A welcome glimmer of good news for the UK’s artists and arts freelancers comes with the announcement yesterday that the Freelands Foundation will be offering £3m in emergency funds “to support artists, creative practitioners and freelancers across the UK affected by the Covid-19 crisis”. This welcome boost includes a £1m contribution to Creative Scotland’s Bridging Bursary for artists and freelancers and a £500,000 contribution to the Arts Council of Wales’s Urgent Relief Fund for Individuals. Discussions are also currently in progress with potential partners in England and Northern Ireland to distribute an additional £1m and £500,000 respectively, with the recipients to be announced within the next few weeks.
Since its establishment by Elisabeth Murdoch in 2015, the Freelands Foundation has established a range of programmes, partnerships and activities aimed to “provoke meaningful positive change within the visual arts sector”. These initiatives include a varied portfolio of awards to enable existing organisations across the UK to promote new or under-represented talent and to develop creative projects with artists.
Especially notable is the Freelands’s Artist Programme, which offers both practical and monetary support to artists at the beginning of their careers and which, in view of the current coronavirus crisis, is now being extended to support its recipients at this difficult time. The extension means that the 42 current artist participants will each receive an extra three months added to the two-year programme along with a cash top-up of £1250 (a quarter of their annual bursary of £5,000). It’s a bonus that the Sheffield-based artist Maud Haya-Baviera who is in her first year of the Freelands Artist Programme considers to be a lifeline. “I am very happy that this fabulous programme has been extended, it feels like a real practical help and is making the consequences of lockdown much easier to bear,” she says.
The programme, which offers a total of £1.5m across five years to four organisations, was launched in 2018 “to support and grow regional art ecosystems by fostering long term relationships and collaborations between emerging artists and arts organisations across the country”. To this end, four organisations of varying size—G39 in Cardiff, PS2 in Belfast, Site Gallery in Sheffield and Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh—have each received a grant of £350,000 to be spent over five years on supporting the practice of 20 emerging local artists apiece. These artists are selected by each organisation and divided into four annual cohorts, each of which participates in a two-year programme with their partner institution.
As well as offering bespoke assistance of studio space, mentoring, workshops or whatever is deemed necessary, the Freelands Artist Programme also doles out hard cash, stipulating that the four partner organisations spend the greater part of their grant on a £10,000 bursary for each of the participating artist, spread over their two year stint.
Before the coronavirus crisis, the first two cohorts—including two artist duos—were already up and running under the scheme, with the 2018-20 cohort due to complete this September and the 2019-20 reaching the halfway mark. But now the indefinite lockdown has prevented the programme from working within its given timeframe—hence the extension. “In the light of the crisis it has become extremely difficult, if not impossible for many artists to continue with their practice, and so we have taken the decision immediately to extend and to fully fund the programme for an additional three months,” says Freelands creative director Henry Ward.
While an additional £1,250 may not be enough for the artists to live on over three months, Ward hopes that the extra top-up and the breathing space of an additional three months “might help to alleviate some anxiety about lost opportunities, we are trying to encourage the artists to see the extra time as a potential hiatus, if that’s needed,” he says.
The Belfast-based artist Jasmin Marker, who is one of the second cohort partnering with PS2 in Belfast, was currently meant to be on a residency in the Chilean rainforest “working on my dream career art and nature conservancy project”. This has now been postponed for a year and she is back eking a living working for Deliveroo. Although her circumstances are far from ideal, Marker feels that the extension to the Freelands Artist Programme has bought her some time and space. “All my events fell through and this extra time and the extra financial support is already a big help at a time where the art has to take pause” she says. “I feel the crisis and pandemic has made me slow down and look more at open-ended, process-based ways of working which I knew was more helpful all the way along, but now I’m really doing it.”