Getting to know the RAF | Q&A with Regional Arts Fund Manager Mary Jane Warfield
Firstly, can you tell us about the Regional Arts Fund and its purpose?
The Regional Arts Fund is an Australian Government program that supports sustainable cultural development in regional, remote and rural communities in Australia. Sustainable cultural development refers to the practice of community-led arts practice that involves professional artists and arts workers in developing and delivering works that are participatory, locally relevant and of high artistic endeavour.
There are four objectives that the government wants to achieve in providing the funding:
- Encourage and support sustainable economic, social and cultural development in regional communities;
- Develop partnerships and networks which leverage support for projects and encourage ongoing collaboration;
- Develop audiences and broaden community engagement in the arts; and
- Increase employment, professional development opportunities and profile of regional and remote artists.
The funding is provided by the Federal Government through the Department of Communications and the Arts. The fund is managed by us, Regional Arts Australia, and devolved to state and territory organisations.
These organisations are referred to as Regional Program Administrators, and their role is to administer the fund in their State/Territory. The Regional Program Administrators do a wonderful job connecting with artists and communities in their jurisdictions and delivering a relevant program of funding to suit the needs of their area.
What is the role of Regional Arts Australia in managing the RAF and what are the roles of each state and territory?
Regional Arts Australia is the link between government and Regional Program Administrators. We gather information from all these organisations and we report directly to the Federal Government about the Regional Arts Fund and the arts sector across regional Australia. Regional Program Administrators link in with applicants, recipients, artists and communities. They provide us with insights and data about the regional arts sector in their jurisdictions. It’s not just about the Fund, it’s about the challenges and opportunities in each jurisdiction.
The Regional Program Administrators (such as Regional Arts Victoria, Regional Arts NSW, Country Arts WA and Country Arts SA) manage the day-to-day administration of the fund and make decisions about eligibility, they manage the assessment process, the marketing of the fund, the enquiries by applicants and the acquittals – so the fund is very much run within the areas (States and territory) where it is granted.
Regional Arts Australia hosts meetings and online workspaces for the RAF Managers across the country so that we can optimise the operations of the fund and take both a national approach and respond to local needs.
What is a regional community? Is it just anywhere outside of capital cities?
The word “regional” does include most places outside of major cities, but it’s more complex than “not the city”. Projects that principally benefit people in major cities are ineligible for funding.
The Federal Government, for the purposes of the RAF, use the Modified Monash Model which is a system that categorises metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas according to both geographical remoteness and town size.
The MMM classification is numbered 1-7, 1 being metropolitan, through to 7 being very remote.
It’s not just capital cities that are categorized as 1, towns such as Mandurah in WA and Newcastle in NSW are also MMM1 because of the location and town size.
The Regional Arts Fund has been running for over twenty years and Regional Arts Australia has been managing it for seventeen years. Can you tell us some interesting stats and figures about the RAF?
Recently we have published a report on the outcome of the RAF from the four-year period 2012-2016. During that time there were 1458 projects delivered so we named the publication Impact 1458.
As the person who collates all of the data, I’m consistently impressed by the scale of the outputs. For example, over 3.97 million people benefited from RAF projects in the 2012-16 period. This includes participants, audiences and the artists and arts workers themselves.
Partnerships are another impressive statistic, in the 2012-16 period, 3,105 partnerships were formed as a result of RAF projects. Forming a partnership takes time and effort. That 3,105 number represents so much more than a support letter. Forming a partnership takes conversations, listening, exchanging ideas and building shared visions for communities.
The sheer amount of passion, creativity and hard work that has been poured into achieving all these outcomes is huge, and it’s a credit to the regional arts sector across Australia.
Each project has an impact for the artists, participants, audiences and communities involved. Sometimes the data can tell us about the impact, but often it’s the stories and images that provide an insight into the positive impacts that the projects have. See our collection of case studies for stories about individual RAF projects.
Can you name a few previous RAF projects that have really stood out to you as being extraordinary?
There’s so many! It’s a really competitive fund, so the projects that receive funding really are quality projects.
I love projects that are creative in their collaborations. So, collaborating with an existing group that may not have arts expertise. The project then brings arts expertise to an existing group or event. Channel Country Ladies Day in outback Queensland is a good example. The day has been running for about 12 years and they recently brought in an arts program to compliment what was already happening. This lifted the outcomes of the project in general and provided really meaningful ways for participants to gain artistic skills and to connect with each other. The beauty and effectiveness of the arts is that it reflects the human experience, so it’s a powerful tool.
These projects can literally change people’s lives. The experience of someone who is socially isolated or struggling with mental health issues who then participates in a RAF project – this can turn the situation around. In a larger context, sustainable economic development can impact entire towns.
In the first sentence, you mentioned that the RAF supports sustainable cultural development. What actually is sustainable cultural development? And how do you do it?
