What’s a Funding Application? Oh, I Don’t Fill Those Out, Sorry!

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Are the Brits actually carping and wingeing about having to fill out applications in order to receive their public appropriations?

Dear God in the Heaven of Severe Austerity, that’s exactly what they are doing. Conductor, cue two-finger violin symphony, please.

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Doing some research for this post, I also ran across this item from the blog Butts in the Seats, which basically argued that a no-application process — that is, here you go, arts groups! here’s your money! — is a lot better than an application process.

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Well, better for whom, hm?

Without suggesting that application processes should be so byzantine as to be onerous or catastrophic — conditions that vary from group to group, mission to mission, state to state, nation to nation and funder to funder — I couldn’t disagree more.

Here’s an excerpt from the Butts post:

Once again, Europe proves their arts policy is superior to that of the U.S.!

I say this having just spent a lot of time filling out applications for funding. In actuality, the old policy was pretty exclusive. According to BBC arts editor Will Gompertz,“If you were in the club, you tended to stay in the club; if you weren’t, there was no obvious way of joining.”…

Now the process will be opened up to any who want to apply. Partnerships and collaborations are being encouraged…

Much like the person who left the first comment on Butts in the Seats’ post, I don’t understand how the current system in the U.K. is remotely better at all. (It’s a political mistake, by the way, to conflate the U.K. with Europe, at least until the Brits ditch the pound, which won’t happen with a Tory at 10 Downing Street and the Euro flirting with devaluation.)

It seems to me that the poster, the “theatre manager of a presenting venue,” is really saying an application-less process is superior for him. And that’s fine, for the more time development staff needs spends on paperwork, the less time it can spend on…um, development.

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But an application process, even for public monies, does not an arts policy make. This is a bureaucracy policy and an accountability policy, and what the Brits have, it seems, is a vestige of the horrid and outmoded U.K. class system.

It’s right there in the quote in the post:

“If you were in the club, you tended to stay in the club; if you weren’t, there was no obvious way of joining.”

Folks, I can think of at least 25 nonprofit theaters in New York City that struggled for years just to get their first grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs, and yes it was a slog, and yes it sorely tried everyone’s patience, but the point is, they could get into the club. How is a system of exclusion, segregation, class stratification and social division ever a better arts policy? Better for whom?

And why does it seem as if arts organizations tend not to think about the philanthropic end of the funding transaction? In other words, let’s forget for a moment that we’re talking about public funding, let’s forget what I think is the perfectly rational notion that if you’re spending public money, the public has a right to a minimum of accountability. In terms of private philanthropy, should there be no application process for that, too? True, fundraising does occur in this fashion at times — when a foundation deems it’s suitable and they just send a letter and say “We’re contributing.” But as a matter of course, for the Brits to bitch about suddenly having to do paperwork, or suddenly having to share resources or make more do with less — well, this is just lazy, wildly over self-entitled people griping about the loss of privileges they never should have had in the first place.

The mountain of paperwork philanthropies ask nonprofits here in the U.S. to climb can be, and is regularly, a bear: do a Google search using a combination of “arts,” “development,” “fundraising” and “manhours” and you’ll find plenty of angst and apoplexy and paralysis on the subject, plus plenty of software — software which, by the way, generates profits for their makers — designed to streamline it all. Paperwork is business. While too much paperwork is bad business, the lack of paperwork is equally bad business as well.

What we really have instead in the U.K. is a mindset that strikes me as arrogant and tautological: “We have a right to this money because we have a right to this money.”

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No, pal, you don’t. Do some work for it.

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No, that doesn’t mean be tortured to get it. No, it doesn’t mean investing so many man hours that one’s mission and programming wind up being fatally compromised. Bureaucracy sucks. But for heaven’s sake, is accountability to be sacrificed upon the altar of anti-bureaucracy?

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Maybe the Brits will riot about it.

(Let me take a moment here to say that I rarely comment on Butts posts, but I do check it and have learned so much by following it. It’s a great site — I don’t doubt the sincerity of the blogger in question. I just don’t think his is a sustainable or winnable argument.)