Crowdfunding - an alternative self-funding model for the arts with a 5% commission... / by Dana Segal

I need to kick this blog off by saying that at the moment, I have a live campaign. And something fucking amazing happened the other day.

A TOTAL STRANGER PLEDGED £52. FIFTY TWO FUCKING POUNDS. 

I cried at my computer when I saw it. How is this possible? How has this total stranger decided that I was worth £52, that my art was worth £52 of his hard earned cash?!

I proceeded to search the internet for him; LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook - just to try and figure out who he was, so I could offer him a hug and a kiss and my eternal gratitude. 

But why was I so elated?

Well, because the reality is that the majority of small-scale, emerging artist crowdfunding campaigns ran by my peers & I tend to get funded by, um, how do I put this... us

Over the last six months I've had a lot of artist friends dropping me a Facebook message and said 'Hey, please just chuck us a tenner for my amazing new project'. And most of the time, they have been great projects. And most of the time, I've chucked them a tenner.  

So when I set up the FATLiP Adversity Council Kickstarter last week, I genuinely went through all the people I'd donated to in my head, totted it up, and set myself what I thought was an achievable target based on a combination of IOU's and pleading Facebook messages... not on the reality of what I truly need to make this happen (which is the amount I went to the Arts Council for and got rejected for. HMMPH.)

With this in mind, can anyone please explain to me how crowdfunding is helping to promote the value of the arts & culture beyond the wider sector? Because if my theory is correct, crowdfunding at the moment is acting as nothing but an alternative self-funding model - one I'm now having to pay 5% commission on for achieving, or getting none of the money if I don't.  I've actually seen people fund their own crowdfunders. How is that any different to funding your own show? And is that right?

I've been trying to figure out why this is the case, and I can only come to a few conclusions:

1) BECAUSE THE CAUSE IS A SECONDARY... ERR... CAUSE
We've all got that friend who does the marathon & starts that JustGiving page. That's fine - the reason I'm giving him a tenner is for THE PERSON and NOT for the charity. When is the last time you've EVER seen anyway say "I really would support you to run 27 miles but I'm just not big on curing cancer - I'm much more into overseas aid myself - sorry!".

The problem with me getting support from my friends and family for my artistic projects is that most of the time, their support lies with me, and not with the project I am trying to raise money for. That's not changing the value people place on art - it just becomes another exercise is how well networked people are... which sadly, is the root of many problems in the arts...

This is why we decided that instead of framing our Kickstarter around the show, we'd create the Adversity Council - so that our donors understood why they were giving money to us, even if that wasn't focused around the show. We wanted to create something with impact that told the true story of being an artist. OH WHO AM I KIDDING. We didn't 'want' or set out to do that - it just happened as a result of being really sad and angry about it. But that's the beauty of the creative process (see point 3 for that one).

2) PLEASE DONATE. OH AND WAIT PLEASE RE-TWEET AND PLEASE SHARE, PLEASE...
Statistically, a campaign will only succeed in relation to the number of people who engage with it. The more that do, the more it will succeed.

Which makes perfect sense but also makes it practically impossible for small-scale artists to succeed when they only have a tiny number of Twitter followers & Facebook likes in relation to large scale arts organisations - and their priority is to try & get those engaged people to donate in the first place.

There's no help out there for smaller companies to succeed in engaging wider audiences with a crowdfunder that is free and easy to access (trust me, I've looked...)- in the last 10 days I've had at least three unsolicited emails a day from someone who has seen my campaign and offered me their paid services to assist. I'M DOING A CROWDFUNDER; DO I LOOK LIKE I HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY YOU FOR YOUR SERVICES?!

3) SOMETIMES WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK WE'RE DOING AND THAT'S OK
Being part of the NOW '15 Festival at The Yard has made me realise even more why what we do is so important and needs to be properly funded at Research & Development level. 

With Lost Boy Sketches, we had clear ideas of how we wanted to develop the show, and why we needed to do it at The Yard. We pitched it all in a succinct application - but the reality is that what got us the gig was this video we filmed at a Birmingham Tesco at 3am. Jay Miller loved it; that's what sold him the show, that's what explained our artistic style, and that's what got us this amazing opportunity. 

When some of the other artists in the festival came to Jay  they weren't even sure what the idea was themselves. Jay went with his gut, took a risk on something he'd only heard about in conversation, and ploughed all his resources into giving people the time & space to make that vague idea happen. I WISH THE ARTS COUNCIL DID THIS. So far, every show I've seen at NOW '15 (and I've seen every show) has been fucking terrific. Even if I didn't personally like it every time, I could completely appreciate what they were doing and there were at least 30 people next to me absolutely loving it. It's easily been the most naturally 'diverse' and 'young' audience I've seen at any theatre ever. It was all the things that Arts Council England wants the arts to be. 

There are lots  resources out there on how to create a successful crowdfunding campaign - the problem is that most of the time, none of those apply, or should have to apply, to artists trying to make work. Sometimes we don't have products to offer as rewards. Sometimes the outcomes aren't that clear. Sometimes, we're not even sure if the idea is any good yet ourselves. Sometimes we don't even have somewhere to showcase it yet. 

These are all things that are practically impossible to articulate to people you do know, let alone complete strangers, so how could they ever make successful crowdfunding campaign messages?

Anywhay there's another 19 days to go from publishing with our campaign and whilst I'm confident & hopeful that we'll hit our target (and terrified we won't so please stop me being terrified by donating) I'm still wrapping my head around all these thoughts. Your thoughts are welcome...

Dana x