ACE will publish refreshed guidance and a new application form for its Strategic Touring Programme after a report highlighted areas for improvement. 

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Arts Council England (ACE) is resisting calls for it to provide longer-term funding through its Strategic Touring Programme.

An independent evaluation of the programme concluded, “three years is too tight for long-term audience development approaches” after it found almost half of grantees think ACE should commit to longer-term funding. The researchers, Annabel Jackson Associates, said longer-term funding would provide “a stronger framework for audience development and retention”.

The Strategic Touring Programme

The researchers examined data from 447 applications and 166 grant offers made to 134 organisations, worth £34m.

  • 36% of successful applications were London based
  • 9% of successful applications toured to London
  • 55% of project funds went to work targeted at areas in the bottom third for arts engagement
  • 55% of projects targeted children, young people or families
  • 25% of projects targeted Black and minority ethnic groups
  • 11% of projects targeted disabled groups

But ACE disagrees, and responded: “We think that funding projects for up to three years provides the opportunity for reasonably long-term initiatives. It is already possible for applicants to reapply for further support to develop, extend or adapt their original project where appropriate.”

The researchers were generally positive about the programme, which since 2011 has awarded 206 grants worth £43.2m. They described it as “important and successful” and having led to “widespread and sustainable changes of practice in the sector”.

The report highlights some areas for development and ACE will publish refreshed guidance and a new application form in response.

The average time grantees took to prepare an application was found to be 25.6 days and non-applicants said this was a barrier to applying, especially for small organisations. The researchers made the case for a two-stage application process to be adopted across the whole programme, with the audience development plan delayed until a second stage, but ACE said this could reduce the number of funding rounds each year.

Instead, ACE will soon allow applicants requesting less than £100k – a group that 40% of successful applicants so far would have fallen in to – to delay submission of their full audience development plan until after their initial application is approved. The plan will become a condition tied to the release of the first funding payment.

“New and better definitions” of tour date status will be introduced to ACE’s grant application form, after 57% of grantees said there should be less of an expectation that touring schedules are already fixed at this stage.

ACE will devise a stronger activity report form, requiring grantees to report back against aims in a consistent way, after researchers highlighted a lack of consistent data.

Successful applicants will also be asked to write a short case study of their project for CultureHive, in order to disseminate key learnings from the programme and to support the development of good practice.

The new guidance and application form will be published in May, but won’t take effect until 18 November.

A photo of Frances Richens