Mediamatic's project developer Anne Hofstra had prepared a presentation about the history and the inner workings of the 'Penny for your Thoughts' project. Being responsible for submitting funding applications on behalf of Mediamatic as well, she explained how she has a good oversight over these processes and is motivated to make Mediamatic's own small funding system as accessible as possible for artists. “It’s nice that we can look at Penny for your Thoughts from the perspective of wanting to create a more inclusive funding system and seeing it as a playground, something we can experiment with“, she said.
History of 'Penny for your Thoughts'
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Anne told us, Mediamatic received some money [from whom?], with the idea of passing it on to artists who need it. In order to do this, the Mediamatic team developed the idea for an open call, in order to encourage artists to formulate their existing ideas and give them the chance to publish their proposals for a compensation of 500€. The first round of this open call launched two years ago, and since then two more rounds of proposal submissions have followed.
Director Willem Velthoven added that while Mediamatic does not have the capacity to make all of these proposed projects happen in-house, they nonetheless wanted to provide encouragement for artists to take this step towards realising their projects.
Anne agreed: “The goal was to create an inclusive and easy win-win situation between the artists and Mediamatic: we get to see interesting new project proposals, and the artists get to develop and publish their ideas and receive 500€ for it.“ The publication also means that artists get to claim their idea and share it with other people, as well as linking them to the rest of the Mediamatic network.
You can have a look at all the previously published proposals here.
There are a few rules that proposals must adhere to: they must be new ideas, and should fit within the (very broad) interests of Mediamatic, must be written in English or Dutch, and be submitted before a deadline. For now, there are two deadlines per year, one at the beginning of the new year and one during the summer.
In order to submit a proposal, artists need to fill out a google form, which is made available on the website. Anne brought printed copies of the form to the roundtable and passed them out to the guests, so they could provide feedback during our discussion. The application form asks you to fill in your name, write a summary of your project, explain how it fits within Mediamatic's interests, and provide an estimation of the project budget. “We tried to make this from as economic and easy as possible, while already structuring it so that your idea is almost ready for publication after filling it out.“, Anne explained.
The first round of 'Penny for your Thoughts', launched at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, was aimed only at artists who had successfully worked with Mediamatic before. During the second round, the open call was shared with everyone subscribed to the Mediamatic newsletter. Finally, for the third and most recent round, it was communicated on social media and shared on different websites, trying to reach as many artists as possible. “This time, we received 56 applications“, Anne told us. “The most we ever got!“
Impressed with the incoming proposals during the most recent round, the 'Penny for your Thoughts' team decided to offer some of the artists the opportunity to present their proposals to an audience in addition to the publication on the website. This is how the project developed into a three-part lecture series art Mediamatic, during which a total of nine artists were given a stage to present their work and ideas.
Submitting a (successful) proposal thus leads to one of three outcomes:1. a publication on the website plus a 500€ compensation, 2. publication and compensation plus a public presentation, 3. publication, compensation, presentation, and the option to realise your project at Mediamatic.
How are proposals evaluated?
Proposals are evaluated and selected using the very broad criteria of whether or not they fit within Mediamatic’s areas of interest, and whether or not they are realistically executable. Proposals selected for the public presentation evenings are additionally examined under the lens of creating an interesting and coherent programme.
The jury for 'Penny for your Thoughts' consist of five members, including the directors, the programme coordinator, as well as two interns working on the project. Each of the members assesses the proposals and votes on them, with the interns having a combined vote. The selection of proposals is then passed on to the board, which makes the final decision on which proposals to support financially.
“Not every proposal is published“, Anne explained, “but we are quite lenient“.
“Do you also communicate to the artists if proposal is not going to be published?“, one of the artists asked, and Anne replied that yes, rejection is also communicated, and artists are even compensated for their time and effort with a small gesture in the form of a voucher.
Is there a quota?
Artist Jenny Konrad asked if there is a quota of how many proposals per round Mediamatic is able to support.
“Not at the moment“, Anne replied. “But if we get more submissions, we might need to start doing that. For now we can afford to just look at the quality of the proposals.“
This sparked a debate: is it fortunate to be able to support everyone who submits a proposal, or would it be better to become less of a secret tip and therefore potentially available to a wider range of artists?
'Penny for your Thoughts' as a stepping stone
One of the ideas behind 'Penny for your Thoughts' is that artists can use it as a stepping stone between thinking of a new project idea and applying for serious funding. Organising your thoughts and submitting a low-bar proposal which comes with a publication and a small compensation can help move a project into reality and make the complicated application processes for big funds less daunting.
Feedback - You don’t have to bake the apple pie
Anne then invited the artists around the table to share their perspectives.
