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20 January 2021



by Emma Tompkins

Imagine there is a room in your house that you can’t get into. The door is locked. In that room is a contract for the project or research you’ve always wanted to do, the technical software or practical technique you’ve always wanted to master, or an invitation to the event you’ve always wanted to show your work at.

Now imagine there is a key to this room, and all you need to do to get it is to answer 4 questions.

  1. Why is the door locked?
  2. How did you get to the other side of this door?
  3. What will you do once you get into the room?
  4. What will getting into the room allow you do next?

This, in essence, is the Develop Your Creative Practice application from the Arts Council England (ACE). It is different to a Project Grant (the arts funding route for shows, events and creative projects) because instead of focusing on a final event or audience, the focus is on you.

The key to the application is recognising that you have an established practice and you are looking to develop into new areas and the things preventing you from getting there are things that the monetary benefit of £2,000 to £10,000 could significantly change.

Also, and this is hugely important, if there is an extra barrier between you and the door, and it’s dyslexia shaped or physical impairment shaped (or any other form of access issue shaped) and that means answering the questions is difficult for you to do entirely by yourself then there is a separate £600 available to help you make the application itself. If this is you then email with ‘ACCESS SUPPORT’ in subject for more info on what support is available.

There is also a separate budget to cover your personal access costs for achieving your development plan. Your budget can include personal access costs for delivering or managing your project. It’s included in an eligibility questionnaire as a separate amount. This amount is separate from the £2,000 to £10,000 for your creative development and there is no upper limit to how much you can include – but it should be relevant to your DYCP activity.

What does that mean for a designer?

Well, we know that for so many of us the expense of technology is a hugely prohibitive factor. So yes, you can apply for things like CAD and the training to learn it. There’s been successful applications already for this from designers. It’s also worth thinking about what else makes you stand out as a practitioner, which areas have you always wanted to pursue but haven’t had the dedicated (paid) time to foster the relationships to get you there.

Designers are theatre makers in our own right; can you evidence the groundwork of your interest in areas of performance that push the boundaries of design or visual communication? Have you always been interested in blending a new type of technology into your practice and want to attend a short course to upskill in that area? Do you have a passion to make work that includes an underrepresented sector of a community and for that you need to train or upskill (BSL for example)? Do you feel for your continued viability in this sector that you need to transition and work in a different way?

Is there an artist or group of artists/practitioners who you’d like to meet, shadow and learn from in order to make the kind of work you want to create?

So, want to apply?

First off, ask yourself some questions:

Where are you now and what has brought you to this point?

What is holding you back?

What do you REALLY want to do?

What do you need to change to do it?

Who do you need to help from?

This could be collaborators who help facilitate your growth, teachers who help you upskill, mentors who steer your route forwards, or access to networks that can connect you to the commissioners for the work you want to make.

And this work, skill, growth or network might not be down the road. You can apply for travel to a conference if it is THE conference for your specialism, or THE networking event, or THE training scheme etc. etc.

You can also apply to help make your design practice more sustainable, more accessible for others or more technologically advanced.

Using the fund to network is also a really good use of the money. Seeking out opportunities and partnerships is a way of growing your practice as much as learning a new skill is, showing that you’ve done the research in your application is a good way of showing Arts Council England that you are clued in to your own potential.

You can also focus on the skills and knowledge you need to create a step change in your career.

This could be the scale of work, growth of skills and/or personal creative development. The important thing is to remember that the fund will cover your ability to get into that next area of work rather than make the piece of work itself. It’s the key to the door not the stuff on the table.

Remember to be as specific as possible, the whats and the whys. There will be a lot of applications going for the same pot of money and the more accurate you can be with your intentions and the clearer in your reasoning the better.

There is also an activity plan you will need to complete. Clarity and detail in this will also show that you know exactly how you will realise your goals. As designers we are natural deadline meeters. We work in stages and we know what we need to achieve by when and we get it done. This bit should be a walk in the park!

It’s important to note:

  • These grants are highly competitive, the range of practitioners eligible to apply and the length of time in the industry has been widened to allow greater access. 
  • Grantium can be tricky. This is the back end software Arts Council England uses to support the online application process. It can be difficult to navigate, there are guides out there but it’s always worth asking around to see if anyone has any recent experience. Allow a bit of extra time in your planning for online application writing, and ALWAYS have your application answers in a separate draft file before you upload.

What you can’t apply for:

  • Continuation of existing work with no clear development.
  • University / college fees or living costs. Short training courses (even if they are at universities or educational establishments) are allowed.
  • Film/Cinema/TV as an artform, as opposed to a visual artist or designer using film
  • General R&D for public facing projects (this is what the Project Grant fund is for)
  • Loss of earnings or backdated expenditure. (make sure the the timeline of your plan is in the future)
  • Performers whose proposal is to perform someone else’s work without providing creative input or leadership. (In design speak, the focus needs to be on you and your growth)

The application form

3 written questions (1800 characters each):

  • Please tell us about yourself and your creative practice
  • Tell us about the developmental opportunity you want to undertake, what you hope to get out of it, and how you will go about it
  • Why is this important for your practice at this point, and how will this help create future opportunities?

2 Attachments:

  • Example of your work – link or file. (Your website for example)
  • Supporting documents – written by someone else. (Someone who is a professional link who knows you and your work)

3 Check-box questions (as many as apply):

  • Area of focus
  • Public benefit (Now or future) –  (it’s ok if your development doesn’t have a direct public benefit i.e. software)
  • Let’s Create outcomes

Expenditure budget only – you don’t need match funding. (This means you don’t have to have funding from any other source to apply)

Activity plan – timeline. (You need to complete your plan within a year)



Designers have been successful in their applications in the past. The Arts Council England want artists to survive and grow during this period and we are absolutely worth investing in. The more we show ACE the needs and potential of designers the better.


Facts about the application.

You must be over the age of 18 and you must have been in practise for a minimum of a year (this was previously three but inlight of the pandemic this has been changed). This fund is from the Arts Council England and is therefore only applicable to those applying from England. 

For other UK regions please see

Creative Scotland:

Arts Council of Wales:

Arts Council of Northern Ireland:

Useful Links 

We really like this thread from @GarethCutter on twitter

Sign interpreted guidance:

Video explaining changes to DYCP:

Guidance, case studies and tips:

First time applicants and access support:

Case Studies:


Thank you to ACE for their support in writing this.


Audio version below, read by Rosie Whiting

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