It’s been just over a year since our Insights from the first year paper was published, which highlighted our activities and lessons since the Arts Impact Fund opened for applications in June 2015. With two years of enquiries, applications, investments and repayments now behind us, over a series of four blogs the team is looking at what this means for the Fund now, and for the arts and culture sector moving forwards.
With enquiries showing that combined arts has overtaken theatre as the most popular artform and the growing interest from arts and culture organisations in developing and delivering health and wellbeing initiatives this is an interesting time for the sector and an important moment for investment within it.
Investments and enquiries so far
Our insights paper in July 2016 showed the Fund had received 79 enquiries at that point. This has continued to grow steadily over the following 12-13 months, with total enquiries now standing at 155.
Theatre has been a dominant art form of enquiring organisations for the vast duration of the Fund, but this recently switched to combined arts (22.4 per cent). ‘Other’ (including infrastructure organisations and innovative, tech-based interventions, among others) and theatre are now almost level with the second (18.4 per cent) and third (17.1 per cent) highest percentages. Theatre has seen an increase in funding from trusts and foundations over the past year, which may explain this switch in situation, as well as other types of organisation in the sector considering options to commercialise and raise alternative finance, which is something theatres have already been doing.
Culture and heritage projects remain underrepresented despite museums seeing an increase of 29 per cent in private investment – however, the enquiries which have come forward under this category have been some of the strongest seen by the Fund team.
The Fund team has received enquiries outside of our finance range (£150-600k), with the lowest request of £1,000 all the way up to £1m. However, the average amount of finance requested has dropped marginally to £233k from £260k.
The median annual turnover of enquiring organisations has dropped to £125k from £300k in last year’s insights paper. As word of the Fund is spreading, we find we are attracting a wider range of organisations, with a broader range of activities and therefore varying financial situations. Although repayable finance is not right for every company, and we would never encourage an organisation to take this type of finance on if their situation wasn’t right, it’s positive to see that organisations with a smaller turnover are looking at options to become financially resilient and self-reliant. With changes in the grant funding landscape this is an important step forward for the sector in terms of future-proofing and stability.
Enquiries remain dominated by organisations from London and the South East, although regional diversity has increased and the Fund team has made efforts by showcasing the Fund at a series of regional events to raise awareness outside of London. As published back in November 2016 in the Private Investment in Culture Survey (Arts Council England and mtm London) with 63 per cent of total income and 66 per cent of private investment in the sector going to London this is to be expected and balancing the scales remains a long-term objective.
We have continued to see a small increase in numbers of health-related arts interventions. We believe that this will be further driven by the NCVO’s cultural commissioning agenda and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which will conduct exploratory work into results-based payment contracts in arts and culture. It may be that more awareness is still needed around this type of intervention, and it is encouraging that more focus is being directed to this area, for example in the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group report on Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing.
What have we been doing since the first year insight paper?
In July 2016 we proposed to take applications to our remaining four investment committees, in September and December 2016 and February and May 2017. Not only has this been accomplished, but due to demand we have a further investment committee this September. With a total of 20 investment proposals taken to the committee, we currently have 16 organisations within our investment portfolio, with a total commitment of £5.4m. This will see us fully committing the Arts Impact Fund’s £7 million capital over our two-year investment period.
In order to increase the number of enquiries from organisations outside of London and the South East, the Fund team also committed to prioritising publicity and marketing opportunities outside of these areas. The Fund team has hosted and delivered a variety of regional events focusing on alternative and repayable finance for the sector, including Sheffield, York, Leeds, Oxford, Hull, Cardiff and Manchester, as well as presentations at conferences around the country.
We have also connected with the Reach Fund to become an Access Point. This enables us to refer charities and social enterprises to grant funding to help them secure investment. We create bespoke investment readiness plans with organisations looking for investment, and then help them apply for a grant to put those plans into practice. We already work with organisations to identify and address specific barriers or challenges they face before we can invest with them. Through the Reach Fund, we can do this at various stages of the investment process, and help organisations receive targeted support where our capacity or resource limitations might otherwise prevent us from doing so.
Taking on board our own learnings and feedback from the sector, we are aiming to better target the needs of organisations with even further flexibility and a greater range of products on offer.
Arts Impact Fund has now launched a survey to explore the demand for repayable finance in the sector. We believe this work is critical to helping arts and culture organisations make informed decisions about funding, and supporting funders to develop relevant support for the sector. The findings will generate valuable insights into the appeal of and demand for repayable finance, familiarity with the concept of social investment, and key issues that organisations face when considering their funding options.
This post originally appeared on Nesta’s blog and is republished with the permission of the author.