New models for funding the arts

This week, fifty or so arts leaders from our community gathered together to discuss new models for funding the arts and artists.  It was part of a national dialogue called Creative Conversations facilitated by Americans for the Arts.  According to the AFTA website, Creative Conversations “brings together local arts and community leaders to discuss challenges and issues regarding the arts in their communities and generate increased energy around the grassroots movement to elevate the profile of the arts in America.”

Our conversation was hosted by Arketype, a local design/creative firm whose boundaries go far beyond advertising and who last year was named one of the Top Ten Businesses for the Arts in America by the Business Committee for the Arts.  The centerpiece of the discussion was presentation of a patronage model developed by the amazing Jim Rivett and others at Arketype to support an emerging singer/songwriter, Sam Brooker of Sam and Ruby.

Jim enlisted the help of Arketype’s business manager to develop a model where individuals could support Sam’s work by purchasing shares in a consortium.  The money raised has enabled Sam to work on his music without having to take another job to pay the bills.  In return, shareholders receive dividends on current and future sales of Sam’s songs.  This is not a charity — the consortium is an LLC and metrics for evaluation of success were drawn up before presenting the prospectus to potential supporters.

This interesting idea was part of a larger conversation: how can we support artists in ways that go beyond the traditional methods?  Currently, we put art and artists into one of two silos: the nonprofit world or the marketplace.  Artists who choose the nonprofit world are dependent on 501(c)(3) organizations, who are themselves dependent on grants, corporate sponsorship and individual donations.  Artists who choose the marketplace are, well, dependent on the marketplace.  Most artists ride the seesaw between these two worlds, which require very different skills and marketing techniques.  And most have the fundamental problem of how to even develop themselves as artists when both of these paths reward accomplished artists, not developing artists.

The path of patronage of individual artists has a long and rich history, and it has a lot of promise.  But there are issues with individual patronage as well, and reasons that it is not popular today.  How are artists selected for patronage?  Does it turn into an artistic popularity contest or are there ways to ensure that deserving artists are supported?  Does patronage bring with it the right to allow the patron to dictate the art?  What responsibility does the artist have to report to the patron?  What happens if the artist just doesn’t turn out to be very good?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, and neither did the people at the meeting, but plenty of good ideas were shared.  I’ll share some other ideas, like crowdsourcing the arts and microloans, in a future blog.

In the meantime, though, for those artists reading this, think about how your career might be different (or might have been different) if, at some point early in your career, you had the space, time and financial ability to just make art.  It sounds wonderful, no?


About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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