The Award for Civic Arts Organisations

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), in partnership with King’s College London, opens submissions for a new award that celebrates the civic role of arts organisations in society

Offering one award of £100,000 and two of £25,000, the Award for Civic Arts Organisations aims to shine a spotlight on the vital role that arts organisations play in society.

The world has changed rapidly in the last year. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought devastation, but also a reset in how we live our lives and how communities operate. And as we emerge into the ‘new normal’, it is arts organisations that will help us shape the future: culture, creativity and the arts are the basis through which we tell stories of our past, our present and our future, enabling us to realise what it means to be fully human, individually and collectively.

Despite the considerable challenges and uncertainty that the arts sector faces, ‘green shoots’ have been emerging. Arts organisations across the country have channelled the anxieties of this period and boldly reimagined their missions to put their communities first.

From delivering arts packs with food parcels to staging socially distanced carnivals, arts organisations are contributing to rebuilding our communities and restoring much-needed joy and optimism to our lives. As we face the challenges and opportunities of the coming months and years, arts and culture have an important role to play.

However, much of this pioneering work is unknown, even within the arts sector itself. This Award seeks to change that. It will highlight and celebrate civic arts organisations and their response to the pandemic, with funding and further support to continue their work and share learning. The Award will shine a spotlight on the vital role that arts organisations play in sustaining a thriving, creative, and connected society, particularly during challenging times.

This Award builds on the sea change that has been occurring in the arts sector over recent years, with a growing movement of organisations reflecting on their relationship with society. The Foundation’s work on the Civic Role has demonstrated the need for arts organisations to work more closely with their communities if they are to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. At this difficult time, this principle feels even more important.

The Award is part of a suite of initiatives being supported by the Foundation in response to the pandemic. It is focusing on strengthening the arts and cultural sector to respond to urgent community needs, prioritise relevance, and become more inclusive and impactful.

Understandably smaller than others’ interventions given our own limited resources, the Award complements initiatives that are primarily aimed at shorter-term survival. Together, we hope we can provide a route-map towards what a thriving cultural ecology, and the characteristics of individual organisations, may look like in the future.

“Art and culture have such an important role to play in offering hope and inspiration as we navigate the challenges of COVID 19. This generous grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in partnership with King’s College London, recognises the vital civic role of the arts.  

“This government has demonstrated its commitment to culture through an unprecedented £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund, which is already helping so many organisations across the country. 

“I am delighted that these new awards will recognise the remarkable and pioneering work of arts organisations which have risen to the challenge of reinventing their work to help communities far and wide.” Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal, Neil Mendoza

Meet the 10 shortlisted organisations



About the award: including eligibility criteria & how to apply submit an application


Applying through Zealous

Applications are submitted through the Zealous platform. Please click below for registration instructions.

If you don’t have the necessary technology to complete the application, please contact the Foundation at [email protected]
How to register with Zealous


The Panel

The Award recipients will be proposed by an independent panel of judges. The panel is chaired by Baroness Bull (Deborah Bull), Vice President & Vice-Principal (London) and Senior Advisory Fellow for Culture at King’s College London. The other panellists are: David Bryan, Fiona Doring, Anisa Morridadi, Jo Verrent and André Wilkens. Please click below for the full biographies.

The panel


FAQS for applicants

Applications open on 2 November and close at 13.00pm on 30 November. No late entries can be accepted.

Please allow time to create a Zealous account, as entries must be submitted through the Zealous platform.

Applicants will be asked to submit a short written statement (max 200 words) in answer to each of the three questions listed on the application form on Zealous. If this presents difficulties, a two-minute video in answer to each question is also acceptable. This information will be used to select the shortlisted organisations.

Please note that you can only submit one file on your application, whether this is a short written statement or a video.

Longlisted organisations may be asked to share additional information before being shortlisted.

In January (likely 25th or 26th), shortlisted organisations (6-8 orgs) will be invited to meet the panel (on Zoom) and present expanded answers to the three questions (not more than 20 mins). Due to diary constraints of the panel, the date will be non-negotiable. More information on this stage will be shared with shortlisted organisations.

A celebration event is likely to place on 10th or 11th March 2021.

There is one award of £100,000 and two further awards of £25,000. The funding for all three awards is provided by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch).

The award will allow the recipient to continue its important and impactful work with its communities, in line with their organisation’s mission. One of the three application questions asks how the Award money will contribute to embedding and sharing learning for wider benefit.

Case studies of the shortlisted organisations will be written by students from the Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at King’s College London. These profiles will be promoted by the Foundation and King’s as exemplary responses to the pandemic and be featured on the Foundation’s website.

King’s College London is the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s academic partner to deliver the Award.

Both organisations share a mutual desire to celebrate the civic role that arts organisations play in their communities, particularly at this time of crisis. They wish to encourage and inspire other arts organisations to examine their own civic role and what it could look like. King’s and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) are aligned in having made firm commitments to their respective civic strategies and have collaborated in the past on the topic of civic arts.

Eight students from the Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities will have the opportunity to participate in the project.  This is a central aspect of the project, and brings younger voices into the process, whilst providing research depth in the form of case studies of the participating organisations, and professional development opportunities for the students.

An initial longlisting process will be undertaken by Foundation staff as well as François Matarasso, Jeanefer Jean-Charles and Lyn Gardner.

The Award recipients will be proposed by an independent panel of judges. The panel is chaired by Baroness Bull (Deborah Bull), Vice President & Vice-Principal (London) and Senior Advisory Fellow for Culture at King’s College London. The other panellists are: David Bryan, André Wilkens, Anisa Morridadi, Jo Verrent and Fiona Doring. The panel's final recommendations will be presented to the Board of the Foundation for ratification.

Unfortunately, due to the expected volume of applications we will be unable to give personalised feedback until applicants reach the shortlisting stage.

Arts organisations are institutions with a primary purpose of working in the arts or culture of any form. These could be, for example, orchestras, galleries, museums, theatres, or organisations that work in a variety of art forms. No preference is given for the type of art created: the focus is on how the arts organisation has been responding with its community.

This award is only open to arts organisations as that receive public funding. Public funding is money received from tax-payer funded government entities such as national Arts Councils or local authorities. The award is also open to organisations which receive a mix of public funding as well as earned revenue, donations and private funding.

See above for the full eligibility criteria.

The Foundation is working to advance the civic role that is played by arts organisations in receipt of public funding. It believes that the sector-wide change that needs to happen to allow this movement to grow is best directed at arts organisations, who receive funding from the taxpayer and make decisions about how it is spent. The Foundation recognises the vital role that freelancers and artists play in the sector, which is why we are supporting other initiatives such as the Culture Reset programme.

If you are having technical problems, please contact Zealous directly on [email protected] or email [email protected].