A couple of years ago I was sat outside God’s House Tower with Sarah Filmer grumbling about how time-consuming most art funding applications were, even for small sums. Those grumbles became a conversation with a space arts and that conversation became the Lucky Dip bursary scheme. That’s the TL;DR version, but there was a little more to it than that…

The aim was to give artists a chance to access relatively small pots of funding with minimal time spent on the application process and little in the way of assessment of the stated outcome – just enough to determine that the applicant is indeed an artist with an art idea. Gatekeeping with the padlocks removed and the hinges thoroughly oiled. Also, given how oversubscribed funding is, gatekeepers end up, well, guessing. Yes, some applications will fail to meet the basic criteria, but after they’re removed from consideration, most of what’s left is probably viable – certainly a lot more than can be funded, so how to choose? Criteria may be set and ticked off on a list, there are probably meetings, but in the end it’s a de facto lottery pretending to be a meritocracy. So, why not acknowledge this, and make it one – select applications as random. It’s probably just as fair, and no less protective of public money if that’s an issue (it does tend to accrete bureaucracy around itself), and the institution spends less time on admin-heavy selection procedures. Resources are freed up to do other art-things. Win-win. It also improves accessibility for those put off by lengthy forms or who simply don’t have the time (because work/life is busy, because they aren’t funded and so don’t have time to even apply, oh irony).

By this point, I’d tried to embed this thinking into my own art-life. Having spent beaucoup hours on applications for a few hundred quid which included two rounds and a workshop-meeting-thing, I realised that, if I value my time at suggested industry rates (as I do, as I should, as all artists should, please-stop-working-for-free), I’d in effect lose money even if my application was successful. Would any other sector tolerate this as the norm? Not many for sure, and thus ‘What would a plumber do?’ was born as an idea. In essence, when looking at an application process, I now ask exactly that question. If my imaginary plumber would tell you to go and do one, I don’t bother applying either:

Gatekeeper: “So, there’s a plumbing job, the fee’s £400, and you need to spend at least a full day on the application. And come to a meeting. Oh and you probably still won’t get it.”
Imaginary plumber: “You can go and do one.”
Me: Spends time on something else.

Given part of the job of being-an-artist is ‘criticising institutions’, it felt important to do more than just change my own approach, hence the grumbling with Sarah. Maybe we were the right people, having come into art from very different backgrounds which arguably have a better approach to pay (Sarah’s got a veterinary background, mine’s in ecology/academia). In any case, it worked, so thanks have to go to a space arts for being receptive and making this happen when the art world often seems to be getting more conservative (not the artists, but funders, galleries etc – the institutions and gatekeepers). The first artistic fruits of that boldness landed on 16th Oct 2021 as the first Lucky Dip show opened and it’s on until 7th Nov; I’ve added some images from the opening event below, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens next. My imaginary plumber certainly approves.