Artist Robin Waart shared that among his friends who are also artists, there often is a sense of desperation about funding and the work life balance. This applies not only to neurodiverse artists - the project-economy in the arts makes it difficult for everyone to develop meaningful long-term work.
Another artist also pointed out that the project-based economy of he art sector doesn’t reflect a healthy or natural way of working for many, if not most, artists. In an artistic career, there will be times of flourishing, and bad or “unproductive“ times in between, which is normal for a creative career. It would be great to have a relationship of trust between artists and funding bodies that goes beyond a project-by-project basis.
Part of the project economy is the constant demand to formulate your ideas from A to Z, to write a proposal and then stick with it when it comes to executing your project. This can present an additional burden for autistic artists, because they tend to take this very seriously - and writing a proposal takes a lot longer when you believe that you will have to adhere to every detail of it when you actually work on your project.
Anne shared a fitting metaphor on this topic: In a funding application, you don’t have to bake the apple pie. You just have to show that you can get the ingredients. “So when I read the proposals“, she explained, “I don’t need the projects to be completely done and thought out. I just need to see that your way of thinking and exciting the project is realistic and cool.“
Willem added: “Does this mean that we should make that explicit?“, and Anne and Robin agreed that that would be a good idea.
Do we need an hourly max?
Robin artists also shared that he has spent entire summers on funding applications, unpaid and exhausted and unable to work on anything else. The application can become more work than the actual work, he said.
“Maybe we should add an hourly max“, Anne brainstormed, “As in, you should only work on it for x amount of hours…“ This was met with some disapproval around the table as people started imagining a countdown that ticks down while you work on your application.
Instead, the application could state explicitly that we are looking for executable proposals, not fully thought-out projects, in order to prevent excessive perfectionism which leads to enormous time investments, we agreed.
Another helpful feature, Jenny suggested, could be indications for a maximum number of words or sentences for some of the questions in the form, and other artists agreed that this would be useful for organising one's thoughts and not going overboard with the responses.
Check-in at the beginning of the process
Another artist added that next to perfectionism, there is also the problem of hyper focus. “It is very hard to say “just don’t get into hyper focus““, she explained, “but it could be helpful to have a moment of communication at the beginning of the application process.“ This could come in the form of a phone call at the start of the process, to help the artist put things into perspective and clarify the expectations.
Jenny mentioned that hyper focus also has a lot to do with deadlines. “Something I noticed around myself and other neurodiverse people is this wonderful ability to get into hyper focus right before the deadline“, they shared. Often, they then get so caught up in the details that they miss the deadline, so they have to wait another half year for the next one to come around.
Anne assured us that when she receives emails from artists who just missed the deadline, that’s usually always fine - their proposals will still be considered.
Jenny responded that this is something many people are not aware of. “I’d be one hour past the deadline and think 'ah well, next year…'“, they said.
Designer Arjan van Amsterdam brought up the idea of soft or internal deadlines. “You could say 'This is the deadline, but don’t worry'“, he explained.
Willem summarised: “So we could try to find a way of letting people miss the deadline without missing it.“ Exactly how to accomplish this can be a design challenge for later.
Jenny also asked whether there is a practical reason for having the deadlines every half year instead of more frequently, such as every quarter, since this could help to lower the bar for applying. Anne responded that this is due to practical reasons, the judging process, presentations and communication taking time. However, the current structure is not set in stone, and more deadlines are something we can experiment with.
Another artist came up with a different idea: just ignoring the deadline altogether, and submitting your proposal whenever you have it ready, so that it will be evaluated under one deadline or another eventually. At the moment, the Mediamatic website does not allow for this strategy, since the application form is closed and re-evaluated following each round of applications. However, it could be an option to leave the form open throughout the evaluation process, so that it is always possible to submit new proposals.
Another suggestions from Jenny was that the 'Penny for your Thoughts' deadlines could be oriented towards the deadlines of the big funds, such as the Mondriaan, so that they serve as a stepping stone in the larger application process also timing-wise.
From soft deadlines, to no deadlines, to strategically placed deadlines, we heard a lot of good suggestions which the 'Penny for your Thoughts' team will be able to discuss and play with for upcoming rounds.
A funding workshop
Another artist mentioned that while he has no issues thinking of new ideas and projects, it is the planning and budget estimation portion of the application form which causes difficulty for him. “Are you able to make a realistic estimation of how much this project will cost?“, he echoed the question from the form. “No, I am not!“
“So what you are saying is, we should have a funding workshop“, Anne responded.
Photographer Marna Slappendel chimed in enthusiastically: “I’d really like a workshop actually, how does funding work…“
Being good at applying for and securing funding is a different job from being good at making art, other artists agreed, and a funding workshop was added to our list of suggestions.
