This (now closed) programme funded projects making a significant additional contribution to the Arts Council's strategic vision.
Exhibition, festival, original work, participation, performance, talent development.
Expressions of interest were invited from arts organisations based in England.
About the fund
The Arts Council funds a range of programmes designed to deliver the ambitions set out in Great art and culture for everyone, our strategic framework for the arts and culture.
However, we recognised that, on occasion, arts organisations may wish to respond to a one-off opportunity to create an ambitious project that it does not fit into existing Arts Council funding routes. The Exceptional Awards programme was designed to support these projects.
Organisations had to demonstrate that their project would make a significant additional contribution to at least one of our five goals. The projects had to be of exceptional ambition and likely to have national (and even international) impact.
For further information, read the guidance for applicants.
Exceptional Awards - guidance for applicants
Exceptional Awards were made to a number of organisations:
Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, Bristol 2015 – £744,564
An extraordinary arts programme delivered in 2015 – the year the city was the European Green Capital. The project aimed to make the topic of sustainable living accessible and easy to understand. It included: a large-scale exhibition celebrating Turner Prize-winning artist Richard Long; an artwork of a flotilla of abandoned fishing boats in Leigh Woods; a life-size sculpture of a Blue Whale; the first major UK project by sought-after American artist Theaster Gates; and a year-long programme with thinkers, writers, artists, politicians and the public debating the future of the city.
University of Lincoln, 1215.today – £395,622
Inspired by the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215, this was a a new digital platform for young people. The online house of culture commissioned and curated content which gave people aged 14-24 years the chance to discover, experience and think about questions linked to humanitarian ideals. Through engaging with 12.15.today, young people connected internationally, across borders, religion and race to give voice to their values.
The project put young people at its heart in shaping, commissioning, curating and creating content – both online and in live events. Artists' films, animation, music, written and spoken word were featured on the site, alongside the work of young people and learning resources. Live events formed an important part of the project, providing opportunities to participate and the chance to link with other events inspired by the universal theme of liberty.
Foundation for Community Dance, Big Dance Weekend – £344,780
This was an outstanding programme of specially commissioned dance performances and participation events, which animated and positively disrupted public spaces across England in July 2014. The large-scale events were created by professional choreographers and dance artists working with communities to provide opportunities for people to take part and/or watch spectacular dance up-close and see unusual and iconic locations transformed by dance. Events included: a moving installation and tapestry of Liverpool life, a journey of 200 moving and dancing bodies in the striking landscape of Bridlington beach, a Torvill and Dean-inspired mass performance in Nottingham's Market Square and a cross-over of dance and rope skipping in Greenwich Park.
Birmingham Opera Company, The Ice Break – £325,000
A new large-scale production of Michael Tippet’s The Ice Break, created in partnership with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Inspired by the powerful story of overcoming differences and divides at the heart of the story, this production involved the many diverse communities that call Birmingham home. Written and sung in English, this production is an opera for our times – exploring a gripping emotional story of racial, generational, political and personal identity.
The project also involved a wider cultural programme across the 10 districts of Birmingham called 'Breaking the Ice', engaging local communities, encouraging debate and inspiring creativity. It offered tasters, surprise performances, no auditions and free training for volunteers to perform in The Ice Break, giving people from across Birmingham a unique opportunity to perform alongside a diverse cast of international soloists, emerging artists and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Birmingham REP, World Stages – £300,000
A project to create ambitious new collaborations and co-productions between theatres in major UK cities and international partners. The first ambitious production they commissioned, produced and toured was a new theatre/dance version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, created and co-directed by British director Carrie Cracknell and Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin. The REP's Learning and Participation team also work with the Young Vic and HOME to create educational activities and related learning resource packs.
The Stables, Under the Vaulted Sky by Rosemary Lee – £215,000
This was an ambitious dance project commissioned from choreographer Rosemary Lee for IF: Milton Keynes International Festival. Inspired by Milton Keynes' magical Cathedral of Trees, the performances (which took place in July 2014) are the culmination of a year-long residency that saw Rosemary work with professional and non-professional dancers from across the region. The performances featured 100 dancers and live music, with a specially-composed soundscape from award-winning composer and instrument maker Terry Mann. The audience were invited to move and follow the performance as it weaved around the atmospheric environment of the Cathedral. Rosemary also created a film to be installed in other cathedrals in the UK and around the world.
Broadway, Disaster Playground by Nelly Ben Hayoun – £200,000
Was a creative platform that investigated the design of emergency procedures in the space programme, with world-renowned space experts at NASA, the SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) Institute and an all-star team of composers, writers and international collaborators. The project resulted in an evolving platform of live events and experiences featuring films shot on location at NASA Headquarters, SETI, and Disaster and Emergency Response training facilities across the USA.
Punch Records, HOMELANDS – £200,000
This 18-month programme aims to discover and share the worldwide heritage of Black British music.
Development agency Punch sent four of the UK’s hottest stars back to their own personal roots. They each mentored an aspiring young talent in their former school community, and took an international journey to the homeland of their cultural heritage. Each musician was paired with a legendary grandmaster of music from around the world, to collaborate on bold new work and open a creative dialogue to bridge the distances between nations.
The programme also includes neighbourhood workshop programmes led by each artist. These culminate in a debut performance of each collaborative piece at a community venue, followed by live performances at national and regional venues.
New Vic Theatre, Behold – £198,000
This was a festival of plays inspired by the Staffordshire Hoard, developing new partnerships between theatre and museums. Emerging and established artists were commissioned to create up to 21 pieces work, including three new dramas for the main stage. The New Vic’s history of verbatim theatre came to fore in a new documentary exploring the discovery, while the theatre’s Education department and outreach team looked at topics with members of the local community.
Metal, Harvest – £183,150
Arts organisation Metal worked in partnership with international artists Lucy + Jorge Orta and the diverse communities of Peterborough to re-imagine the traditional Harvest Festival. A city-wide celebration weekend was built around a spectacular outdoor event in the historic city square, bringing 500 participants together for dinner. Another 1,000 contributed through music, dance, craft, performance and ritual procession. The project also offered 10 UK artists opportunities to explore the intersection of ecology, economy and wellbeing through smaller commissions.
Ex Cathedra, Shakespeare Odes – £145,000
To mark Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary in April 2016, Ex Cathedra will tour a period-instrument performance of the Garrick Ode, in partnership with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Shakespeare Institute and in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The ode was written by actor and impresario David Garrick for his Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769. There will also be a new ode written by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and composed by Sally Beamish for Ex Cathedra, children’s choir and a ‘broken consort’ of instruments that Shakespeare would recognise.
Modern Art Oxford, Love is Enough by Jeremy Deller
This was a major exhibition curated by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, bringing together rarely seen works by William Morris and Andy Warhol. Examined the prolific careers of these two figures, each of whom developed an artistic practice and a conceptual framework that helped to define the centuries in which they lived.