A Creative’s Guide to Grants and Project Funding

Despite making a significant contribution of over R100 billion to the country’s economy each year, the creative industry is (in)famously underfunded. From art researchers to creative entrepreneurs, the full spectrum of work needs a boost in order for South Africa’s now world-famous creatives to support their various projects. 

City Press reported that arts funding is a complex business in South Africa, with many creatives falling through the cracks of misadministration. In this piece, we explore some of the key elements to consider when securing grants and other project funding, what to look out for, as well as some institutions doing the work of equipping local creatives with the support (financial and otherwise) to achieve their goals.

Get to know the lingo.

It is important to note that not all funding is created equally. Which is not to say that some options are necessarily better, but it’s important to read the fine print. While some scholarships and fellowships allow the creative to work reasonably freely on a project within a broad discipline or theme, grants may be more specific, and in some cases require a service commitment – like additional teaching, use of an archive, or research conducted in a particular space. Similarly, most funding comes with strict guidelines for timing, so it is important to ensure that the project you wish to undertake can indeed be completed in the given time frame. Additionally, you need to ensure that you feel comfortable with the conditions, both in practice and ethics.

“In my view, if we’re not careful and if we don’t bring some of these issues out into a forum for public debate, then we may be in danger of making the arts unfundable,” said Michelle Wright in an interview with European CEO Magazine. Wright is the CEO of Cause4, a social work-based organization heavily involved in finding ethical funding streams.

Whose work is it anyway?

Ownership of your work. For some creatives, the prospect of an institution owning their work is an absolute no-no, unfortunately, this is often the condition of funding. In other cases, the work becomes ‘public’ property – particularly in the case of universities, and other public institutions. While some funders are happy for creatives to publish their work elsewhere, enter awards and speak to the media, some require consent or entirely bar it’s re-use for other purposes, especially where the creative would receive monetary compensation . Make sure to speak to your funder about the status of your own intellectual property – and don’t commit if the deal seems shaky. You have every right to seek advice, including legal advice when you’re working out the paperwork.

Speaking about their current funding and collaboration projects, Jonas Radunz of the Goethe Institute in South Africa, had the following to say: 

“The Goethe-Institut’s cultural and educational programmes worldwide encourage intercultural dialogue and enable cultural involvement. In South Africa, we operate on a wide spectrum of cultural practices: our support for creative and cultural entrepreneurs, such as the Hub@Goethe, is aimed at more structural development, while on the other hand we strengthen artistic expression through our various funding channels. On a project level, we focus on the realisation of cultural projects from all disciplines together with local partners on the ground – so if you have a great idea, don’t be shy to approach us with a well-thought out concept”.

Organizations supporting creative projects:

Arts and Culture Trust (SA)

Since 2009, in partnership with DALRO and Nedback, the Arts and Culture Trust of South Africa has supported the visual and performance arts training of over 30 students. Offering full and partial scholarships, the intention of this particular fund is to encourage young (18-35) budding artists with formal education. In addition to this scholarship model, the Arts and Culture Trust also facilitates several programmes throughout the year. Visit their website for more info on opportunities.

Lewis Centre for the Arts at Princeton (USA)

Despite being an Ivy League University, the requirements for fellowships at LCA are to use their words, “selected more for promise than performance”. With two fellowships available each year internationally, there is the opportunity to spend either one or two years at the Centre, working on an artistic product – including directing a work of theatre or choreographing a dance production. Another fellowship allows the creative to work independently for a year, with no academic teaching attached.

Goethe-Institut (Germany/SA)

The Goethe-Institut’s GPS project is focused on facilitating the funding and support of a range of creative and arts projects by South Africans. Encompassing all arts-focused disciplines, the project offers up to R60 000 in funding, with “a particular focus on supporting projects and spaces which are not in the major metropolitan areas”. The institute is open to what is produced and encourages creatives to think about unique ways to create and present their work. Updates on the GPS project are available here.

Business and Arts South Africa (SA)

BASA has an established history of supporting creative projects within South Africa. Their annual Supporting Grants offer a slightly different lens to many others, focusing on existing connections and partnerships between artists and businesses – which require additional funding. The BASA support grants are particularly relevant for creatives interested in skills development, entrepreneurship and product-making through the arts. While this does mean that there are some limitations on who can apply, it also creates opportunities for much needed creative-public-private partnerships which have a long-term future beyond the grant project.

Get in touch with BASA on social media for more information and details.

Additional sources include:

National Arts Council

Global Citizen Fellowship

Institute for Creative Arts (UCT)


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