Five Things We've Loved in 2020
Which was otherwise completely rubbish...
It would be difficult to think of a year that could be worse than 2020 has been. As we were all merrily making our new year's resolutions on December 31st 2019, Covid was already secretly ripping through Wuhan and making its way abroad, too. In February we realised just how far it had spread, and by March the world came to a standstill. The human cost of Covid is obviously the biggest tragedy. But various sectors have also been particularly horribly impacted, including the arts. For galleries, theatres and any other in-person forms of art, its obvious how Covid has halted what can usually be done.
With writing its less obvious that lockdown is necessarily terrible and there are whispers of agents bogged down in endless submissions of lockdown stories. Surely being stuck at home, and maybe even furloughed or made redundant, would leave plenty of time to write? Maybe for some, but not for those who rely on things like bar work to pay for their writing 'lifestyle'. Anyone who is remotely financially unstable, anyone in what Guy Standing calls the 'precariat' class of zero hours contracts and the gig economy, has been hit hard and that includes most writers.
But there have been brilliant things happening in the arts, even in 2020, and there is hope for creators struggling to find the means to bring their ideas to fruition. We've brought together five things that we loved this horrible year, some of which we hope will give you inspiration and means to get your work off the ground in 2021.
1. The White Pube Writer’s Grant – in collaboration with Creative Debuts
The White Pube is a space where its creators, Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad write, post images, and podcast in an irreverent, and down to earth way predominantly about art, as well as the conditions of its production, and reception (the industry).
There is so much great stuff on their site and their social accounts attached to it, with a real spirit of generosity behind it all which is too rare in the hyper competitive arts world, whether visual or literary. They’ve recently added an incredible and growing ‘funding library’ to their site which explains what different funds are, and how to make successful applications, with real examples of funding applications that have worked.
They’ve been at this for years now, but what really caught our eye in 2020 was their new writer’s grant awarding £500 a month to working class writers in the UK.
So far, they’ve awarded money to Ruskin Smith, David Ishaya Osu, Keziah Hodgson and Amelia Lane who, themselves, have all done great things this year.
The fund is in collaboration with Creative Debuts which is another organisation doing hard but amazing work to get creatives recognised and help them to survive and thrive. Their stated aim is “to make art more accessible and to tackle the hurdles faced by undiscovered creatives,’ and they have other grants available besides the Writer’s Grant with the White Pube.
It’s not just about money, both the White Pube and Creative Debuts are helping to forge networks of undiscovered, or less discovered creatives who deserve recognition. But all too often concepts like ‘community’, ‘solidarity’ or ‘empowerment’ are used in place of concrete support. The money side of things, though more prosaic, is really important, because without fair pay, or without grants while fair pay is lacking, those creatives just could not focus on their work. Both organisations have been really exciting to watch in 2020.
2. The Bigger Pot of Money made available by Arts Council England for arts projects and Developing Your Creative Practice
More about money…
Arts Council England have reopened their Project Grants with a budget of £77.9 million available until April 2021 and their Developing Your Creative Practice fund has widened its net of who can apply with £18 million total funding available.
If you are a writer, you can absolutely apply for the latter. You can see on their website examples of writers who have submitted successful funding applications in the past and guidance on how to apply yourself. Although it can seem hard to get opportunities as a writer, all sorts of different types of people and projects can be successful at gaining this type of funding. It’s really important not to be daunted by the prestigious nature of something like Arts Council England and to just get your head down and put together an application.
We will help any writer whose work we take on to publish to make successful funding applications to these bigger and better known funders. When you submit your work to firstname.lastname@example.org let us know that you want to make a funding application and we can begin supporting you in doing that straight away when we accept your work.
3. McSweeney’s books this year and their gorgeous forthcoming 2021 releases
If you already know about McSweeney’s you’re most likely to have encountered their Internet Tendency, posting humourous stories, comments and snippets each day since 1998.
But they are also an independent non-profit publishing company based in San Francisco putting out Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Illustoria and an ever-growing selection of books under various imprints, all with beautiful designs.
This year, at Lafiy Press, we particularly loved The Black Imagination curated by Natasha Marin, with striking cover art by Vanessa German, and cannot wait for the 2021 releases, especially Spilt Milk by Courtney Zoffness.
They have their own bookshop which is a great place to buy books so that your shopping can be part of the kind of virtuous circles we are always talking about.
4. The success of beautiful projects on Everpress
Another example of how to change culture with business models based on principles other than greed is the incredible Everpress.
They describe themselves as “a genuine alternative to the tyranny and wastefulness of conventional retail.” To put it simply, they allow creators to upload their designs to products which are marketed and sold on Everpress. They use a pre-order model – if you get 5 or more preorders, and only then, your design goes to print. This means there is no waste of bulk orders, and artists don’t need to gamble their own money on how many items they think they can sell.
Sometimes the proceeds go to the designer artists, and sometimes to the causes those artists choose to support.
This year, we’ve bought and loved Michael Challita and Iman Raad’s long sleeve t-shirt for Beirut
And the Painting a Better Tomorrow t-shirt for Black Lives Matter
5. HowTheLightGetsIn’s virtual reality festivals in May and September
When Covid saw everyone’s plans ruined, it hit big live events really hard – as everyone probably knows by now. One of the companies affected was the Institute of Art and Ideas and its HowTheLightGetsIn festivals. These events are a rare example of big cultural get togethers that have world famous speakers, but are not in cahoots with the publishing giants, so also make space for new and outsider voices. Both of their 2020 ideas festivals had to be cancelled so, like many other events, they took their offering online.
The end product was a bit like a computer game but where you kept bumping into people like Roger Penrose, George the Poet, Adjoa Andoh, Kehinde Andrews and Paul Krugman debating all the biggest ideas in science, politics, arts and philosophy in gorgeously designed virtual venues. Hats off to Olivia Robinson for her stunning designs.