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My Arts Council Grant Application

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As I wrote on my personal blog (covering the whys and wherefores at some length) I applied for and was awarded my first ever Grant For The Arts from the Arts Council this month to research and develop the Photo Walks I’ve been running for the last year and also do some personal development to position me as a resource for the arts and culture industries. It’s worth £7,000 and the covers a period from now to December. In effect this is my main job for the next 6 months.

If you know me you won’t be surprised to learn I intend to document every stage of this on this blog, and made that part of the proposal (probably ticking a bunch of those incredibly vague “digital engagement” boxes in the process), but I’m having a bit of trouble starting. The problem is, due to the relative unlikelihood of the grant been awarded, I’d prepared myself not to get it, keeping it all very theoretical in my head. And now, suddenly, it’s all real and the next 6 months of my life needs to follow this very theoretical notion. The only road map I have is the application itself, so I’m in the process of turning that into a Gantt Chart (another first) using the actually-not-bad-despite-the-cheezy-website Tom’s Planer.

So I figured it would make sense to simply post the proposal part of the application here, partly so interested parties can see what a successful application looks like in July 2012 (these things change like the wind) but mainly to record where I’m at right now. This will change. Already a couple of things I’ve said I’ll do won’t happen exactly as I intended, and that’s fine. The point of a research phase is to test my ideas and find new ones. And this isn’t the whole application. I’ll make that public at the end, when I do the evaluation. (If you really want to see it let me know and I’ll send you the PDF.)

If you’ve not seen one of these before, it might read a little strangely. Each paragraph is addressing a question or a point in the How To Apply notes and it doesn’t lend itself to beautiful flowing text. It’s actually a little frustrating, being given the illusion of a 2,000 word space when what they really want is a series of short answers. The language is also odd in places, especially for me, making assertions and statements that while accurate and truthful I wouldn’t be comfortable with in conversation. But it is what it is. Maybe I’ll flesh it out with notes later, though I suspect my efforts would be better spent elsewhere.

There are five headings: You and your work, How the public engage with your work, Making it happen, Finance, Evaluation.


You and your work

I plan to develop a programme of photographic events in Birmingham and a platform for future work.

The programme will consist of four participatory events leading groups on photographic explorations of the Digbeth district of Birmingham, which I have been photographing since 2006. While these will likely evolve – following research into street photography, walking tour guides, city planning, architecture, urban exploration, flaneurism and history – I have devised four initial frameworks:

  1. The Tour Guide As Filter. What does it mean to be a guide? How does a guide inform perception of the city through route and narration? How can this be distributed among participants? What can we learn from storytelling, collaborative and didactic? How can the tensions between the guide and the guided be explored?
  2. Expanding The Treasure Hunt. Can the hackneyed model of participants photographing a list of subjects be made fresh? How can exploration be narrated and guided through making connections, building new maps and creating new realities?
  3. Photo Manipulation Through Sense. Can photographs be “manipulated” by altering other senses? Using audio triggered in specific locations, participants experience different sounds to explore how this affects their visual perception.
  4. Storytelling. Participants are encouraged to build their own narrative of the area through ten photographs. Workshopped after the walk and exhibited online.

Documentation of the work will be online, accessible through desktop, mobile and ebook platforms.

I have been practising as an artist for nearly a decade with no formal training. I studied philosophy at Birmingham University in the 1990s. My creative background is in fanzines, DIY media, blogging and photography, which I currently document on art-pete.com. In 2007 I started the award-winning Created in Birmingham weblog, putting connecting with artists and arts organisations in the city. I’ve built professional relationships with a number of these as a digital/social media consultant, developing strategies for engagement to increase both virtual audiences and venue footfall. See attached CV.

In January 2012 I started Photo School with Matt Murtagh, running photography classes and events which combine technical skills and artistic development.

