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How we got arts funding of £25,000

Dr Gillian Rice explains how her practice commissioned art worth nearly £50,000, half of which was met by funding, half by the partners themselves

Dr Gillian Rice explains how her practice commissioned art worth nearly £50,000, half of which was met by funding, half by the partners themselves

When we decided to build a new surgery at Bedminster Family Practice, Bristol, we thought hard about the kind of atmosphere we wanted to create. Having worked for many years in a converted Victorian house with a wealth of period features, we were anxious not to move to a soulless, clinical environment that might feel alien to staff and patients, many of whom loved the domestic feel of the original building.

My interest in using the arts in a health care environment started in 2000 when I obtained funding from the Poetry Society to have a poet-in-residence at the surgery for six months. Soon after, two art therapists worked with us for a year.

Having introduced the arts into the culture of the practice, we could see how artists might be able to help us shape the kind of environment we wanted when the opportunity arose to design and build new premises. I knew we would need help if we wanted to secure funding for artwork so I approached an experienced art consultant, Lesley Greene.

Lesley helped devise an arts strategy for the practice and submit an application for £30,000 funding to Arts Council England (ACE). This was a time-consuming business, even with Lesley writing the bulk of the application.

After putting a great deal of work into research for the bid we were bitterly disappointed when ACE turned us down. We were told one reason our bid failed was that many applications from large hospitals were for similar amounts and given the scale of our building project ACE felt our funding bid was too high. So we submitted a revised application with a request for £12,500 funding, and second time around our bid was successful.

I knew this award on its own would not go far, so using information provided by ACE on other bodies that fund arts projects I contacted numerous organisations to try to secure additional funding. The hard work paid off. Awards for All, a Lottery grants programme aimed at local communities, provided £5,000 towards the artwork in our two children's play areas.

The Greater Bristol Foundation (now known as the Quartet Community Foundation) makes grants to voluntary organisations and community groups in the Greater Bristol area and it provided an extra £3,000.Of this, £2,000 was used for artwork in the play areas and £1,000 to run poetry workshops for patients, giving them an opportunity to write text that could be incorporated into the final art commissions.

Arts & Business, an organisation that helps business people support the arts, awarded us £1,000 through its Strike a Match scheme (aimed specifically at first-time business sponsors of the arts). It also suggested I seek sponsorship for our art projects from local and national businesses. I spent many hours phoning and writing to companies but the only sponsorship we attracted was from accountancy firm KPMG which offered £1,500 towards the cost of our project to produce a huge wall mural depicting the history of the practice.

Paperwork nightmare

Finding my way round various funding systems was a nightmare as each one has their own procedures to be followed and a specific application form to be completed.

Awards for All would not accept an application directly from the surgery so the PCT had to apply on our behalf (although I filled out all the necessary paperwork). Some grants, such as those managed by the Quartet Community Foundation, are only available to small charities, community groups or local voluntary organisations, but luckily we had set up a patient participation group in 2003 which met the eligibility requirements.

The patient participation group offered to fundraise for the art projects and to date has contributed about £1,000. As the artwork was designed to improve the surgery environment for patients, and the group was heavily involved in one of the art projects, I nominated the group for the RCGP's patient participation award in 2004. We were joint- winners and our £1,250 share of the prize money helped to pay for the wall mural.

Altogether we secured more than £25,000 of funding for the art commissions. To increase the arts budget still further, the three property-owning partners agreed to contribute another £20,000 as we felt it was so important to create an inspiring environment in the new building. We contributed about £7,000 each, a relatively small sum in the context of a building worth £2 million into which we were buying a share.

The old surgery had pretty gardens that would be missing in the more urban setting of our new premises, so we were keen for the artwork in the new surgery to be loosely based on the theme of nature.

Bristol artists Annie Lovejoy and Mac Dunlop developed this theme and created some wonderful features for the new building ­ beautiful glazing in the entrance doors to the surgery, a lighting sculpture that chan-ges colour in response to outside air temperature and an enormous aquarium containing poetic text (as well as fish!) to mention just a few.

Uplifting environment

The artwork has helped to create an unusual and uplifting environment for patients and staff and the response from both groups has been overwhelmingly positive.

Raising funds for the art commissions and being closely involved in project management consumed hundreds of hours of my time over a three-year period, but the enjoyment I get from working in such a beautiful environment, and the pleasure it gives to others, has made it well worth the effort. If you'd like to do something similar, consider employing an art consultant to help you, and do use the information provided by ACE ( to help.

Gillian Rice is a GP in Bedminster, Bristol

tips on raising funds

  • Do extensive research into funding bodies
  • Make your bids for funding realistic
  • Be prepared to invest lots of time
  • Approach businesses, both local and national
  • Make use of patient participation groups to fundraise
  • Consider using an arts consultant

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