5 Practical Tips from Olena Pravylo: How to Apply for Creative Europe for the First Time

Cultural manager and activist, co-founder of the Congress of Cultural Activists Olena Pravylo explains why it is worth applying to the programme and shares her own experience of preparing a project.

Before culture, Olena worked in the advertising business and in event organisation. She worked in PR and marketing, was a coach and a consultant for business companies. However, she had always wanted to do something in the social and cultural sphere. Later, Pravylo began producing films and theatre performances (her first project was Kulish’s “That’s How Huska Perished” at the Kurbas), in addition to staging the Days of Georgian Cinema festival in Ukraine. Following the events on Maidan, Olena moderated discussions between cultural activists that were taking place at the time in the building of the Ministry of Culture. “At some point, we realised that we want to carry out real projects, and not just take part in discussions. We held the Congress of Cultural Activists, subsequently registered an NGO, and started looking for ways to apply for grants,” says Olena Pravylo.

1. How to obtain a grant if you are a small organisation and have never done this before 

In the beginning we obtained (and still do) small grants of up to USD 2,000. Subsequently, we wrote a grant application for the Summer School for Cultural Activism on behalf of one of our colleagues who was a graduate of the US Embassy programme and so had the chance of obtaining a small grant. So we received our first grant.

Later we experimented with formats. Then my colleagues said: “Let’s go to a winter school in the Baltic states! Let’s try applying for a grant.” We wrote to our friends in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Eventually, two of the three countries were willing to receive us. They organised an entire programme for us, provided hotel accommodation and transportation.

We hold Active Citizens training sessions at the British Council, where we teach people how to obtain grants, and we see typical problems: people often think that they won’t be able to find additional financing. Keep in mind, money is not always the main resource. You can give your space, you can work for free, you can finally do something that you’re good at. Sometimes we tend to underestimate our resources and investments.

2. Why it is worth taking part in Creative Europe

It was during our trip to the Baltic states that I first heard of Creative Europe and realised the possibilities it offers. Many people think that it’s all about the creative business, whereas in fact it is first and foremost about cultural and artistic projects. I believe that our artists, filmmakers, cultural managers have to take note of this project. But to obtain grants, they have to know the institution.

Our participation in Creative Europe began when we won a consultation with an expert. The British Council had announced that several experts from different fields were coming to Ukraine. Clymene Christoforou from ISISArts suited us most, as, just like us, she was working on artist residencies projects. We expected the expert to offer advice on how to develop our organisation, but in fact the experts had travelled to Ukraine to establish contacts.

We discussed the idea of a future project in Kyiv, after which the CSM team travelled to the UK, where it began to develop the project. During discussions, it became clear that we needed partners from Europe too. Thus, Kultur Aktiv from Dresden and Creative Kosice from Slovakia, which just like us carry out activism and artistic projects, joined the project.

This project is an idea “corridor” from Ukraine to the UK. It includes artist residencies, critical writing and events.

3. What are the components of a successful project in Creative Europe

There should be a common idea shared by all. The proper distribution of roles in a project is also important. There is a main partner who heads the project and is responsible for the overall management of processes. And then there are partners who add meaningful substance. For example, in our case, CSM provides its professional tool, its expertise. Creative Kosice fulfils the role of communicators, for they have good communication experience, implement a lot of projects with good PR. The British side takes on the role of management and coordination – they keep the project in check and are responsible for the direction of the project.

4. How to build solid partnerships at international level

I believe that international partnerships are about being part of the world in general. When you begin to travel and socialise, you begin to see those possibilities that you did not see up till then in Ukraine. You understand that currently it’s only just beginning here. You can create a business, implement projects, or make a personal professional leap.

We in Ukraine still lack management skills and the knowledge of how to make money. But the way we create projects from scratch evokes admiration and wonder in our European partners. They don’t understand how you can create a project without any money.

For a successful project it is important to establish communication with partners and develop a shared vision. If you have a contact and you understand each other without any problems, then you can continue working together. If communication is a struggle, the person doesn’t understand you, it will be tough for you with such a partner.

There’s lots of communicating in such projects. When it comes to working with foreign partners, immediately multiply the amount of communication you carry out in Ukraine by 5. It is not just about English, but also about cultural differences. While you can say to a Ukrainian partner: “Ok, this line in the budget will be so and so.”, with a foreign partner you will have to explain the intricacies of taxation, justify your calculations, etc. Be prepared for this, otherwise you may feel that the project was not worth all the efforts.

5. How to draft a successful application to Creative Europe

I would recommend to do everything together, so that everyone feels part of the project. For this, meetings are necessary so that all partners understand their roles and responsibilities.

There should be a main partner in the project, who understands the whole picture. You, as a partner, can reinforce the idea. It’s important to have partners from Europe who know other European cultural institutions. It’s important that the experts reading your application know them too and can identify them.

Some partners from Europe prefer to play the roles of “older associates”. Speak to them on the same level, set your conditions, even if you obtain less than a junior partner.

It’s important to stick to your idea, while seemingly playing along, so that you are not swallowed up and left performing some purely technical role.
You should push your idea gently, explain 50 times, perhaps on the 51st occasion they’ll support it. And perhaps you will infect others with it. Sooner or later people will say: “Oh, great, let’s do it after all.”
It’s very important. If you don’t speak out through your idea, you won’t get the pleasures and all the results that you could get from Creative Europe. 

Despite all the difficulties, I advise everyone to try and apply. Moreover, to travel to partners for negotiations in person. It’s a lot of work!

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