I have been thinking about crowd-funding recently, prompted by several things. First, LondonJazz had a post about Gwyneth Herbert crowd-funding her latest recording; then various projects were brought to my attention; and lastly Creative Edinburgh had a session about crowd-funding.
I have been uneasy about crowd-funding, and I haven’t really been able to understand why; it was my unease that took me to the Creative Edinburgh event: I wanted to get to grips with what concerned me about it. I love crowd-sourcing and collaborative-creation, and people using new models to get stuff done: what was so discomforting with collaborative funding? Why did I feel unwilling to help finance some of these projects when I think several of them are very worthwhile and I would (and have!) support them in other ways?
I think the post about Herbert’s work covers a lot of the area well – not least because the artist herself got involved in the debate, explaining her motives. (I should point out that I am not a fan of Ms Herbert’s work and he’s I’d not a project I would have funded – though I have a great deal of respect for her as a result of the post and how she has engaged with the discussion – pros and cons.)
Crowd-funding enables artists of all sorts to get projects done that might otherwise not happen; it allows supporters to get involved and contribute to the creative process; and both artist and supporter get something in exchange.
I think my reticence stems from two sources. The first is consumerist: I want to know what I am buying. Funding an early stage project means one doesn’t know what you’re going to get; if the target isn’t reached, the project wrong happen and you won’t get anything (though your pledge won’t be taken). Part of this is also that rewards don’t particularly interest me: if I’m contributing to a musician’s project, say, it will be because I want the music, not a signed photo (or other reward). I would pay for CDs or downloads, I would pay for gigs – but these are specific “products”; funding an early stage project is an unknown.
The second is perhaps a British reticence to discuss and get involved in money. This is mentioned in Ms Herbert’s comments on that blog post, and it was also an issue someone suggested to when we were chatting at Creative Edinburgh. It is a very personal thing; the artists know what one is providing, and how generous or stingy one has been. It just – well, doesn’t feel “right”.
The crowd-funding of creative projects is, I think, more like charitable giving than a consumer transaction. You are doing something to support a cause – albeit one that gives you something back. It is an altruistic act. One isn’t purchasing an object; and neither are you providing funding for financial return. The thing is that it isn’t a faceless charity that gets the money: it is real, flesh-and-blood (and of course connected) people. Friends. Both the speakers at Creative Edinburgh, talking from a fund-raiser’s point of view, said that one had to be prepared to be disappointed; the flipside – the donor’s view – is the feeling of peer-pressure that might keep them away.
As Herbert points out, artists have relied on patrons since time immemorial. Roman citizens funded artists in ancient Rome (“patron” is a Latin term); wealthy bankers financed the Renaissance in Florence; publication of literature was funded in Victorian Britain through subscription. Whilst writing this post, I recall several years ago making a charitable donation to support a jazz big band I admired. The one crowd funding activity I can remember participating in up to now has been to support Lloyd’s artistic endeavour because, at a very basic level, I was concerned he wouldn’t be able to eat if I (and others) didn’t! But being a patron is quite close to “patronising” – it doesn’t rest easily.
Having thought this through, then, I did decide to support a couple of projects last week. When it came down to it, it was LedBib posting worriedly on Facebook that they were close to raising what they were after but not there yet – and running out of time. When they were looking for £10,000, what I might contribute seemed a drop in the ocean; when they were looking for the final £300, a £25 contribution seemed a lot more. (As it happened, the Kickstarter website didn’t like my browser set up – specifically, I think, the various add-ons I use; though I have promised them the money, anyhow, and they passed their total without my £25.)
Having done that, I thought I should support Debbie’s sculpture project too, because I love the idea, so I’ve pledged to support that, too. (It didn’t make the total they were after, but they are going to have another go, which I will be supporting.)
[After I’d written this post, I watched Amanda Palmer’s now famous TEDtalk. Palmer – and again, I’m not a fan – discusses a lot of the things I’ve covered here, much more eloquently than I have – and from the artist’s perspective. It is a very powerful and moving video.]