This ACE funded phase will allow me to develop my practice at a pivotal time in my career, developing four new participatory artworks which interrogate photography as a participatory experience in ways I’ve been unable to explore due to work commitments. The phase will also enable me to consolidate my practice online with a view to increasing my artistic profile and securing opportunities to create new work. Curator Karen Newman has agreed to mentor me throughout this process, offering production and curatorial advice and expertise.

I continue to maintain an interest in digital tools and online engagement and am developing a database-driven Birmingham Art Map smartphone app with digital agency Substrakt utilising their Nymbol CMS. The research undertaken for this project will contribute to my thinking and research in relation to this application, exploring digital mediation and photography.

Activity aims:

  1. Develop and deliver four new artist-led participatory walks, exploring walking tours, street photography, flaneurism and urban exploration.
  2. Research, including discussions with peers, historians, academics, practitioners and others, and document in an interactive blog.
  3. Produce a simple PDF “exhibition” to be viewed on smartphones when exploring the area.
  4. Produce documentation of process and results distributed via ebook.
  5. Consolidate my work on art-pete.com.
  6. Lay foundations for new collaborations with arts organisations.

My interest in photography as a collaborative artistic medium began when I founded the Birmingham Flickrmeets community in 2006. The artistic and educational phenomena of many eyes seeing the same thing has always informed my photographic practice.

I have developed an interest in place and identity through blogging about Birmingham since 2006. Taking cues from network structures of services like Twitter I have become fascinated with applying these models to urban communities.

I have been running walks in Digbeth through Photo School for over a year. Initially a low-cost sampler, they’ve hinted at a hybrid of photography workshop, walking tour, flaneurism and performance.

I feel close to unifying my interests in image-making and location with the public’s desire to document photographically their city and I am keen to move beyond the a simple photo walk.

My participatory activities will enable people to engage with their environment in new ways through photography. Technical skills and aesthetic appreciation are developed and social connections made during and after the events.

My personal development will make me a valuable resource for arts organisations. I’ve recently been approached by Birmingham Architecture Festival and Ikon Gallery to adapt my photo walks to their needs.

I consistently share my ideas and process online as an essential part of my process. Everything produced will be available in digital formats and open for feedback.

How the public engage with your work

My photography teaching, through search engine placement, reaches a gender and ethnically diverse group with ages ranging from 15 to 70. Many do not consider themselves to be engaging in “art”. This as my base audience.

Engagement will occur in a number of ways:

  1. The walking events themselves, each involving 10-20 people.
  2. Online documentation across various platforms including:
    • Project-specific section of art-pete.com website.
    • Blog with comments.
    • Flickr/YouTube for photos and video.
    • Twitter/Facebook sharing and conversation.
    • PDF/ebook.
      • Formal engagement with peers through FierceFWD artist development programme (application pending) and related programmes if applicable.

On basic photo walks, participants develop their technical photographic skills, aesthetic appreciation, a deeper awareness and understanding of their city, and gain social connections. I expect these to continue with the new works with the following additional factors:

  1. The experience of being involved with a live artwork.
  2. If the work has a post-walk section, the experience of co-creating a larger work.
  3. Meeting and interacting with historians, artists and local figures.
  4. Exploring how senses other than vision can be used to explore locations; developing awareness of sound, smell, etc.

Marketing engagement will increase. Over the past year marketing has been solely through search engines and word of mouth, supported by a strong web and social media presence for myself and Photo School. I will now add a fresh strand developed through online documentation, a Google Adwords campaign and flyers/posters around Birmingham.

I see the work as building a solid foundation for my work. Future engagement in 2014 and beyond might include: more events consolidating successes and exploring new methods; adoption of works by arts organisations and festivals; developing events in other cities; and the development of a sustainable smartphone app with a local digital agency. My documentation will remain online and will spread through the usual channels to interested parties in a variety of fields.

Local press will be informed of public events and I will use my connections with arts organisations to join their mailings. If opportunities with arts organisations emerge, I will explore synergies. For example, a photography class on Birmingham myths tying in with Ikon’s Shimabuku exhibition in August has been proposed by Head of Learning Simon Taylor.

