I read an article in Arts Hub last week which shook me in my grant-making boots when I got to the final line – “There are certainly some ground rules, but if you think that getting a grant is not a lottery, I wish you luck”. The article, Heads or Tails? Getting that grant, was written by Tamara Winikoff (Executive Director of NAVA, the national peak body for the visual arts, craft and design sector). She writes regularly on the arts for Arts Hub and various other publications and, given her extensive knowledge and experience of the sector, she has an opinion which carries quite some weight. I think that’s why I was so surprised and disappointed when I read what she had to say.
Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I like to think that every funding decision I’ve ever helped a Board or Committee make has been a fair one, based on a set of known funding objectives and with a clear rationale. Will the project meet a clear need or demand? Is it viable? Is the organisation viable? Is project planning and management adequately well considered?
And no, it hasn’t been possible to support every good project – usually due to budgetary constraints – but in this instance the project that appears to offer most to its audience and the applicant organisation, and will deliver most strongly against my organisation’s funding objectives is the one that will be supported. And yes, funding rounds are hard work and can be draining, but the decision-making process is a multi-layered one where each recommendation is seen by more than one pair of eyes.
Before coming to Australia I worked as a Grants Officer for a UK lottery distributor. Part of my job was to review draft press announcements prepared by grantees about their newly awarded grants. I was forever having to edit out lines like “lucky lottery win for xxx!” and “what a stroke of lottery luck!” because it was considered that they gave the wrong idea: getting a grant wasn’t in any way about luck or lottery, it was about a lot of thought and hard work. Every decision was a very robust one which had to be transparent and accountable to applicants and the lottery-ticket-buying-public because, after all, them buying the tickets was what enabled support for these projects to be considered in the first place.
I have to admit, reading Heads or Tails, I really got the sense that I was reading the words of someone who’d reached the end of their tether; jaded by a few really tough weeks at work. I could be wrong. If I am, perhaps I have to take solace from Tamara’s recognition that there are ground rules to grant-making and hope that others have faith that getting a grant is not a lottery.
I feel like I might have co-opted Caitriona’s high horse….