State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Taking the fun out of fund raising

Kickstarter has finally come to Canada putting the final seal on the idea that crowd funding is not going away, not a trend and perhaps evolving into a standard business practice. Interviews on mainstream television are abound with tech start ups and film makers who say they raised millions through crowd funding giving the overall impression that fundraising without such online applications are a waste of time. Having toyed with the idea myself and even built an entire campaign that I still do not have time to implement I remain quizzical.

The arts is apparently perfectly situated for this kind of funding model as artists work on creative projects that lend themselves to fun videos and lovely pictorials. Artists have that funky, online sheen which allows the Kickstarter browser to believe that in fact watching and reading about these projects is being a fully fledged arts supporter with hard evidence that their money is going somewhere useful. An artist wants to build a studio, raises the money, and builds the studio. Bam. Done. Money spent with tactile proof of where it went. You just can’t argue with this kind of transparency and that is possibly why it is so popular. People feel they are really helping people even if they are only donating ten dollars. So it is a win win, not much money, or commitment to think you are making art happen.

Although I get that these online tools are great for some I still think crowd funding deserves way more scrutiny than it is getting.

Kickstarter and the other online crowd funding applications stand in stark contrast to the standard fund raising models for the arts in this country. Here galleries/organizations that are public receive several levels of funding both for operating and projects from different levels of government augmented by local sponsors and businesses. Their ongoing work is kept in check by tons of applications, reports and budgets which are adjudicated by a board and liaisons with the various agencies they get money from. In order to continue getting public funds and maintain their charitable status these organizations must fund raise. Many have memberships, boutiques, sell merchandise, hold events, rent out their spaces, and go out into their communities looking for funds to fill in many gaps that still exist even after the exhaustive exercise of making sure their funding for the next several years is in place. If you have ever met someone who works in a public gallery or a not for profit in general you can’t help but notice they are tired and exasperated.

Artists run the risk of being left behind if they don't participate in an organization's fund raising efforts. It can make you feel like a conspirator.
Artists run the risk of being left behind if they don’t participate in an organization’s fund raising efforts. It can make you feel like a conspirator.

I sympathize with anyone who works in this system because although it does seem to be sustaining itself even while budgets at the highest level are being chopped up, people who work in the arts suffer from severe burn out. In the thirteen years I have been exhibiting most of the people I have dealt with have changed jobs, quit, moved away or retired. I am still here but the people who help me get exhibitions change all the time, sometimes leaving mid process.

This situation can get tense when these organizations also wade into the arts community and ask for donations for their fundraising. Some institutions have the savvy understanding that we are all in it together and insist that artists get paid for the work they donate through a minimum price so that it doesn’t get undersold and then they split the proceeds. This is a dignified approach that keeps the respect between artist and institution aligned and telegraphs to the public that artists need to be paid for their work.

Donating art work with no remuneration in a professional setting upsets this delicate balance many are trying achieve and leads us all back to being, sorry for the politically incorrect term, ghettoized. Giving your work away for free means you don’t value it, and taking work for free means you think is has no value.

I am often told that these organizations that ask for donations are serving my community and helping my career so I should feel inclined to give back. By making the work I have done my job. Supporting my local arts organization is a good idea but not by giving my work to them for free. And they shouldn’t ask. What would truly benefit both organizations and artists is making the work we do more valuable; this entails a denser engagement with the public about the economic benefits the organization brings to the community, training the public to see art and not just look at it, and essentially playing an advocacy role on a bigger scale about art and its economic value.

Some organizations and institutions do all this and bless them. In those cases, the artists and the institutions/organizations serve a greater good, a higher purpose. But those that are not willing to take this leap should try crowd funding on Kickstarter; there they might find those extra dollars that they need without betraying their relationship between them and the artists in their community.

This article went viral on Facebook earlier this month,from the  Vancouver Sun

CARFAC in Canada has guidelines organizations should follow

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