Crowdfunding is the new kid on the block in arts funding. It enables artists to raise funds through small donations from a large number of individual investors, usually via an online platform. For art lovers, these platforms provide an easy way to invest in art.
“A creative person brimming with artistic ideas, but restrained by funds.” It’s an old refrain, but now, this no longer needs to be a common scenario. Most artists face this situation at one point or another in their career. But it is no longer needs to be so.
In the earlier days, the arts were funded mainly by private patrons. A few wealthy persons set the parameters, selected the artists, and fixed the commission and timelines.
Over the years, the state and private organisations got involved and started supporting artists by providing grants. But these traditional grants too had their own limitations. Grants were good as long as the economy was ripe, but when economies took a downturn, creative people found the need to move on and identify new modes of funding – and crowdfunding proved to be the perfect alternative.
In fact, one of the earliest instances of crowdfunding was for supporting artists. In 1997, the fans of the British rock group Marillion funded a U.S. tour of the band, without the involvement of the band itself. The fans raised USD $60,000 by means of small donations that funded one of the band’s largest North American tours. Encouraged by this, the band resorted to crowdfunding for the recording of their album ‘Anoraknophobia’. They successfully followed the same strategy for their later albums, too.
Today, artists are making a beeline to different crowdfunding platforms. And it is not just individual artists who seek funds. The pack also includes museums, art organisations, artists groups, etc. Though it was ArtistShare that initiated this trend in 2003, the well-known platforms Indiegogo and Kickstarter lead the market now. There are also some niche platforms for artists like Sponsume, Pozible, etc. Sites like Sellaband and Pledgemusic focus on music projects alone.
Fundraising or Support-raising?
With so many crowdfunding platforms supporting the arts, it’s no wonder that artists are raising more through these platforms than through state-run agencies! This implies that crowdfunding of the arts is not just another way to raise funds. It means more – and listed below are a few of those reasons:
- Compensating & Supplementary grants – State grants remain a valuable source of support. But economic recessions always mean less money for artists. This restricts grant opportunities for artists and forces them to seek other options. So, in a way, budget cuts have contributed to the increased relevance of crowdfunding of the arts. But even if you are lucky enough to land as grant, the amount you are given might not be sufficient to cover your needs. Moreover, the laborious process of writing grant applications is frustrating. Despite all your work, the actual chances of getting a grant are usually slim. Making matters worse, the process is typically slow. Since it often takes several months for foundation boards to make a decision, many organizations accept proposals only once or twice a year.
- Total creative control with the artist – Most artists cannot stand the ide of others meddling with their product/baby. Artists crave creative control. Crowdfunding allows you this freedom, since your funders are people who share your beliefs. Also, copyright remains with you, as you’re not selling any intellectual rights. But make sure of this when you choose your crowdfunding platform.
- Publicity – Crowdfunding helps you develop a long-term relationship with a strong supporter base, as most supporters don’t limit themselves to a single campaign. As an artist, you want individual donors to feel involved and to develop enthusiasm for you and your work, and with crowdfunding you can turn your funding drive into a publicity campaign to help you further promote your work/gig/project.
- Supporting less-known artists – Crowdfunding helps realise the visions of unknown/new artists by eliminating their need for state funding. It makes them confident and able to express themselves without having to conform to external rules and regulations.
- Funding nonconventional projects – As an artist, you may sometimes become involved in controversial or hard-to-fund projects that don’t conform to traditional funding criteria. Crowdfunding helps you connect with like-minded people and secure funds for nonconventional projects.
- Exposure – Crowdfunding gives wide exposure to organisations/artist with limited budgets. When an artist or arts organisation joins a prestigious arts-related platform, the artist or organisation is endorsed, simply by association, on top of the regular exposure it gets to an interested, like-minded audience.
- Democratising the funding process – Crowdfunding platforms promote both big and small projects, thus providing equal opportunity to all projects to become overnight successes.
- Empowering the audience – The audience will support and fund an art project only if they like it. This makes the process more transparent, and the audience gets to see what they want.
The Art of Crowdfunding
Artists are a talented lot, but they seldom seem to exhibit their talent when it comes to fundraising. Most think it’s beneath their dignity to ask people for money. But things are changing, with many artists waking up to the need for fundraising and self-promotion.
Amanda Palmer, American singer, songwriter and musician, asked for USD $1,000,000 from her supporters for her new album and tour. The supporters were generous and she raised around USD $12 million, thus making the campaign one of the incredible successes on Kickstarter. But she got into a controversy when she invited local musicians to perform in her concert on a voluntary basis and offered them beer and hugs in return. When quizzed about the money, she replied that she spent everything on packaging and mailing.
Crowdfunding is just not that simple – and more so for an artist. You need to be systematic and do meticulous planning. In other words, you need to master this art. Here are a few pointers to assist you with launching a successful campaign:
- The launch Pad / Crowdfunding platform – Decide and select the platform that suits your purpose after checking out successful campaigns on various sites. Again, consider the copyright clauses of the platforms to get a clear idea of what you are committing to. Some platforms ask you to give them a license to copy and reproduce the content you upload. It is equally important to consider the terms of funding for each platform and its fees.
- Early birds / Start campaigning in advance – Start preparing your campaign well in advance. Prepare the budget and understand how much money you need to raise. Use social media and soft-launch your project before your real launch. Craft your story in a convincing way, avoid the art blabber, as your supporters are not just artists. Unlike a traditional grant application, there is no limit to what you can seek in crowdfunding, but remember to keep your goal realistic.
- ‘I, Me, Mine’ / Promote yourselves – Don’t shy away from publicity. Use the press extensively and get featured in magazines, blogs, and newspapers to reach your intended audience. Getting yourself featured in crowdfunded platforms also gives you a lot of mileage. Remember to stay active, give updates, and keep the interest alive through the course of the campaign. You can use your pitch video for a perfect launch. ‘Pitch video and art?’ Yes, a video covering your past work/sketches or rough cuts plays a crucial role in winning the hearts of supporters. Moreover, use testimonials from existing customers and celebrity friends to add momentum. Use your networking extensively and systematically, as artists without an extensive online social network often struggle with crowdfunding.
- Rewards – While budgeting, plan for rewards that can be easily identified with your work, and be aware of their postage cost. Downloadable tracks, autographed digital prints of the artwork, etc. are a few examples. Remember to be courteous when rewarding your donors (hint: offering downloadable tracks they must pay for is not a reward).
Museums, Artists and Art lovers…
Crowdfunding is growing in popularity, and so is the number of projects seeking funds. That means your project needs to be exceptional to get funded. The time and effort needed to crowdfund a project is huge, so do not approach it as an opportunity to get easy money.
Again, many campaigns fail to reach their goal because of inadequate marketing. Collaborative crowdfunding, similar to syndication in investment banking, could be a solution to this. Groups/organisations that can identify with the causes of a campaign may come together. For instance, artists and museums might team up to stage an exhibition. Museums can crowdfund and market the exhibition, while artists can also gain by getting their exhibitions funded by the museum. Better put, collaborative funding is the need of the hour.
Many galleries/museums, like Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, have opted for this collaborative funding model through their campaign ‘theinfinityboxes.com’, launched by BNN funding. They have assigned the funds to be used to cover the expenses of the artist, and the museum will use the balance to meet its operating expenses. But the concept is still in its early stages and needs to evolve further.
The Bottom Line
Crowdfunding, in essence, helps you take your artistic ventures beyond existing funding barriers. But it is growing in various dimensions. As J. K. Rowling said,
It’s important to remember that we all have magic in us.
Believe in that magic, involve your supporters, get funded – and let your art speak for you and your ways!