With arts funding on the decline, is it any surprise that Australian artists and creative organisations are turning directly to their consumers and contemporaries for funding?
A flick through the current campaigns on Pozible — a popular Australian crowd-funding site — shows a pile of fascinating local artists looking for some cash to get their projects going. Brisbane folk band Li Li Kite is looking for $4000 to record its debut album. Really Big Roadtrip, a project involving artist Fee Plumley driving around Australia creating and sharing creative digital culture, just raised over $25,000 to buy a bus.
AsCrikey reported last month, the Queensland Literary Awards is currently running a campaign to raise $20,000 after Premier Campbell Newman cut funding to the organisation. American artist Amanda Palmer recently had nearly 25,000 of her fans donate over one million dollars to fund her new independent album. While Australian creatives aren’t getting figures quite that high, the producers of independent film The Tunnel won a Breakthrough award at the 2011 SPAA Independent Producers Awards for their “innovative business model” using crowd-sourcing.
Film producer Mary Minas recently ran a Pozible campaign to help fund The Man Who Could Not Dream, a short film starring Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush and Spicks and Specks star Alan Brough. The film received other private funding, but when it came to post-production costs going over budget — thanks to visual effects and music licensing costs — the crowd-funding campaign raised the required $5000.
Why not hit up Screen Australia or Film Victoria or any other traditional film funding body for some extra dough? ”I didn’t even think we were eligible for it,” Minas told Crikey, although she says she later found out Screen Australia does offer post-production help. Many arts funding bodies are notoriously difficult to get information from on what funding is available and who can access it.
“But the issue is always when their deadlines are,” said Minas. “Having to wait for a deadline later in the year can be a real issue for a small production, when you just need to get the money, finish the film and send it out to festivals.”
Plus, it’s a terrific way of marketing the film at the same time. “People are directed to your trailer and your website for more information, inadvertently they are getting more information than they would otherwise get because you might not be as forthcoming with your marketing if it was just to promote the film itself,” said Minas.
“Naturally when you’re trying to gain support and get donations, you tend to be a bit more consistent with your updating and contact with people as well because you have to show your appreciation.”
It’s not as simple as just making a campaign page and hoping people donate. “It’s something that you constantly have to keep feeding,” said Minas, who explains that since one of their “rewards” for donors was a prop from the film, they would update their Facebook page weekly with a photo of a possible prop, including jokey items like a six-pack of toilet paper.
In the last year it’s become more common for artists to use crowd-sourcing sites; Minas now gets asked nearly every month to donate to friends and colleagues’ film or theatre projects online. Minas tells Crikey that previously she’d be asked on average four times a year to participate in more traditional fundraisers — she once hosted a roller disco to raise money for a film project, and silent auctions and band nights were popular.
A pile of bands at an art gallery proved far more costly as a fundraiser than an online crowd-sourcing campaign, says Jacqueline Hanlin, the producer of experimental fashion films Wildflower. The band night raised some cash, but not as much as was expected, plus it was expensive and required a lot of effort from organisers. To make up the difference, a crowd-sourcing campaign was launched.
The online campaign had “minimal outgoings and maximum reach”, Hanlin tells Crikey. ”It’s a much nicer and accessible way of getting people to donate,” she said, noting that people could just contribute a small amount from their desktop, rather than having to spend a whole night out.
“We [Hanlin, plus the director and fashion designer involved] all bombed our Facebook and email accounts and sent it out to cast and crew, saying ‘if you have friends and family, please share it with them’, lots of friends shared it on Facebook. Even supporting that way was helpful,” said Hanlin. Within a day 70% of their $800 goal was raised.
Not that it’s just struggling young artists wanting to get involved in crowd-sourcing. Dumbo Feather magazine is a cult read for arts and ideas junkies, a quarterly Australian publication with around 30,000 readers worldwide. But when it came to developing an iPad app for the magazine, its publishers didn’t want to just raise capital through advertising (which, along with subscriptions, is how it pays for its print editions). Instead, it ran a campaign on Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowd-funding site.
“Our magazine has always been built around community first and foremost,” editor Patrick Pittman told Crikey. “When we wanted to go into this new space — where we have to go, being realistic — the best thing to do is to turn to our community and say ‘is this what you want us to do? If you do, then help us out’”.
And it seems the community responded with a hearty “yes please”, with 275 backers donating $26,431 to the campaign which ended yesterday. Dumbo Feather aimed to raise $25,000 — if a target isn’t met, no donations are processed — a figure Pittman notes is high, but said “we asked for as much as we needed”. He adds that the campaign is “removing the risk of really putting energy into this area [iPad app development]”, as opposed to risk issues associated with going to a bank or an investor.
But is it just current readers who donated? “My gut feeling is that it’s about 60-70% are existing readers and people who know us and the rest are people who have heard about it from Twitter,” said Pittman.
Articles about Dumbo Feather’s campaign have appeared in blogs and articles online, including a Russian article about new forms of publishing models that the Dumbo Feather office attempted to translate from the Cyrillic with Google Translate.
Government funding may help prop up the arts industries in Australia, but there’s not enough money for artists to rely on that alone. Helping fund art projects has a intrinsic benefit as well.
“The people who have supported me, I support them in their projects,” said Minas. “It becomes a community and you feel like you’re part of something.”
*Disclaimer: Amber Jamieson donated money to the The Man Who Could Not Dream campaign