The funding model for the arts is broken.
For all those non-profit development professionals who are now screaming in agony over this statement, I make my first point by introducing you to Kickstarter, a for profit company that provides an easy and simple virtual site for creative people to launch their own campaigns. Easy? Simple? “This can’t be!” would be the words cried from development professionals in foundations and non-profits all over the world. But, yes, it can!
Since their launch in 2009, Kickstarter has funded 35,000 creative projects. Its premise is simple. There are no long forms. There is no “panel” of people sitting in chairs at desks and cubicles reviewing your fifty-page proposal, which took you weeks to write and perfect to yet another foundation’s requirements and goals. Instead, Kickstarter is based on the premise that the artists who submit proposals will either raise the money or not based on talent, their networks and their individual marketing strategies. Artists also get to keep 95% of the profits, with Kickstarter deducting a mere 5%.
And, my favorite aspect of this grassroots-funding tool is that artists have 100% ownership of their work. For those of my readers not familiar with the grant world, in exchange for funding, most grant makers have partial ownership of the end product. Even if that “ownership” is simply in the form of a logo on an artist’s website or in small font at the end of a program or in the tweaking of an artist’s vision, it is still some sort of stamp, attesting to the fact that someone else, someone with more money than the artist herself, paid for this work. This exposure in turn provides great public relations for those foundations and companies funding art and culture. But, what does this funding really do for the emerging artist? Does it help in the transition from an emerging to an established artist? Yes, maybe it could help speed up this process. However, on the flip side, what are the downsides of creating work funded through grants alone?
As you ponder these questions, let’s move on to my second introduction, as I would like to introduce you another entrant to the virtual fundraising platform, Indiegogo. Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo has campaign options for non-profits and has different fee structures from which to choose, for both individuals and non-profits. Indiegogo also ensures that campaign creators maintain 100% ownership of their ideas, whether funded or not, and offers global exposure. While their fixed and flexible funding options could have financial consequences for those who do not plan their fundraising strategy well, it offers the free platform needed to promote oneself, whether one is just starting out or is a more established non-profit looking to gain funding from a new client base. Overall, like Kickstarter, Indiegogo offers a free virtual tool that enables start-ups, non-profits, entrepreneurs and individual creative types an option and the tools to get one’s creative venture up and running, without the hassle of grants, paperwork and politics.
And, yes, the arts are a political business. Just as much as the job market and the new economy is about who you know, the same rules apply in the arts and the arts funding scene. As a new artist, I oftentimes see grants that market themselves to “emerging artists.” However, when you read beyond this headline to the details, these same grants often require press releases, photographs, a five-year plus history of creating work and some even have the audacity to require 501(c)(3) non-profit status. 501(c)(3) status? If I had this status, I would be closer to an established entity than a new entrant onto the scene, so please, let’s not get started on this requirement. The point is that as a new artist, I need money to pay for rehearsal space, venues, costumes and ideally dancers. That’s it. It is very simple and clear-cut, and does not require a complicated budget. Thus, for a new artist, I see many of these grants as red herrings, which distract, not support, from my dance-making journey.
In all, similar to the changing world of recruiting and hiring for a knowledge-based economy, if the arts funding world really wants to support emerging artists, it needs to begin basing grants on both potential and past accomplishments. While I have continued to create and produce my own works without any other financial support but my own, it is challenging. I am the sole administrative and creative driver of my work and, as such, I do not spend any more time on administrative tasks than is needed, as I need to spend my time in the studio, not on the computer, honing my skills as a choreographer.
In closing, as artists, it’s time to take back our rights to our art and Kickstarter and Indiegogo are a great starting point to do so. With this said, my fellow artists, the following is our challenge: to fully own our own visions by showing work on stages, galleries and coffeehouses all over the nation without any formal funding. This challenge may sound impossible, but if any group of people can be successful going against the norm, it’s artists. In the end, it is up to us to take back the gifts we have so carelessly and quickly put out there for someone else to shape, direct and own. It is up to us to take back the countless hours spent in the studio tweaking our vision. It is up to us, and us alone, to begin this revolution.