Unlocking Potential: The Impact of Unrestricted Funding on Artspace Lifespace

What a difference a grant makes!

Funding serves as the lifeblood for organisations dedicated to serving their missions and nurturing thriving communities. However, not all funding opportunities are created equal. Unrestricted funding offered us a breath of fresh air, flexibility and empowerment in a landscape often dominated by restrictive funding streams.

In 2023, Artspace Lifespace received a transformative gift: unrestricted funding from The People’s Postcode Lottery Good Causes. This marked a pivotal moment, as it was the first time the organization had ever received such support towards its core costs outside of Covid Grants. Prior to this, we often found ourselves navigating the complexities of project grants, stretching our resources thin and overpromising on our capacity just to secure funding. We had also recently received rejections from prominent bodies who didn’t believe funding affordable artist studios was in line with their artistic funding objectives. By entrusting Artspace Lifespace with the autonomy to determine how best to use the funds, it gave us confidence in our mission and vision. This unrestricted funding wasn’t just a financial boost; it was a lifeline, providing the organization with the freedom and flexibility it needed to truly thrive.

A man points to some artwork on the wall of his studio
Artists in their studio at The Island during the 2023 open studios event. Photo credit Laura Montag.

Unrestricted funding empowers organizations to experiment with new ideas, pilot innovative programs, and respond effectively to emerging challenges and opportunities. Without the constraints of specific project outcomes, we felt free to think creatively, push boundaries, take calculated risks, and examine how we could drive meaningful change. Receiving core funding enabled us to take risks on projects like Sparks Bristol. We are, of course, grateful to project grants we received, such as the Vacant Property Arts Council England project grant for Sparks which helped us make some of our dreams for Sparks a reality. But it’s the stability of unrestricted funding that provides the mental space to dream and innovate.

In 2024 we celebrated receiving ‘Openness’ funding for the first time, core funding via the Bristol City Council Cultural Investment Programme. We are sad that due to budgetary constraints, so many worthy organisations were not recommended for funding. It’s easy to assume that some unsuccessful applicants can rely on alternative funding sources such as Arts Council England, philanthropy, or ticket sales. However, these sources are not always sufficient to replace public funding and core costs can soar along with ambition.

Sadly, arts and culture programs often face budget cuts due to financial strain for local governments. When facing budgetary constraints, decision-makers naturally prioritise services classed as essential, like education, public safety, and infrastructure over cultural programs. However, the arts are not just nice to have, cultural activities contribute significantly to the local economy by attracting tourism, creating jobs, improving wellbeing and fostering vibrant communities.

Unrestricted funding isn’t just about supporting individual organisations; it’s about building resilient communities. By investing in the core infrastructure and capacity of grassroots initiatives like Artspace Lifespace, donors contribute to the collective strength and vibrancy of the social sector, empowering communities to address complex challenges and create positive change from within.