So, what’s the deal about crowdfunding?

Burrima Macquarie Marshes
Mosses and Marshes aims to put the Macquarie Marshes on an international stage

I’ve just launched my second crowdfunding campaign of the past two years on the Australian Cultural Fund platform. My first campaign raised just over $5 thousand – 106% of its target amount. This second campaign, Mosses and Marshes,  has launched in a very uncertain climate and your guess is as good as mine as to where it’ll land by mid-December.

When I launched that first campaign in February 2019, I had no experience in crowdfunding, and as a regionally-based artist, I knew of no one who had raised money through crowdfunding. I did have over two decades of experience in media and marketing behind me though, so I knew how to run a campaign.

Time lapse recording a burnt out reedbed in the Macquarie Marshes (February 2020)
Time lapse recording a burnt out reedbed in the Macquarie Marshes (February 2020)

The new normal for arts funding

Only a couple of years before, I’d been listening to an Australia Council for the Arts presenter go to great lengths to explain how important crowdfunding was to have in the funding mix for your arts practice. I remember thinking at the time, “That’d be bloody right! This is the response to government’s underfunding the arts.” Most of those who were there agreed.

University of NSW economist, Usman W. Chohan looked at the merits of crowdfunding in The Conversation in 2017, cautioning that viewing it as a means of totally supplanting government support for the arts displays an eerie resemblance between the discourse of anti-public arts funding advocates and that of pro-crowdsourcing advocates.

During that last campaign, I had someone I knew in a well paid public service job tell me it was my choice to make art and I shouldn’t expect Government funding or donations. So, why do some artists need to raise funds to support their art practice? And why do they deserve your support?

The arts reflect who we are.

It really comes back to what one considers to be the value of art, doesn’t it? There’s a growing body of evidence in Australia and internationally that investing in the arts has many benefits in terms of national identity, meaningful connections, deeper understanding, wellbeing, inclusiveness, experimental and critical thinking, and more. The arts reflect who we are. If you think artmaking must simply fulfil some economic rationale, then you only have half the picture.

Sure, some art can be self-supporting in a healthy economy, enjoyed simply for its aesthetic qualities, as entertainment, educational qualities, or relaxation. There’s art that doesn’t sit comfortably above the couch or isn’t particularly entertaining or relaxing, but it may well be incredibly educational. And of course, there are those works that sit somewhere in between.

For me, art is about the connections, exchanges that bring to light new ideas and ways of thinking, bridging differences, offering new perspectives, exploring options, provoking discussion about important issues. It’s hard to put a price tag on that. That’s the art I’ve been working on developing for more than a decade now, after a more conventional start to my practice.

All the grunt without the reward

An economic study of Australian artists commissioned and published by the Australia Council for the Art in 2017 revealed that in 2014/15, on average, 60 percent of artists made less than $10 thousand per year from creative work, even when all earned income sources were accounted for (with no change on the previous reporting period in 2007/08). The median wage in Australia today is just under $50 thousand. Only 13 percent of artists surveyed made more than today’s median wage in 2014-15. That 60 percent of artists had to make up their basic income from other non-creative areas of work. It doesn’t leave much time for making art, little less finding the spare money needed to buy art supplies, exhibit, publish or stage works, or market it.

If we’re going to get all economic about it though, the Australian Government’s own Bureau of Communications, Arts and Regional Research values cultural and creative activity contributions to the Australian economy (2016/17) at a whopping $111.7 billion, or 6.4% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The irony is not much of that makes it back to the artist and many other sectors hang off the coattails of the arts, including tourism and hospitality.

In 2018, Creative Partnerships Australia (who manage the Australian Cultural Fund platform) published a blog post by Brooke Boland saying: comparison to other funding avenues, crowdfunding itself…is used by relatively few artists and creative professionals.

It quotes the same Australia Council for the Arts commissioned economic study mentioned above, that reports between 2010 and 2015, only 11 percent of artists used crowdfunding, 80 percent of them successful.

Boland goes on to write: A general wariness around crowdfunding, however, persists in the arts and creative industries. Especially when it comes to ‘crowdfunding fatigue’, which is the effect of too many requests for funding by those potential givers that campaigns target.

As artists, we do struggle to cast our nets wider sometimes.

Australia is a small philanthropic pond by international standards. However, my experience has shown that even strangers are prepared to give if they connect with an idea or a project. However, our culture isn’t one steeped in support for the arts, particularly at a time when governments are so dismissive of the sector, so that does make our small pond even smaller.

As artists, we do struggle to cast our nets wider sometimes, even though crowdfunding can put our projects on an international stage. Asking for help is a confronting thing to do, asking for financial help is always going to be harder particularly when you feel yourself having to justify what you do before you start.

Finding time to run a strong crowdfunding campaign, even if you do have the skills and knowledge to do so, is also difficult. Before you see the campaign live on a website, hours and hours of unpaid work have gone into preparing to get it to that point — time not spent making the art or doing all the other things we’re expected to do.

Why Mosses and Marshes deserves your support

Without doubt, projects like Mosses and Marshes are worthy of support. These projects contribute enormously to the dialogue around issues that affect our future. They offer us opportunities to see our world through a new lens, to experience familiar environments in new and exciting ways, to take our stories to the world, and to think differently about who we are and what we want for future generations.

These may seem like abstract ideas, but if you don’t support those amongst us who work with abstract ideas, creating, investigating, wondering, pushing the boundaries just a little further than before, and who are willing to share themselves and what they uncover, we’ll continue to simply get what we’ve always had.

Donations will cover exhibition venue hire, equipment hire and printing. Australian donations are tax-deductible through the Australian Cultural Fund.

To find out more about Mosses and Marshes or to donate go to the Australian Cultural Fund website project page.

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