The Future of Arts Funding

Canada, Commentary, Information Technology, Peter McCaffrey (historic), Role of Government, Uncategorized

Technology has radically transformed many industries, from manufacturing and textiles to travel agencies or the entertainment business. Many have greatly suffered before accepting their fate and adapting to a new digital world. Now, the wider arts industry is in the firing line, but what is going to hurt the industry overall, might actually greatly benefit individual artists.

For decades, arts funding has been a euphemism for a complex combination of federal funding, tax credits for mega entertainment corporations, bureaucratic individual grants and countless political machinations. Those fortunate enough to have the right connections in the industry get the funding, while the rest are left trying to eek out a living, hoping for a bit of luck.

Artists have had to put up with this status quo just to survive, but thankfully, a better way is finally upon us. Technology is changing the world of the arts in ways that no one predicted even just a few short years ago.

From YouTube and blogs, to digital downloads and crowd-sourced funding mechanisms, today’s up and coming singers, dancers, actors and authors have a wealth of new opportunities available to them and many are taking advantage of them in amazingly creative ways.

Particularly in the music scene, a huge number of new singers and bands have got their big break via home recordings uploaded to YouTube. Some have even shunned the big record labels when they’ve come calling, preferring to go solo, or even set up their own recording labels – something unimaginably costly if not for huge reductions in price of professional quality equipment.

Meanwhile, crowd-funding is enabling aspiring film directors, sculptors, painters, authors, clothes designers and even video game creators to crowd-source the funding they require for their next projects.

Rather than selling art pieces and event tickets, or relying on a small number of large donors, crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other sites, allow individuals to create profiles, promote their ideas, and collect smaller donations from a larger number of people, right across the world, in order to meet their funding requirements.

Art lovers can browse through thousands of projects and donate to those they like the look of, usually in return for a cheaper price for the product once it’s completed, or for bonus content, like DVDs, early access to a game, or personalised messages from the artists.

Historically, outside of a few high profile artists and organisations, it wasn’t possible to find enough people with similar interests in a particular geographical area or region, to fund projects in an economical way.

Therefore, in order to provide these kinds of niche art projects as a ‘public good’, governments had to collect money from everyone through taxes in order to fund these art projects that wouldn’t have been viable on their own.

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned grants to niche artists only end up antagonising taxpayers, forced to fund art in styles they don’t appreciate or huge public art displays commissioned by city councils while core services suffer.

But now, the Internet allows people with highly specific interests to find each other regardless of geography and to connect and work together to create art and culture that they like. Software provides a mechanism to enable economies of scale based on a worldwide population of potential supporters, regardless of your unique tastes.

A giant model of a human brain, to be displayed and then burnt, at Burning Man, a stage production of Terminator 2, composed entirely from the words of William Shakespeare, or a life-sized dinosaur puppet – all examples of some of the stranger Kickstarter projects that have been successfully funded recently.

In fact, despite being only one of many such websites, Kickstarter alone distributed more than $480 million to artists in 2013.

To put that in to context, the National Endowment for the Arts, in the United States, gave away only $158 million last year.

In just a few short years, relatively simple technology that enables people to find like-minded individuals with similar tastes in artwork, has eclipsed and then surpassed a 50 year old institution of government.

Indiegogo call crowd-funding the democratization of finance.

Hopefully, governments will learn the lessons of other industries and choose to embrace this technological advancement for what it is – the democratization of art – a remarkable step forward towards greater diversity of art and freedom for artists.