In Conversation: Fiona Menzies

In Conversation: Fiona Menzies

On arts funding, relationship management and nailing your application. 

Fiona Menzies
Melbourne, Australia

In Conversation: Fiona Menzies

On arts funding, relationship management and nailing your application. 

Following the announcement of the Australian Cultural Fund’s Double the Score campaign, we sat down with Creative Partnerships Australia’s CEO Fiona Menzies to talk about funding, relationship management and getting your work out there. 

Creative Partnerships Australia administers the Australian Cultural Fund, alongside running workshops and mentoring for musicians. Could you tell me about what CPA does on a broader scale in supporting Australian musicians?

Creative Partnerships Australia has a broad remit that is, at its core, centred around encouraging Australian artists to seek out corporate sponsorship and individual donations, and supporting them in that process. There are some amazing opportunities for young artists and musicians in this country, and our goal is to continue growing the pie of funds that they have to work with. We work across a few areas - speaking with businesses, philanthropists, arts organisations and the artists themselves to help each party be better at finding and maintaining relationships with one another. Many people from both sides of the equation - both the artists and the potential supporters - don’t know how to find each other, or don’t feel comfortable approaching the person they’re interested in supporting or being supported by, seemingly out of the blue! We try to help them understand how the the person they are asking is thinking, and therefore how they can approach them. We work to help artists learn how best to pitch to private donors and then, once the pitch has been made successfully (hopefully!) how they should continue to build their relationship with their sponsor. It can be really little things, like remembering to thank them, or bigger ideas about how to best nurture their relationships. It’s important to me that artists understand that they need to operate like a business. They are no different to doctors or plumbers or shop owners. In lots of different professions, people work individually or in small groups, and artists need to know how to operate as a business. It’s absolutely crucial. 

How early in your musical journey or profession should you be thinking about these big business ideas?

From the time you’re studying at university you’re forging ideas about the practice you’re running. For example, you may want to be a soloist as well as, perhaps, in some kind of ensemble like a chamber group or an orchestra. You may also want to work as a freelancer and work with different groups of people throughout your career. When you’re studying you absolutely should be thinking about your ideal practice - whatever it may be - and as part of that you need to be thinking about how it’s going to be funded. Start thinking straight away about the kind of commercial opportunities that are available, and whether you could be working to receive government funding. University is a really great time to start building relationships as well, with other musicians and the community that is supporting the arts. Start developing those relationships as soon as you can, and, if possible, get private donors who are interested. The earlier you do it the better, because as you progress and build your practice you can take them on the journey with you. Good business practice is to always have more than one funding source, and this is something you should start thinking about as early as possible. If, for example, you’re in the business of making ballpoint pens, there’s no point selling to one retailer, because as soon as they go broke you’re out of business. If you’re selling to six businesses and one goes bust you’ll take a knock but most likely you’ll be okay. There are relatively good government funding opportunities in Australia, but it’s in your interest as an artist to have other options! 

Can you tell me about the Australian Cultural Fund, and why that was set up?

The Australian Cultural Fund was set up in order to provide a mechanism through which donors can give funds to individual artists with a tax deduction, which usually is only a possibility when you give to an organisation with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status. Creative Partnerships Australia has DGR status; we’ve created it so the donor gives their donation to us and we make the decision to honour their preference and pass it on to the artist of their choice. The ACF has actually existed for more than decade, but we only digitised in 2015, which has made the whole process a lot easier. The website has been constructed to be as easy as possible for both the artists and the donors, and we’ve seen the number of donations and the value of donations increase dramatically as a result. You have to make it easy for people to give, so all you have to do on the website as a donor is search for the project that you’re interested in, then fill in a small amount of information. We really believe this is a facility that artists should know about and access for their projects, because it does make it simple for their patrons to support them. The other thing about the Australian Cultural Fund that is really important to us is the fact that it is a democratic process of funding that is helping people move away from the notion that only highly wealthy people can be philanthropic. It may sounds cliché, but it really doesn’t matter how much or how little you give because you’re contributing to something that is greater than what you could do with your own funds. Everyone can help, and every contribution counts. 

