FEAST: Re-Ignition, funding to support artist engagement in communities

FEAST invests in community and artist-led projects and events that break new ground. Its specific purpose is to generate arts and cultural activity in towns, villages and parishes across Cornwall in a way that is highly visible to the public.

FEAST is an arts funding organisation co-funded by Cornwall Council and Arts Council England. It supports artists across Cornwall to generate arts and cultural activity which has a significant impact on communities. COVID-19 forced FEAST to respond rapidly to ensure the needs of artists and their communities were met during lockdown. They funded a range of projects which enabled communities to reflect, connect and be creative.

The challenge

FEAST invests in community and artist-led projects and events that break new ground. Its specific purpose is to generate arts and cultural activity in towns, villages and parishes across Cornwall in a way that is highly visible to the public. Any project it funds must meet the following criteria:

  • Has quality and the ability to excite.
  • Demonstrates an innovative approach to developing new audiences and involving as wide a range of people of all ages and backgrounds as possible.
  • Presents value for money.
  • Makes a contribution to a network of knowledge and promotion across the FEAST programme so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

With the announcement of lockdown, FEAST recognised a need to support artists and the communities they work with across Cornwall. The need was immediate, as many artists found their work disappeared over night and people were suddenly isolated at home and unable to attend cultural events. Government support for freelancers was not immediately available and this left many artists in a difficult financial position.

The solution

FEAST adapted to the COVID-19 crisis immediately. In the first week of lockdown they launched a new fund called Re – Ignition. The fund was designed to support ideas for creative projects that could be delivered safely in communities, with a specific focus on reaching people who were most affected by the lockdown and on lifting community spirits.

Artists could apply for a grant of up to £1,000, with no match funding required. Decisions about funding were made on a weekly basis for 6 weeks. In total 43 projects were funded from a grants pot of £125,000. Each project was unique in its approach to addressing the pandemic and the restrictions of lockdown.

Projects funded included:

Extraordinary Postcards for Extraordinary Times. The project is an invitation by Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange to document this strange time. The Gallery sent out postcards and a Freepost envelope to anyone anywhere, while targeting West Cornwall. The returned postcards will be featured in an ‘Extraordinary Exhibition’.

The Kernow Bedroom Choir: a short series of tutorials to teach people the melody and harmonies of some of Cornwall’s most cherished folk songs. Participants are invited to learn a part, record themselves and take part in the virtual Kernow Bedroom Choir.

A Stitch in Time: Print artist Caroline Wilkins sent out screenprints to the 200 sewers that are part of the Cornish Clothmask makers group - a group who sewed over 6000 masks 

for community carers. The prints were a surprise thank you present for the sewers. A Stitch in Time marks and celebrates this creative community action.

Queer Circles: Responding to Covid-19, Queer Circles present a DIY Queer culture edition highlighting how isolation plays a part in Queer culture and LGBTQIA+ activism.

Other funded projects include on-line drama workshops, craft packs, distance performances, radio pieces, isolation compilations and sketch books.

The impact

Some of the most successful projects have been those where activity has taken place in isolation but has contributed to a final community collective effort. This includes the potato printed community bunting project, where individuals created their own pieces to contribute to a large-scale community bunting array for future celebrations. The Bedroom Choir has received 150 video submissions from people aged 20 -70 singing their part in songs which will be edited into a final choir compilation.

The aim of the Re-Ignition programme was to ensure creative activities were offered free to beneficiaries. Some projects were designed for people who have limited or no digital engagement.

One of the artists commented:

“The funding was very helpful at motivating us to continue to be creative as artists, and most importantly value our role in the community as artists. Of course, the money helped us to pay our mortgage and bills. but it also gave us an assurance and ambition to provide something to our village that only we could.”

A participant noted:

“Right from the beginning of lockdown [the artist] has been there for all of us, a friendly familiar fun face giving us an infectious burst of daily energy. This has helped us get going and provided a flexible structure for us around home school and work etc. Lock down at times has been hectic and tiring. However, dance completely takes your mind away and you focus. The challenges have got us thinking in a different way and will be one of the positive memories of all this."

How is the new approach being sustained?

As FEAST moves to the next stage of commissioning projects, they are considering how best to deploy resources in a restricted environment. What will people want in the coming months and what will be the impacts of social distancing on cultural activities and people’s attitudes to each other?

With the full backing of funders, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council, they are launching Re–Ignition 2. This funding aims to harness the collective intelligence and energy of Cornwall’s creative sector to address significant issues facing communities. 

Cllr Julian German, Leader of Cornwall Council and Vice-Chair of Culture, Tourism & Sport Board said: 

"We recognise the vital contribution the arts are making during COVID-19 and FEAST are uniquely placed to support the creation of art which benefits communities across Cornwall. Through their work they have not only supported artists but they have connected people and provided hope, joy and happiness in uncertain times. The arts are key to supporting the recovery of Cornwall post pandemic."

Lessons learned

It was clear that the distinctive local element helped projects compete with online content and that having existing networks as starting points for engagement was really important.  

To support the continued cohesion of communities, a multi-level mix of methods of communication is necessary and with the right creative prompt seems to grow organically. A range of not only digital, but word of mouth and physical local distribution and publicity points are what seem to work best.