Making it happen

I have scoped out my areas of interest and research resources. My reading list includes:

  • The Tour Guide - Jonathan R Wynn 0226919064
  • The Practice Of Everyday Life - Michel de Certeau 0520236998
  • Hidden Cities - Moses Gates 9781585429349
  • London Walking - Simon Pope 1841660566
  • BLDGBLOG - Geoff Manaugh 9780811866446

I have identified the following people to approach about my research:

I am also taking regular guidance from my mentor, curator Karen Newman.

I plan to visit major UK cities on at least six occasions to research work done by formal institutions and at grass-roots.

A research trip to Ars Electronica Festival in Linz in September will enable me to consider how my work fits within the international digital arts context, and be an inspiring experience from which to develop future projects.

My schedule, assuming application approved early July:

  • July-August: Research period. Reading; visiting cities; meeting artists, tour guides, urban explorers. Research recorded on project blog enabling peers and interested people to contribute. I am highly conversant with using digital tools in this manner.
  • September: Deliver programme of events. Sales processed using established Photo School systems.
  • October: Analysis of findings; delivery of final documentation. PDF prepared with Apple Pages, ebook with Leanpub.com. Verbal presentation to art community at Fierce FWD sharing event.
  • November: Personal Review. Archive prior work in context of project and establish process for documenting future work on art-pete.com website. I have built countless websites to the standard needed; work will mostly be on copy and hierarchy.
  • November: Close and evaluation to enable a smooth transition to new work in 2014.

Past experience:

Since January 2012 I have run 13 walks and 27 classes through Photo School involving approximately 150 people. I have tools in place to manage, promote and collect feedback from all activities.

I have been blogging since 2000 and was an early adopter of Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and other services. I am skilled in publicly documenting my work and consider working in an interactive, social, open environment essential to my process. I have experimented widely with digital publishing tools and formats from mapping to ebooks, and consult professionally on these matters.

I have been registered self-employed since 2005 and am competent at managing my personal and business finances.

Finance

Along with income from Photo School and digital consultancy I can spend at least one full day a week on this project at £200 per day and maintain my income. The budget provides me with 29 days of activity.

I estimate visiting other cities to witness photographic explorations undertaken there and attending appropriate events will cost £400 in travel and fees. Visiting Ars Electronica festival will cost £400 for travel, entrance and budget accommodation.

I have budgeted £200 for the purchase of research material. I own the technical equipment required (cameras,computers) except for a pocket video camera for video documentation at £150. Other expenses are detailed in this application.

I have raised at least 10% of my requested budget from other sources. Through ticket sales Photo School will pay me a minimum of £500 to run both research walks and the final works. A proposed workshop with Ikon will pay £200. I am also applying to be on the Fierce FWD development programme from the Fierce Festival, which gives a bursary of £250.

A goal of this activity is to consolidate my knowledge and develop my artistic practice. By consolidating my reputation in this area, along with a product I can sell in to organisations, I see my financial position strengthening through 2014.

I shall manage the budget as I manage Photo School’s accounts: depositing funds in a savings account and transferring artist fees and expenses to my current account monthly. Expenses will be budgeted and full accounts kept.

Evaluation

I’m keen that this project leads to greater things so it is important that lessons learned are recorded and evaluated in a manner to enable this. It’s also essential that my peers are able to access and use my experience for their own work. I see the evaluation process as a natural and important complement to the more informal blog.

Quantitative information will include:

  • People at events.
  • Downloads of ebooks/PDFs.
  • Web analytics.
  • Social media metrics.
    Qualitative information will include:

  • Questionnaires for participants.
  • Photo/video documentation of events.
  • Formal interviews with key participants.

The evaluation will by available on art-pete.com as part of project archive.


Huge thanks to Karen Newman, my mentor, for her help in writing this. While I did all the legwork she gave valuable feedback and advice on language and buttons to press while ensuring I kept on track.

Now, onwards!