Crowdfunding the possible

When crowdfunding first appeared a few years ago I remember being bemused and impressed that people would have the chutzpah to come right out and ask for money to support their projects. It marked a significant shift in arts and funding culture that some took to with enthusiasm and others were highly sceptical about.

I had no issue with supporting other people’s campaigns. I could identify three main reasons that would motivate me to give:
1. I knew the person and / or knew and respected their work
2. Something about the project was compelling
3. I wanted one of the rewards

This third reason was by far the least common.

When I pressed sceptics as to their specific objections many were worried crowdfunding would allow government bodies to further abdicate their responsibilities to fund the arts. That it would put the onus onto the already resource impoverished arts community. Some simply balked at the idea of asking equally cash strapped peers for money. Others feared the impact on charities and social causes, diverting money away from where people would normally give a few extra dollars.

This year I faced my first decision about whether to crowdfund or not. My new play Dream Home opens in May as part of Darebin Arts Speakeasy. It’s a generous deal with the venue, some cash, and a lot of administrative, marketing and equipment support provided. But Dream Home is a big work so I knew we would need more money.

We missed out on a couple of state government funding submissions and when a friend alerted me to the Australian Cultural Fund’s new fundraising platform we decided to register. The ACF is different from platforms like Pozible. Donations are tax deductible and this means you can’t offer any gifts or rewards.

Leading up to the launch I was nervous, like at the start of any new venture. I researched. I got some great advice from a colleague who had run successful campaigns. As I sent out communications, prepared my video, made a Tumblr to tell the story of the play, something in my initial reservations about running a campaign began to shift.

It struck me that I wasn’t asking for money for myself. It was to support the team of artists who had already committed to this project. They’d taken a creative and financial risk coming on board. My endeavours to raise funds would in turn support them.

This new view helped me see that I was doing what we always do in the arts, particularly in the independent sector. We support each other. We give our time, skills and energy. We get recompensed to some degree, sometimes. But often we don’t.

Is this wrong? Should it be different?

In terms of making art and making money the two most extreme views are:

1. If your art is good (read: popular) enough the market will buy it and if you can’t make money from it you should get out.
2. The government should provide a living wage to artists so they don’t have to worry about money at all.

I’ve thought a lot about where crowdfunding sits along this spectrum. In a way it’s pure capitalism – private individuals and groups raising money to make and own things. So it will benefit those who can access people with money. But there is something else going on with crowdfunding. It’s not an investment. There is no chance of making your money back. It’s a pure gift. It’s something to do with collectivism and sharing, with giving a little where you can and asking for a little when you need.

Two key words have come up again and again, both in communications with other colleagues I know running campaigns and in conversation with myself: vulnerability and humility.

To ask your peers for help is to make yourself vulnerable. It says: I need you, we need each other. It reminds me that we’re all in it together, whether it’s making art or any other project that is about community and connection. If we want governments to give more and philanthropists to give more, a small start can be to give to each other. Even tiny amounts, whenever we can, so that a culture of sharing and generosity rises above that of competitiveness and scarcity.

And humility. How surprised I have been, and how genuinely humbled, when each donation appeared on my page, or when anyone shared the project or sent a shout out of support. The majority of donors so far have been other artists, bringing home a collegiate sense that has been profoundly moving.

I’m not sure we will reach our funding goal but overall it’s been a positive experience for me. To make myself articulate what the project needed and how to ask for that, has helped clarify what I do and why I do it. To have so many people respond with a yes – we get it, we value art as well, here’s how we can help – expands the horizons of what is possible.

At a personal and creative level I am reminded that these two qualities – vulnerability and humility – are the touchstones of much that makes art possible, and what can make it most powerful. To spend some time connected with these qualities and be mindful of them is not such a bad thing at all.

Emilie Collyer

Emilie Collyer writes plays, poetry and prose. Her newest play Contest – a sweaty play about the petty and the profound set on a suburban netball court – has its world premiere as part of Darebin Arts’ Speakeasy from 25 July–4 August at Northcote Town Hall:  The project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Besen Family Foundation.

More by Emilie Collyer ›

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