureaucratic and mind-numbingly tedious. But it has improved considerably and there is plenty of free advice and information available from Visiting Arts and the EU itself
Into the future
The new programme, Creative Europe, will combine the current media and culture programmes and should benefit UK organisations a great deal more. Cooperation projects will still form part of the programme. But we also understand there will be an emphasis on the following areas: capacity building and training; audience development; the digital shift; data, evaluation and research.
These are all areas where the UK is ahead of the game, having amassed substantial expertise and experience. And there will also be a new funding tool: a loan guarantee scheme. This is already used by the media programme and will soon be available for the cultural sector too. It’s essentially a low cost loan from a bank that needs to be paid back. It won’t suit all arts organisations but, again, the work that has been done on new business models in the UK should give our arts organisations a competitive advantage.
Building on our proven application success, let’s get the word out that here is a fresh approach to working and an opportunity to grow and develop with our European partners.