Sustainability is about longevity and resources, so sustainable cultural development, in this context, involves arts projects that can be on-going or that lead to other activity. For example, a quick response recipient might undertake some professional development that leads to future projects and networks in their field – this is sustainable in that an amount of funding provided for the activity has led to ongoing activity and raised the profile of the artist.
We look at sustainable development in social, cultural and economic terms.
An example of cross-sector partnerships which have led to sustainable economic development is a project in Thallon, Queensland – Celebrating Thallon’s Culture, Heritage and Identity. Thallon Progress Association received a Community Project Grant to work with two professional mural artists to create a mural titled “The Watering Hole” on Thallon’s giant grain silos. The mural represented icons of the district including a majestic sunset, The Moonie River, Indigenous culture, wildlife and agricultural heritage. The project aimed to engage the Thallon community to celebrate and share what they love about their town, and increase tourism to assist with diversifying the local economy.
This project was the first of its kind in Queensland and ten partnerships (7 financial and 3 in-kind) came together to make this project possible. This project brought together members of Thallon’s Indigenous community (consultation about the imagery and launch ceremony), Thallon State School Students (workshops with the artists), Seniors and local artists and received highly positive feedback from the community. The project gained positive media attention and has lead to an increased numbers of visitors to the town.
Having read hundreds of applications in your time, can you tell us what your top tips are for those applying to the RAF?
Have a good think about it before you apply and ask yourself: Does my project align with the objectives of this fund?
Grant makers (in this case the Government and the Regional Program Administrators) are essentially seeking outcomes. It’s an exchange of funding for outcomes, so try to look objectively at your idea or project and identify if the outcomes you want to achieve line up with the outcomes the funding provider wants to see.
Read the guidelines! The guidelines spell out all the details of the fund. Everything about eligibility is in there. Really take the time to read and understand the guidelines and ask questions of the funding providers if you are not sure.
I like to have a printed copy and some highlighters or sticky notes and sit with no distractions. I would encourage applicants to spend time getting to know the guidelines. This will ultimately save time in the end.
When writing your application be clear and concise. Keep the language simple and get someone to proof read before you submit, preferably someone who isn’t familiar with the project. This way they can tell you if it’s clear to an outsider. Sometimes applicants are so deeply involved in their projects that they skim over vital information, or leave crucial bits out.
If you’re not ready on time, wait for the next round. If it’s a great project idea, it will still be a great idea next year. Use the year to build relationships and support for the project and talk to the funding provider well in advance of application time. We have developed a resource kit for applicants, have a look here for some helpful tools in planning your RAF project.
What suggestions do you have for someone who has never applied for a grant before?
Firstly, work out what you need the money for and how much you need. Get really clear on this, and then look for grants to match. Too often we see applicants manipulating their project to try to make it fit the fund. I believe it should be the other way around. Build the idea, then seek appropriate support for that idea.
When you find some grants to apply for read the guidelines. I mean really read them. Print them off, sit with a cup of tea and no distractions. Use highlighters and make notes. It’s essential to understand if you are eligible and what the grantmakers are looking for. Put in the time up front to avoid the disappointment of missing out later.
Allow time. It takes time and effort. If it was really easy then everyone would be doing it. People often say to me “I’m not a grants person”. No one is born a grants person. No one understands at first. You have to make the effort to understand the guidelines and read what is being offered. It’s a learning process.
My first big grant, as an applicant, I decided not to go for it and to delay the project for a year to make it stronger. This was one of the best decisions I made. I read the guidelines and realised just how much support material was required and that I didn’t have time to do it well, so I planned it for the following year. This gave me time to plan it really solidly and to write a good budget and application. The application was successful and the project was much stronger than it would have been the previous year.
Are there any common mistakes that you see which you would encourage applicants to look out for?
The most common mistake is submitting a great application for a grant that you’re not eligible for. It’s awful to realise that someone has spent that much time on the application without checking the eligibility criteria. Check the eligibility criteria! Then call your Regional Program Administrator and have a chat with them.
Another common mistake is a sloppy budget. Don’t leave the budget until the last minute. The budget is what you are asking support for, so know what you are asking for and be clear on what you need.
Letters of support. These are evidence that you have consulted with your community about the project. This is where a lot of applications fall down. If it’s only you that wants your project, it’s not really cultural development, that’s just one artist wanting to do a thing. Competitive applications demonstrate that the community are engaged and have a strong desire to be involved.
Finally, if you want all RAF recipients to remember one thing, what would it be?
Grant makers are on your side. The people that administer the grants want to see you succeed and they are there to help you. It’s a good idea to speak with them, over the phone or email or attend an information session. Don’t be shy. Give the grants manager a call and ask them for advice. Sound out your ideas with them.
Thank you so much Mary Jane!