In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, SPACE recognised an urgent need to refocus its work in order to provide support where it’s most relevant, critical and essential to the artist community.
SPACE Artist Awards was launched in November 2020 with the aim of helping talented under-represented visual artists and those suffering from extreme financial hardship, to invest in their future at this challenging time. In February 2021, 20 artists were awarded a £5k bursary, 3 of which also included one-year free studio space, and 4 the Programme Associate Award title. Throughout the spring of 2021 awardees were also offered a range of 1-2-1s and group activities, including a group session with artist John Akomfrah, and an ongoing one-month residency in SPACE Ilford studio.
The programme evaluation showed that SPACE Artist Awards has made a difference for artists and generated organisational learning. The following outcomes were identified:
- Improved artists’ ability to respond to challenging times: thanks to the 1-2-1s and group activities, awardees felt more aware of opportunities available and fair options such as funding and higher fees. The programme provided access to resources that artists could not afford or would not have known about otherwise. Artists felt more confident about their practice and recognised as professional artists.
My community is not in that world, so getting this award mentally has been a validation. It has transformed my mindset. – Awardee
- Enhanced artists’ career progression: the bursary allowed artists the time and freedom to breathe, experiment with their practice, afford good quality materials, upgrade their equipment and make new work. Freedom was described by artists also as an ability to find a better life-work balance and a general shift of mindset to a more positive one.
I have been able to find balance with my free time and use it to my full advantage. It has made me more ambitious – the money was amazing. –Awardee
- Brought in a general sense of collectiveness: awardees appreciated being able to relate to each other’s challenges and to share knowledge.
I didn’t realise how important it was to have people you can speak and relate to. – Awardee
- Generated organisational change: the programme activated new learnings and awareness within the organisation while contributing to making SPACE programmes more diverse.
SPACE Artist Awards proved to be a unique support programme for artists. The size of the monetary award with ‘no strings attached’, the range of activities and an easy application process were aspects particularly valued by artists.
I feel more optimistic, I still don’t have everything figured out but it’s great to know there are programmes like this out there. – Awardee
The programme enabled ‘some place at the table’ for artists who are often excluded by the art world, contributing to the diversity, inclusion and equality of the sector.
More confidence and money has allowed me a freedom that I have never had in my life before. I have been struggling to be recognised as an artist in the art world. – Awardee
However, more programmes like SPACE Artist Awards and an ongoing commitment from funders and organisations to make change are needed for longer-term impact, avoiding tokenistic one-off programmes.
Since Covid-19 there has been a focus on disadvantaged people… so I’ve had the attention as never before. However, we all worry about when things will return as before. Will everyone care then? – Awardee
Written by Valentina Orrù
Download the full report here