The Art Music Fund, run by APRA AMCOS, is a really great platform for young composers to develop their own projects - what about that particular initiative attracted you at Creative Partnerships Australia?

One of the things I love about the Art Music Fund is that the recipient of the funding has to have two performances lined up, which is absolutely terrific. I think it’s also really important to be supporting the creators of new work - the composers, the writers and the choreographers, rather than putting all of the focus on the performers. This fund works because it allows people to support the makers in a really sustainable way, where you are seeing a project eventuate into a live performance rather than helping fund a work that never gets performed. It’s important to us that we’re supporting the creation of works that get heard by audiences, and not just heard once but heard multiple times. We think it’s a really fantastic program, and APRA has committed to putting that money in, so I think it will be clear to people how good the project is and therefore help increase the amount of funds. The Fund is never limited by the amount of talent needing support - rather, it is limited by the amount of money, so therefore if we can make an extra $8000 we can help the Fund support one extra composer. I think that makes the entire process really compelling to us. 

Can you share some tips on applying for grants in general?

Three things - 

Read the guidelines thoroughly: What you’re putting in has to meet the criteria, I can’t say that enough. Don’t skim read through the terms. We recognise how hard it is to forge a life as an artist, but people do often throw proposals in for everything without putting in the time it takes to get it right. 

Ask questions: If you can, ring the potential funder and ask them your questions. Don’t be scared to ask if your project idea is hitting the mark; it’s absolutely worth your time to have that conversation. People generally like having that conversation, because it makes their job easier in the end. Whether you’re in the government or the private sector, you receive zillions of applications, so it's in your own interest to cut the ones that aren’t relevant. Don’t let this happen to you! Make sure you can’t be cut. 

Get people to read it! Before you press submit, get someone completely unrelated to read your application. It’s easy to slip into jargon, or to assume certain bits of knowledge, particularly as a musician, so if you can get a friend or relative outside the industry to check that it makes sense, that’s really good. People are willing to help! 

What do young people and artists need to know about the general state of philanthropic and business support for artists in Australia, and how can they best harness the available opportunities for funding?

I would say that business support is quite hard to get, though not impossible. However, it is more focussed on organisations rather than individuals, so finding out about philanthropic support is an easier start. Philanthropy in the arts is absolutely growing, and you’d be silly not to jump on that bandwagon. It does take time and effort, but it’s worth being part of. You do have to put time into cultivating and managing your relationships often over several years, because people aren’t just going to hand you their hard earned cash. In terms of harnessing these type of relationships, you need to start by looking for people who share your passion. It doesn’t matter whether your passion project is creating new work or performing Elgar, you will find someone who shares that love, and that’s where it all begins. When you’re cultivating these relationships it’s important to remember that when someone wants to invest their money, it is of course because they love it, and if they love it they generally know a lot about it. Never assume that your supporters have no knowledge. They want to engage in the art form that they love, so you as an artist need to really respect that. Also, keep them informed!! If you’ve got something coming up - perhaps a performance of a work your funder helped make possible - make sure you let them know. Being fully engaged makes a huge difference. 

CPA runs a significant number of events and master classes for artists to get a handle on the business and fundraising side of artistic practice - can you tell me a bit about the mentoring program that you offer? 

Absolutely - we offer free mentoring from each of the state managers, which is something you can easily get involved in through the website. They will chat with you and see where you’re at and give you some hints about what you should be thinking about. You can structure it as a one-off chat, or you make more regular appointments. I think as an individual artist it is a really great opportunity to chat with someone and bounce ideas off them. Each of the state managers have a broad understanding of the industry in different ways - some were practicing arts workers while others work for corporates running sponsorship programs. I can’t encourage people enough to ring or email and ask us questions. We always prefer to be asked, and it’s true that there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you’re keen to get involved with the courses run by CPA, the easiest way to find out about what is coming up is through the eNews!