MY STORY Helping artists to value themselves

Jerwood Arts’ new director, Lilli Geissendorfer, has introduced three new funds to the charity’s operations, and for one is announcing bursary beneficiaries whose careers could be shaped by them.

You’ve been in post for just over a year. What is your background?

I joined Jerwood Arts off the back of my second maternity leave: after having kids I was ready for a new challenge! My background is actually in policy – I studied social sciences and worked at various think tanks while freelance producing in my twenties. I specialised in theatre and performing arts, especially new writing. I co-founded HighTide (the Suffolk-based drama production company specialising in the work of new playwrights) in 2007, and was most recently producer for the Almeida Theatre. I’ve also been a relationship manager for theatre for Arts Council England, where I worked on how to engage the arts sector in issues around environmental sustainability.

Image of Lilli Geissendorfer, Cem Tenkin

You’ve announced 24 Jerwood Bursaries under a new scheme to fund “self-defined professional development”. How does it work, and how has the fund changed?

Our new Jerwood Bursaries are the result of taking the best bits from our old Artist Bursaries and our Performing Arts Micro Bursaries and creating a single fund to support artists from all disciplines to develop their skills and experience on their own terms.

To give artists a greater role in our work and increase our specialist discipline knowledge, we also created an independent pool of artist advisers to support our assessment and selection processes. There are 52 so far whose first job has been helping on the Jerwood Bursaries, and they are very actively helping us shift the relationship between funder and beneficiaries, as well as broadening our taste and reach across the UK. We have also increased the amount of the bursary from £1000 to £1250.

We know that for many artists in the first phase of their career, being supported to explore new techniques, reflect on their work with a mentor, learn new skills or start researching a new idea (just some examples of what we mean by professional development) is rare – but the possibilities that open up after even a short period of developing their practice can be transformative.

We introduced two rounds for this pilot year of 2019: the first round we just announced was specifically for those with five-to-ten years’ professional practice, the next round opens on 15thJuly and is for those with one-to-five years’ professional practice.

A key discovery we made during this first round was that the majority of applicants did not include a fee for themselves. To us, this suggests a culture not just of low-pay in the arts, but of chronically tight budgets where artists’ time, labour, skills and experience are always the last thing to be considered, and many “opportunities” actually serve to enable a culture of self-exploitation by those they aim to benefit.

Of course, we recognise that a significant commitment is required by any artist determined to make it in an extremely competitive field. Feedback we’ve had suggests that level of ambition will mean many artists just want to use funding for making work while they sacrifice their living standards, however clearly not all artists are in a position to take this route, and so we felt very uncomfortable with awarding funding to individuals where there was no fee to cover their time included. Perpetuating deeply ingrained inequalities in the arts feels like something a charity like ours should be able to help address. So, following discussion with our artist advisers we went back to the selected artists and asked them to resubmit their budgets with a fee for themselves. In some cases this meant they had to reduce the ambition of the overall application, and I’m as cynical as the next person as to whether that’s actually what will happen in practice, but it felt important to draw a bit of a red line in the funding sand and be clear that we want to recognise artists’ worth, and if that means “more is less” then that is just fine with us.


This is one of three new funds you introduced earlier this year. What are the others?

The Development Programme Fund and the New Work Fund. We’re piloting both this year with the aim of diversifying who and what we fund. We have developed new eligibility criteria, new guidelines and FAQs, deadlines and timeframes for decision making; we’re committed to feedback on request, and hopefully our online application process is more accessible, transparent and open all round.


What are they worth to the successful applicants?

The Development Programme Fund is for arts organisations to design and deliver artist development programmes and is for more than £10,000. There is no upper limit, though our average grant size is historically relatively modest. Whilst all of the programmes will be run separately by the organisations we choose to fund, we hope to select those that will showcase best practice in supporting and developing artists, curators and producers, including around pay, professional development opportunities, access and inclusion.

The New Work Fund is for individuals, artistic groups or arts organisations to create new work and is for between £5,000 and £25,000. We are one of the few funders which can support individuals and unincorporated companies directly, helping them to take risks and work independently of the commissioning and programming structures of major organisations to realise work on their own terms.


You have had a busy first year building these three new schemes, but what was the catalyst for starting them?

The catalyst was being tasked by the board to develop a new strategic plan for the next four years, and going right back to what the organisation, then Jerwood Charitable Foundation, was set up to focus on in 1999 – emerging, early-career artists. Starting by looking at what we know about their needs, and latest research on the changing landscape for those wishing to become artists, we challenged ourselves to rethink how and what we fund, within our existing financial and governance framework. One of the results was our re-brand, simplifying how we talk about what we do. Another was our Artist Advisers. And a third is our new funding programmes, aiming to be more open and strategic about what and who we fund.


They address individual artists and curators, groups of makers and arts organisation. Does this suggest a serious lack in subsidised support? 

The cuts to local councils across the UK and to, respectively, Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, Creative Scotland and Arts Council Northern Ireland over the past decade have been deep, and the arts have certainly borne a large chunk of them. Always at the end of the line when cuts are passed on stand the individuals: artists, curators, producers from all disciplines. And at the very end are those just starting out – the next generation who will go on to shape our collective cultural landscape in unimaginably brilliant ways.

Our annual spend is comparatively tiny, but my hope is that independent funders such as Jerwood Arts can contribute to supporting the wider arts ecology through our work. Our commitment to improving conditions means our work has to engage with the barriers that exist to accessing opportunities: funding; a lack of diversity, especially in leadership positions; pay and working conditions; and environmental sustainability. We’re aiming to focus on where the perceived “risk” is greatest and the opportunities are at their most scarce and challenging.


Have the other two schemes started?

Both Development Programme Fund and New Work Fund opened for application on 4 March and close on 3 June.


Jerwood Arts is just one of the Jerwood charitable operations. How are they different?

Jerwood is a family of registered charities and not for profit organisations united in their commitment to support, nurture and reward excellence and dedication in the arts. Jerwood Foundation has focused on capital projects and investing in the Jerwood Collection of modern and contemporary British art. Jerwood Space, where our exhibition programme and offices are based, is the best rehearsal space for performing arts in London, and Jerwood Gallery Hastings was created to house the Jerwood Collection in 2012, and is about to become fully independent as Hastings Contemporary in July of this year.


Are there other changes in the offing? 

Not imminently. As I’ve highlighted, this is a pilot year and we’re going to be evolving this new model for 2020 and beyond, so there will be continuous refinement, at the very least! Someone wise said to me recently that perhaps I needed to accept my leadership style was naturally ‘restless’, so I’m working on trying to embrace that…


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