I found out about the project for our local high street when my flatmate brought home a postcard advertising the New Windows on Willesdsen Green project. It sat in my handbag for a while and took attending another event for me to realise that this project was being run by Meanwhile Space CIC. Lesson one – it pays to be alert to things happening around you!!
I contacted Meanwhile Space to enquire about the project and it (luckily) turned out that my questions came before the deadline to apply for space in an empty parade of shops. A quick meeting with one of the project staff got me onto their mailing list and ensured I received an application form.
Filling in an application form is an art in itself – how much do you put in, what do you leave out? In this instance I had had the idea to open a gallery milling around in my mind for sometime. Every now and then when I have a clear out I’ll find notes on what a potential gallery could be like, on the back of an envelope in an old book etc. I had the basic idea but it required practical research to flesh the idea out.
More than that – it required me to do a lot of talking to people to bring them on board with my idea. You can run a project single-handedly – but if you want it to be successful then surely you’ll need people to help and to support your project. I started by talking to friends, family and work colleagues, to neighbours and to other local shop owners. All this eventually filtered through into the application form – from great ideas to insight on practical considerations.
Once I had the information down and in the application form I sent it out to family members and friends to review. An incredibly kind friend proofread a draft and made helpful suggestions to tauten the language. When you get so involved in writing something it can become hard to see the woods for the trees and so an objective outside eye is very helpful to check the wording.
The application form went in on time and then were several days of waiting to see if it had been successful to get me through stage one of bidding for the empty shop space. I spent all day on the day of reckoning alternatively checking my email and phone and by 5pm had convinced myself that my bid had been unsuccessful. I began to mentally progress my idea down different pathways – could I take the project plan to a bank or a social entrepreneur for business start-up? At ten past 5 – the email pinged into my inbox: The bid was successful and I had been invited to pitch for space.
A new round of research and worry now began!
First things first – one should always carefully read what the person or organisation you are pitching to wants from you. I admit I skim read the email and somehow formed the idea in my head that I had 15 minutes to fill – which is a considerable amount of talking and persuading time. I began to think of fanciful notions such as putting together recordings from local people saying how much they liked my ideas, to inviting the panel to wear blindfold or glasses to mimic certain sight loss conditions (my particular gallery idea has a remit to provide audio description and sound art for blind and partially-sighted people). Re-reading made it clear that I had five minutes to sell the idea and a further 15 minutes for questions. Now 5 minutes seemed to short. I wrote myself index cards of the main points under the specified headings – but in the end I probably gabbled through the pitch and didn’t stick to my self-imposed discipline/narrative. I did also put together a list of people to be involved in the project with photos of participants – to help the evaluation team visualise the involvement they would be getting.
On the day of the pitch a friend came along to escort me to the venue for much needed support – a few deep breaths and I was into the pitch session. The panel had five members – across a spectrum of the local council, business, a local person, and project partner representatives (Meanwhile Space and the Architecture Foundation).
Smile – do remember to smile! Not only is it friendly and engaging, but it probably helped to relax you on the inside. I’m constantly amazed at the numbers of people I see with worry lines etched into their foreheads and no idea of the impact it has on others!
The pitch was by no means textbook or perfect. I spent too long on some areas – but as the panel seemed to be nodding heads and finding my answers satisfactory (i.e. leading to more in depth questions and comments that the ideas were liked) – I came away with the impression that I’d at least given it my best shot.
Later on when I’d secured one of the units for the gallery I bumped into a guy who’d also bid to run a gallery in the same process. What meant his bid didn’t go through and mine did, is something I can only speculate on; but I do know the amount of research I put into the application. If the bid is ‘local’ (and the council are going to be assessing it) read their policies on arts and cultural engagement. All councils publish this stuff on their websites. See where they come in terms of ranking on the multiple index of deprivation – do they have work to do with specific communities? Are there high proportions of young people, old people, immigrants, people lacking basic English, lacking skills and qualifications? What can you offer to these groups?
Key to success is most likely enthusiasm and the drive to take ideas though to practical reality. You can have a great idea and set this out in the written application form – but when you get to the pitch, you need to be thinking about the ‘hows’. How will you deliver? Is your work plan practical and realistic? If you are successful will you actually be able to do the things you are promising?
I suspect I went overboard in my application and so at the interview stage there was some real picking over how much of the plans I’d set out, could realistically happen in the short time frame of the meanwhile lease. This is a good moment to come back to earth and to think sensibly about your project: What does it need? Who is on board? What resources can you beg, borrow or fund raise for?
To conclude – I had several more days of waiting to hear after the pitch, to see if I’d secured the shop space. Yet again I convinced myself that I wouldn’t have been successful (sometimes its better to anticipate disappointment, just in case). But as you can see from the rest of the posts – the team liked the ideas!
For more advice on pitching see: