CLiC Blog: An “Action Research Year” for arts funding

On the 25th March, we brought together a range of speakers to explore the dramatic impact of the pandemic on the art funding ecosystem. The New Cultures of Art Funding event, presented as part of our Curatorial Leadership in Collections (CLiC) Connect and Activate programme, was attended by over 100 people, connecting from across the UK and internationally.

Developing in the context of a global pandemic that has resulted in loss of income, an accelerated shift to digital, and a demanding environment that has shaken longstanding business and funding models at their core, our speakers shared ambitious and carefully considered funding initiatives that are accelerating thinking on what funding is and what it can be.

The speakers

All three of our speakers reflect the need to think differently about cultural funding in the wake of the pandemic. These new approaches within the funding ecosystem are driven by shared values about the importance of art and artists in society, but they also consider, as Matthew Burrows asks, “what is the world we want to live in?” As old structures of support fail to keep up with the changes around us, and to respond to the crises of inequality and social injustice that the pandemic has exacerbated, there is space for new initiatives that rethink the mechanisms of supportive cooperation.

Matthew Burrows, Artist Support Pledge

Matthew BurrowsImage: Matthew Burrows shares the “simple pictures” representing alternative economic models that underpinned Artist Support Pledge’s development

Matthew Burrows, artist and founder of the global social media movement Artist Support Pledge gave insight into his radical rethink of grassroots artist-led support. His “simple pictures”, with a nod to Kate Raworth’s landmark book Doughnut Economics, helped him to tell new stories about what kind of economic model the initiative could share: a funding culture, not based on old hierarchies, but on mutual aid. In creating an online community, grounded in fundamental values of openness, fairness, generosity and inclusivity, Matthew has helped thousands of artists and makers access new income immediately following the cataclysmic effects of the pandemic.

Showing no signs of slowing up, it’s clear that Artist Support Pledge is here to stay. Our audience wanted to know how the initiative is developing. Matthew has reflected on what comes next for Artist Support Pledge in this blog, commissioned by SCAN. And to find out how to join the initiative for your own work, this simple How To guide (available in multiple languages) is all you need to get started.

Candida Gertler, Director of Outset

Image: Candida Gertler, Director of Outset, introduces TheVOV ( Candida Gertler, Director of Outset, introduces TheVOV (

Candida Gertler, Director of Outset, invited us to join her on an imaginative journey. To “imagine if our beloved institutions had all the money they needed to continue to flourish forever… and thanks to you culture was financially secure.” Conceived as “the new way to experience culture together” TheVOV is a new intiative launching later this month, and responds to the success of crowdfunding, micropayments and subscription models in other areas of the cultural sector, to rethink how access to major cultural institutions could be democratised within a virtual space.

Outset here is stepping out beyond their longstanding remit of nurturing and connecting relationships between major private philanthropists and cultural institutions, to consider how a more distributed financial model could improve the fundraising scope, financial sustainability and resilience of public institutions.  The VOV has developed 15 bespoke virtual spaces which, in Season 1 will host 15 archival exhibitions from 15 major galleries, in collaboration with Visualogical. At its core is the idea that digital technology can bring culture to a mass audience, increasing the reach, benefits and accessibility of publicly-held collections, and the often exclusive experiences of curator-led tours, private views and events that accompany them. The income generated by subscriptions would be shared equally between the participating institutions.

Many in our audience wanted to know more about the project, and what art forms and experiences could potentially be included within its scope. Season 1 will act as a test-bed to explore its potential application into the future. Candida invited us all to sign-up, explore and participate in this exploratory phase… with hints towards potential for international content, artist commissions, and both live and on-demand experiences on the horizon. Find out more about Season 1 of TheVOV here.

Sarah Philp, Director of Programmes and Policy at Art Fund

Sarah Philp, Director of Programmes and Policy, Art Fund in conversation with event Chair Kirstie Skinner, Director of Research and Strategy, Outset PartnersImage: Sarah Philp, Director of Programmes and Policy, Art Fund in conversation with event Chair Kirstie Skinner, Director of Research and Strategy, Outset Partners

Art Fund’s year has been characterised by seismic shifts in their business model and fundraising activity. Sarah Philp, Director of Programmes and Policy at Art Fund joined our event chair, Kirstie Skinner, to talk through how they have responded. Art Fund drew on their longstanding relationships with museums and collecting institutions, to reimagine the 100 year-old  charity in the age of a pandemic, characterised as an “action learning year” by Sarah. In 2020, as a result of venue closures and lockdown restrictions, Art Fund lost the capacity to raise funds through their National Art Pass, which provides free or discounted access to hundreds of museums nationally, the income from which is used to support their programme of grants for curatorial projects, acquisitions and commissions across the UK.

Art Fund released reserves, and surveyed the sector rapidly, to allow them to be responsive to the devastation they could see unfolding. Through this activity Art Fund were able to shift their focus to a campaigning model to raise funds directly for their grant-giving activity, launching a new funding project, Respond and Reimagine in the process. Sarah reflected on the fact that, in this way, Art Fund has behaved more like a traditional charity, but this pivot has been a radical departure from their usual operating model.

About CLiC

Since 2018, Our Curatorial Leadership in Collections project has supported a network of contemporary art curators from collections across Scotland and shares learning with the wider museums sector.

The CLiC Connect and Activate Programme in 2020-2021 will develop best practice working with contemporary artists and support a new generation of leaders to think about how collections can be both resilient and relevant in challenging times.

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