Unlimited commissions: the view from the panel

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Independent disabled artist Richard Butchins is in the unique position of this year having both sat on an Unlimited selection panel and been the successful recipient of an Unlimited award. Here he shares his insider insight on the selection process, offering advice to prospective applicants.

Richard Butchins' The Voice of the Unicorn

Promotional image for Richard Butchins’s The Voice of the Unicorn

The other week Unlimited published some of statistics on their website about how many new artists had received awards in the recent funding round – it was about 67% –  pretty good, in my book. So what’s with all the snark about how these awards are made?

I’ll lay my cards on the table, I’ve received an international award. I was both surprised and pleased. The only other award I had from Unlimited was an R&D award in 2014. This might qualify me as one of the “usual suspects” or it might not, I don’t know.

But here’s what I will tell you. I was a panel member on the selection panel for the Main Commissions this year (there is strict separation between the different panels) and I thought I would report on my impressions of the experience for the purpose of enlightening DAO readers.

The process was long and thorough.  Initially, I had to access an Internet portal and then read some 90 or so applications for R&D and Main Awards, which I duly did. Here’s my first point: the standard of the applications varied far more than I would have expected.  I wanted to know three main things:

What does the artist want to do?

How do they intended to do it ?

Why they wanted to do the work?

After I figured those criteria out then I went through the rest of the application. Now that was just my way of doing this, but I can’t say after reading some of the applications I was any the wiser in regard to those three questions, which meant they were not shortlisted by me. My advice is to suggest one writes any application in plain English and with alacrity. After the online selecting, my results went to Unlimited and a shortlist was made of projects to consider on the panel day; where all the members of the panel would consider the applications in person. The panel is comprised of members of the funding organisations and various other stakeholders and some independent artists. I just applied and was selected. I had no agenda and no axe to grind, at least not a specific axe to wield at any rate.

Sitting in a room, we worked our way through the shortlisted applications. This was a laborious, time consuming and satisfying process. My mind was changed several times by the input of other panel members regarding project applications. I was impressed by the rigour and thoroughness of the panel’s procedure. There was no favour given to already established artists or groups. It was all about the project as presented and nothing else. Now everyone has his or her personal pet hates and loves and it’s no different in art. I personally HATE dance, I can’t stand it, drives me to rant and rave even more than usual, but it doesn’t factor into any selection decisions. Dance is a valid art form and there were some interesting applications relating to dance.

For the record I should say that my project ‘The Voice of the Unicorn’ involves me working with a dancer – always embrace what you hate eh!!! The panel also had people from various organisations like the British Council, they all had their own agendas I suppose, but it didn’t matter, the process was fair and difficult. Not all the projects I supported got awards and some of those that I wasn’t keen on did. All in all I’d say it was a fair and thorough process.   I’d encourage disabled artists to apply and the advice I would give is make you application clear, simple and straightforward. Start many weeks before the deadline and find a producer. In fact, follow the guidelines published by Unlimited like I did.  In short RTFM (read the fucking manual)!