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Imagine receiving funding to focus on your creativity, explore new ways of working or even to work with new collaborators. The Arts Council England (ACE) ‘Developing Your Creative Practice’ (DYCP) fund could help you do just that.

This fund looks to support artists and creators who might have missed out on support elsewhere and need time to work on new ways to develop their skills, especially if that might lead to more sustainable income further down the line. This guide is here to help you understand how you can use this funding and what makes a successful application.

What exactly is DYCP?

DYCP is one of the most open and wide-ranging of Arts Council funds. The funding is for exploring, improving and diversifying your skills at key points in your career. Think of it a bit like funding for a science experiment; you need to have a good idea of what you want to do, how you want to do it, and the rough outcome. It’s about developing your creativity in a structured and meaningful way. It’s not just for time in the studio, it’s about knowing what you’ll do in that time and what you want to get out of it.

Due to the impact of Covid-19 ACE has increased the number of disciplines that are eligible for this fund, so DJs are now included too.

What kind of activity would DYCP cover?

DYCP applications can cover up to one year of activity, can focus on researching new ways of working, creating new networks, experimenting with new collaborators, including specific trips and retreats. This funding is designed to help you innovate and take creative risks, work in new ways and to eventually reach new audiences.

If you’re unsure at all, a really good place to start and give you a better idea of what you can really do with this funding is to look at the case studies provided on the website. They’re great, both for inspiration and a better understanding of how the funding can be used.

Read the DYCP case studies.

What is not eligible?

The important difference between DYCP and ACE Project Grants is that this fund is not for continuation of your practice, e.g. putting together a new release. It’s for the period before that, to specifically and purposely develop certain skills and explore creative options that will give you the tools you need to then record an album or work on something else professionally in the future.

This also means, unlike Project Grants, there’s not the same level of pressure on how the public will engage with your work. You will need to think about the possibilities for engagement in the future, but generally this is more about your personal development.

Importantly the funding is not available to support formal study, e.g. a university course, and it’s not available to organisations, only individuals or small collectives of artists. You cannot apply for DYCP and Project Grants at the same time either, so make sure you're applying to the one that best fits your plan of action.

If you're not sure, take this quick quiz to find out.

What do you need to have in place before you apply?

So you know what area of your skills you want to develop, but what do you need to have worked out before you embark on this application? The most important thing is to have a specific plan - not something centred around a release or show, but a plan of how you will develop, collaborate and explore. The specifics here can be locations you need to go to, people you want to work with, timings, and an idea of what you want to get out of it at the end.

You also need to have an idea of what success looks like for you at the end of this project, so you can show not only why it’s so important to your development, but also think about how you will evaluate your work at the end.

musicians playing guitar and singing during online concert at home
This fund looks to support artists and creators who might have missed out on support elsewhere and need time to work on new ways to develop their skills. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Feeling stuck? Start with a timeline.

Sometimes it feels like the easiest thing to do when filling in an application is to dive straight in and tackle the questions. However, spending some time working out a timeline for your activity and identifying all the costs associated with each stage will really help you answer the questions with more consistency.

Most artists will be used to thinking about their timelines and schedules in terms of releases or shows; one of the biggest challenges about applying to this fund is to think about your time, development and outcomes differently.

What do I need to think about for the supporting document?

It’s not uncommon for funding applications to ask for a third party to write a note of support, but for DYCP it’s especially important. Think carefully about what you want to include here, what it says about where you are in your career and what will make you stand out.

Submitting reviews from notable publications is great, but is there anyone you can ask to write a letter of support that has worked with Arts Council England before? Is there someone you’ve worked with that would really write something special? Don’t be afraid to ask, it could make a real difference to your application.

This letter is all about demonstrating the quality of your work, so if someone is writing something for you, make sure they’re including an outline of how and why your work is high quality, backed up with examples. If you feel like you’re showing off, that’s probably about the right level.

What do I need to know about budgets?

It’s okay to feel intimidated by budgets, they can often be the trickiest part of an application. For DYCP however it can be a little easier than project budgets because there’s unlikely to be too many streams of income.

If you start with your timeline in place and identify the various activities that your time will be composed of, you should be able to fairly easily identify your costs. Be realistic, look for multiple quotes (they expect you to look for competitive quotes from multiple places to ensure the finances are being used correctly) and make sure the income amount is equal to the outgoing.

Look closely at the guidance for what you can and cannot include in costs, it’s really important to make sure all costs are eligible. You can purchase some equipment for DYCP, to develop your practise, but ensure your application is clear in the need and impact of any equipment you do include, as there needs to be a strong case for it.

What do I need to include in an activity plan?

Activity plans should be fairly detailed, key points of the process and developmental milestones should be identified. For instance, think about how long you will spend researching certain elements, how many sessions are you planning with a collaborator, when you might leave for a trip.

It’s important to give a clear indication of the activities you will be undertaking, for example instead of just ‘spend time recording’ are you able to talk about the number of sessions this will encompass or the specific focus of that time (maybe you’ll be recording different instruments for example), this will make your plans much clearer to anyone reading your application.

Overall, remember that anyone should be able to pick up your application and understand exactly what you’ll be doing, when and why. Though you are researching and developing your practice, you need to be doing so in an organised and methodical way to ensure the time and funding is used to the best of your ability.

Jess Partridge also wrote our guide to applying for an ACE Project Grant, which you may also find helpful.

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Thanks to

Jess Partridge

Jess Partridge is a founder and editor of new music group In Stereo, and provides advice for musicians applying for Arts Council England (ACE) Developing Your Creative Practice Fund.

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