Different application formats
Artist and A/Artist co-curator Annelies Wina Doom brought up the idea of allowing for different application formats. It could be helpful to not only accept written submissions, but to also allow artists to pitch their proposals live or submit a video application. She shared how, following her own graduation from the art academy, she attended an event where artists could pitch their ideas live in order to receive funding. She managed to deliver an enthusiastic pitch and be awarded the grant. “If I’d have had to send in a written application, I would have never ever gotten that money“, she told us.
Another artist also mentioned the idea of video applications, which is a requirements for some funds.
There was general agreement that allowing for different application formats would make the process more inclusive. However, it could also make it more difficult for the jury to compare proposals among each other.
To this, Anne responded that the comparison would not really be an issue, and it is more important to give artists the opportunity to apply in a way that corresponds to their strengths. However, a big part of 'Penny for your Thoughts' is the publication of the proposals on the website, which would look different if proposals came in the form of video applications or live pitches.
Help with editing - different approaches
One of the artists shared that she usually hires someone to help her edit texts when it comes to bigger applications. In addition, she wants to pay this person a fair hourly wage, for which she would use part of the funding which the application is for, should she receive it - which is of course not guaranteed. “If the art funds could cover this preparatory cost as well, that would be great!“, she stated.
At the moment, Mediamatic offers help with editing after a proposal is accepted and before it is published on the website, but not earlier in the application process.
Robin shared that in these situations, he usually asks a friend to look over his texts, in return for helping the friend out in the future.
Willem added that financing fair hourly wages for artist’s individual editorial help is not feasible for Mediamatic, since it involves undefined and open-ended costs. The alternative friend-to-friend approach that Robin mentioned does not involved additional support from Mediamatic and is therefore perfectly feasible. In the context of 'Penny for your Thoughts', a possible compromise could be to offer a small symbolic compensation for anyone who helps artists write their proposal. For example, there could be a button on the website to specify that you are working on a proposal together with someone towards a soft deadline. This way, Mediamatic becomes aware that you are working on something, and is able to support you in a symbolic way, with a small sum of, say, 120€.
The artist responded that while this idea could be helpful in practice, it also comes with a number of problems. On the one hand, the ultimate goal should be a fair system in which everyone gets paid appropriately for the work that they do, and not with just a symbolic sum. On the other hand, allocating money to editors in this way takes away from the overall funding available for artists, with less proposals being accepted. In a situation where funds are limited as they are, this needs to be carefully considered.
Jenny added that if we really consider 'Penny for your Thoughts' a step towards applying for bigger funding, it might not be necessary to have an editor beforehand, since that would be reserved for the next step. Instead, this smaller application should be made as easy and accessible as possible so that artists can write it themselves without help. Then afterwards, the 500€ compensation could be used to fairly pay an editor for help with the bigger funding applications. Lowering the bar for this application form could be done in very simple and practical ways, for example by writing “Project (work) Title“ instead of “Project Title“, asking for a “rough“ budget estimation, or adding a sentence limit for some of the open questions, all in order to lower perfectionism - playing with the words in the questions on the application form would already help a lot.
What do we mean by 'inclusive'?
On of the artists mentioned Mediamatic’s four-year-plan, which is called “Autistic explorations“. “Does that mean 'Penny for your Thoughts' should also focus specifically on artists on the spectrum, or do you want to keep it open and make it more inclusive in general?“, she asked.
Willem replied that we don’t want to end up in a situation where people need to prove their neurodiversity in order to submit proposals - “this would not only be nearly impossible, but also opens up a horrible space that we don’t want to be in.“
Funding therapy, speed dating, creating a network
Finally, we discussed a few ways of making the application process less individualised and competitive and more collaborative.
One idea was to provide an option for “funding speed dating“, linking two artists to each other so they can help each other with working on and editing their proposals. There could be a button in the application form saying “I want to work together with someone“, and having an assigned partner throughout the writing process could help with meeting deadlines and other obstacles.
Anne also shared that she sometimes helps artist friends with funding by setting up weekly or monthly “funding therapy“ sessions, during which they discuss new project proposals in a relaxed environment.
Other artists agreed that these are nice ideas which could also help to overcome perfectionism and make applications feel less up in the air.
Conclusions and recap
We concluded the roundtable with a recap of the ideas for making 'Penny for your Thoughts' more accessible that were shared throughout the evening.
From deadlines to funding workshops, more varied application formats like live pitches or videos, collaborative applications, and support for editing work, the roundtable guests had a lot of valuable suggestions, which the 'Penny for your Thoughts' team will take into account for the upcoming rounds of proposals.