The ACE National Portfolio round – results from my clients

It’s been my privilege over the last few months to work on a number of National Portfolio Arts Council England applications with a number of client organisations (most of whom have worked with me for some time).   The competitiveness of this round was well documented, with approximately £655m worth of applications for a £428m funding pot. 

1,655 organisations applied and 990 were successful.  The application process was squarely focussed on the Arts Council’s new 10 -year strategy Let’s Create and organisations had to place themselves firmly in this policy context.

I’m delighted to announce that five of my client organisations have been awarded funding.  Two are new entrants to the portfolio (as an NPO and IPSO respectively), two achieved standstill funding and one was awarded a 26% uplift.  These are great results and more importantly between them they have secured a total of £6.3m over the next three years to enable them to deliver work that champions diversity and inclusion as well as ambition and excellence.  I’m sure you would like to join me in celebrating and wishing them well with the delivery of their vital plans over the next three years.

Here’s some details of the companies involved:

Soul City Arts have received £300,000 as a new NPO. Soul City Arts created powerful artistic encounters to transform people and place. They use the Arts to take audiences on a shared journey towards dialogue and understanding. Art is a catalyst for positive social change and empowering communities.

Of the award, Mohammed Ali Aerosol Artistic Director of SCA said:

“ This funding will empower our team to continue our mission of production high quality work embedded in our community. Time for a gear shift”

And of my work with SCA over the years, he added:

“Helga is a powerhouse in the arts sector.  She has been key to Soul City Arts transforming into a strong organisation ready for the next phase of growth.  She has supported us gradually over time and has felt like a member of our own team as opposed to an independent coming in.  In that time, she has been really able to embed herself into the spirit of the organisation and made the engagement with us more meaningful and authentic”.

Deaf Explorer have been granted £250,000 and will be a new National Portfolio Organisation. Birmingham based Deaf Explorer work in the art form areas of Combined Arts, Visual Arts, Theatre & Dance Deaf Explorer reveals the as-yet unheard world of artists. “We transform the autonomy and destiny of D/deaf artists. We forge radical approaches and creative opportunities to produce contemporary D/deaf culture.”

“We are delighted that Arts Council England have chosen Deaf Explorer to help them make the arts more accessible for deaf artists and deaf people. We will do this by challenging the arts, so that a new generation of deaf creatives can thrive”

A person in a red suit

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Photo Credit: Ray Vincent Mills

Sampad  have renewed their NPO status and will be in receipt of £248,400. Sampad’s mission is to connect people with South Asian and British Asian Arts and Heritage, and to play a cutting-edge role in the creative economy. Sampad believes in the power of arts and heritage to impact widely on all communities towards bringing people together from all walks of life.

Of her experience working with me on the application Sabra Khan of Sampad said:

“Helga was able to cast a critical eye over our planning for the next 3 years and how it aligned to Art Council England’s Let’s Create strategy – she has an ability to unpack the detail and see the bigger picture, able to help us to talk about our plans more clearly rather than getting bogged down.  Iin the myriad of spreadsheets that the Arts Council wanted, she was able to do the reverse and break down our ambitious outcomes into actions that fed into the Investment Principles of ACE. 

We were delighted to be successful in our application!  Helga is enthusiastic, inspirational and funny – a joy to work with and we are very much looking to her leading our company Away Day early in 2023!”

Vivid Projects is a Birmingham based visual arts organisation and have secured £75,900 pa. They encourage innovation, risk and experimentation in artistic practice. “We are committed to a diversity of practice and encourage historic and contemporary engagement with cultural and sub-cultural histories. Our work is made public through an ambitious programme of events and exhibitions on and off-site, created in collaboration with artists, producers, thinkers and researchers”

“We are pleased to confirm National Portfolio Organisation support from Arts Council England for 2023-2026. It’s been a challenging time for everyone and team Vivid Projects look forward to new creative projects next year.”

“Working with Helga during the process of developing our NPO application brought clarity and oversight during a challenging period. With Helga, you feel that you have an ally and critical friend – and that’s rare in consultancy.” Yasmeen Baig-Clifford Director

Coventry Belgrade have retained its National Portfolio status and have received a 26% uplift to£1.29m – an exceptional achievement in the current climate. In the words of The British Theatre Guide ‘The Belgrade has always stood proudly at the heart of everything that Coventry is and does, catering to hugely varied audiences, and cultivating close relationships with communities.’

Chief Executive, Laura Elliot, and Creative Director, Corey Campbell, said: “We are absolutely delighted, and hugely grateful to Arts Council England, for awarding us this funding. It’s a huge credit to the team here at the Belgrade, along with Coventry City Council and our other funders, who offer such valued support.

Laura Elliot had this to say in a recent interview with The Stage

“When we talk about inclusion and diversity, we don’t just mean different faces represented on our stages or moulding talent to fit traditional theatre roles. For us, it’s about running the theatre in collaboration with our communities – not so much offering a seat at the table as asking people what kind of table they want to build in the first place.”

Of course, in a time of celebration my thoughts are also with the organisations (including one or two clients) who were not successful in this massively oversubscribed funding round.  These disappointments are so tough:  and it’s important to support people as they take stock and think about the next move – whatever that may be.

Coventry Biennial were one of those clients who did not receive NPO funding in this round.

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Andy Sargeant, Hidden Monster (2017) Photo credit: Tegen Kimbley

In the wake of this news and looking to the future Ryan Hughes, Coventry Biennial Artistic Director and CEO made this inspiring comment: “We will be artists. We will continue to contribute to Coventry’s cultural landscape and work with our local communities. We will remember that only 6 years ago the possibility of a ‘Coventry Biennial’ seemed improbable and we will take solace in the idea that some may still think it is. We know it is not, and maybe this is where our real value lies.”

I am very heartened by Ryan’s response and we are now working together with the Board to re-imagine the next three years – and who knows this may mean that the organisation emerges stronger than ever.

I remember when I was having a stressful time some years ago at work and I will always remember the kindness of a colleague who took me out for a drink let me vent my concerns and after a while said: “This too shall pass”. And of course, it did. The colleague was Rhonda Wilson of Rhubarb Rhubarb. She died some years later but I always remember that evening, and that, “This too shall pass”. It’s so true.

If any of your friends and colleagues – having given their all in a fiercely competitive funding round – are distressed in the wake of the announcements perhaps you can be that person that Rhonda was for me that night. Listen, let someone vent, then empathise.

Life is lived forwards, but only understood in context in hindsight. So you won’t know what that funding decision truly means for some time. For you, for your organisation.   And in the meantime, whatever it is – in the words of Bill and Ted – “Let’s be excellent to each other.”

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