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Investing in your work
Date posted: 27 January 2022
As an artist based in England, Liz Clark, our Associate Artist for Early Years, is deeply passionate about Arts Council England’s #LetsCreate strategy that creates fertile ground for the early years artist to get funding and encourages those based in England to seize the moment. Read more on her thoughts here.
People Dancing Summer School. Photo: Rachel Cherry

Calling all Early Years Dance Network (EYDN) members in England!

It’s 2022. This year, why not make it the year to invest in, and grow, your work and apply to Arts Council England?

Feeling apprehensive about writing about your work and developing an application? Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be… Arts Council England’s #LetsCreate strategy is made for participatory and community artists. It’s our time as early years dance practitioners and artists to get writing, see ideas flourish and get them recognised for what they are; excellent, collaborative arts practice with creative people and creative communities at the centre.

As artists with participation close to our hearts, many of us hold creativity with others as central to our existence and so to see the sentence 'everyone can develop and express creativity throughout their life' as one of the first sentences in the 'Your Project and the outcomes' section of the new Project Grants application form is heartening. The language of the whole application and new investment principles demonstrates a significant shift in the attitude and language of Arts Council England in relation to participatory practice, especially in the support and understanding of 'everyday creativity'. Gone is the limiting and antiquated notion of 'audiences' that permeated through previous Arts Council application forms and there’s more welcome and encouraging inclusion of 'reaching communities' through taking part, making and doing.

“The vision of this Strategy, therefore, is of a country in which the creativity of everyone living here is celebrated and supported.”

Arts Council England, Let’s Create, Strategy 2020-2030

Participatory artists believe wholeheartedly with this notion and that belief has shaped their professional lives and their interactions with the communities of people who work with them. So, what we can be sure of is that when we write about our work, framed by the Let’s Create strategy and guided by the language in the new Project Grants application form, that what we write will be understood, valued and recognised for its relevance in the development and sharing of outstanding art.

Throughout the application form, there is an emphasis on inclusivity and relevance, which participatory artists will probably be able to answer with their eyes shut. You’d never survive long as a participatory artist if you weren’t either inclusive or relevant. You certainly wouldn’t last long in early years practice – as our audiences vote with their feet unapologetically and don’t suffer fools gladly, you can guarantee that if you’re not inclusive and relevant, they’ll simply ignore you or walk away!

Arts Council England highlight co-creation and collaboration as vital processes and encourage applicants to write from the heart about their work. Don’t get hung up on the word co-creation, for many participatory artists this is the heartbeat of our work. Just because it’s been given a fancy name – it is what it says it is: about making your art through collaborative processes with other people. In early years, our work often aligns with improvisatory practices, which in its very nature is intertwined with play. And a play-based approach underpins all outstanding early years practice. My artistic practice develops through, and is affected by, my playful interactions with the early years children I meet. I make participatory performance based on over 25 years of early years dance practice where very young children’s spontaneous ideas and expression is integrated into and influences the choreography. Both are co-creation, both fit within Arts Council England’s Investment Principles and the Let’s Create strategy.

As Francois Matarasso says:

“The right to participate in cultural life [means] more than simply the right to admire what others have created.”

As artists, we need to proudly own our part in the making of accessible and effective co-creation processes that exist today and proving that communities want to make art that showcases the way they see the world.

Here are some of the elements of the activity that they include in their criteria for successful funding…

I am:

  • developing new work on my own or with other people
  • developing my own skills
  • showing something to my communities, including a programme of activities.
  • working innovatively and/or collaboratively.

Arts Council England’s #LetsCreate strategy feels as though it’s made for artists who have a participatory and community approach to their work. Gone are the language biases toward ‘work’ that ‘tours’, which I felt excluded my work as a participatory artist. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to prove your idea is cracking and is potentially a saleable product – meaning that I mean people need to want to buy it or buy into it!

So many of us already get brought in directly by early years settings, schools and theatres that it is easy to prove the relevance and value of our work and to generate match funding. And with so many of the project managers and local authority officers roles having been cut in the last few years, we’ve had to find our own way to generate an income for ourselves.

Thank you to those who shouted, lobbied, went to meetings, pushed doors to enable this change to happen to Arts Council Project Grant. We stand on the shoulders of giants who spoke from the heart about the importance and relevance of participatory practice. Early years dance artists – now it’s time to do our part and get the money in to reach the people we know want to work with us! The #LetsCreate 2021-2024 delivery document specifically says Arts Council England are prioritising arts work that:

  • Supports people at all stages of their lives to design, develop and increase their participation in high-quality creative activities
  • Provides high-quality early years activities that reach families from a wider range of backgrounds
  • Widens and improves opportunities for children and young people to take part in creative activities inside schools.

This is us, the time is now, lets go!


If you are based in other parts of the UK, you can find help and guidance for your grant application here:

Image credit: People Dancing Summer School. Photographer: Rachel Cherry.