Saturday, March 29, 2014

creating a/broad, March 29, 2014

The Ethics of Crowd-Funding
by Cameryn Moore

There aren’t many things that I remember solidly from my M.S. in Arts Administration, mostly because it was all about fairly to very large-scale institutions, planning multi-million-dollar approaches to target eight years ahead, using tactics such as offshore bank accounts… you see what I mean, though. The air was a little too thin up there, and I was working in a scrappy little community theatre. I needed to devote whatever brain cells I had left to legitimate challenges facing me right now, or maybe tomorrow. 

I could have used resources that were more to my scale, in other words. I need those kinds of resources more than ever, now that I’ve pretty much committed to the wild frontier of self-produced solo performing, so my interest was thoroughly piqued when a ethical guide to crowd-funding came across my feed

I like it. I need it right now. Because it is easy to get desperate when trying to get my show over to the UK. It is easy to feel like it is all about me, because for everyone almost all the time, it is all about them. Us. Me. It is easy to feel like crowd-funding is the gold rush, look at so and so, exceeding their fundraising goals, and so on.

As someone who just wound up my second Indiegogo campaign and experienced complete donor drop-off, I was already reconsidering my relationship to this online tool. And when I read the treatise, I saw that I needed to reconsider it anyway. Even if I had made 10x the amount that I had asked for. Hell, especially then. The writers encourage us to ask some tough but crucial questions as we go into crowd-funding:

Why is this project communal? There is nothing wrong with asking friends to help, but we know the truth: we are, most of us, pretty poor, and we are getting donations from each other. So let’s talk about what makes this particular play or tour or video so important. Let’s get clear on what it is that we think our work is bringing to the world. Yes, it is important to us, but what are we bringing to the network that will help us get it? To the community that we are tapping? There is room in the posted criteria for art, but I think it would benefit all of us to be really honest about where the need lies in our work. It is not a rescue project, it is not an emergency project, it is a social service issue, at most.

What other fundraising options are being used? This, oh my god. We have to figure out more and other options for fundraising, and then make up some more. Grassroots self-producers gotta be light on their feet, moving ahead of the game, trying out different things, keeping the mix vibrant and alive and interesting. You only stop when you’ve either a) a better-off organization acquires your project and you don’t have to worry about the funding anymore, or b) you decide to fold up shop. Income diversity. Keeping those eggs in different baskets. What else can we do? What else am I doing, in light of my most recent, woefully undersupported crowd-funding effort? I’m trying a fundraising event on April 6. I’m reinvesting some energy into locating and wooing corporate sponsors. I have taken to making direct requests to past donors; no campaign, just a straight-out ask. I ramped up my pitch for Sidewalk Smut; no, that’s not donations, but it is extra income, ditto for trying to get some workshops going. Auctions, bake sales, bingo nights, different kinds of “-athons”… time to rediscover some of the basics, I reckon.

How much is being given back to the community we are asking, and in what way? The document I’m referencing was originally written for social justice projects, but I think we artists would do well to spend time with this same consideration. If nothing else, it helps us get a little more clarity about who our people are and how we relate to them. Is there any part of the project being fundraised for that supports our network, whatever that network is? Is there something we can do after the project to be generous, and I don’t just mean perks? If you are getting support from mostly artists, can you put on a free workshop about your experience, or post up a downloadable guide, or offer consulting? If your work has some other demographic draw, especially if you have mined the experiences of some group for material, how are you giving back to that community? 

How transparent will the project finances be? The writers suggest open and accessible finances before, during, and after the project is completed. Ooh, boy. This is something I need to get better at, for sure. I have such shame, about struggling to make a living and about daring to try to be an artist in spite of that. Somehow I manage when it comes to my fiscal sponsor, but not as much with the crowd-funding approach, in terms of what the contributors know. I give a brief overview in the project synopsis, I just figure everyone always knows that I’m in dire straits, but it’s not enough. Because they are not funding my life, although it certainly feels all blurred together for me. They are funding the art project.

Artists and producers, take a moment to read the original document at the link. If crowd-funding is here to stay, while government funding and other sources are well on their way out, we owe it to ourselves to put more conscious thought into our practices, and this is a great start.

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