Crowdfunding: What It Is and Why It Matters

Art and artists have always struggled with the issue of funding. 


You can't create something out of nothing, and the supplies and time needed to create good art don't come free. When you are an unknown artist, no one will pay much money or attention to your art. But in order to get better, to hone your skills and develop your art to become the fantastic artist you potentially are, you need time and you need financial support. And you need this most when you are first starting out because you are new and unknown and your art isn't pulling in money yet. Therein lies the "starving artist" conundrum. No one wants to risk the money when the artist most needs it.

But artists are creative. And the world needs art. So, throughout history, this issue has been addressed in various ways.

1. Patronage


Patronage was generally bestowed by kings or popes or persons of significant political power upon artists to fund their work. In other words, the person-of-power paid the artist's livelihood and sponsored their art. The positive side of patronage was that an artist backed by such a renowned person was likely to  become well-known and influential in society.  The downside was that their art was used as a medium to promote their patron and his ideals, not their own. They got funding, but often at the cost of artistic freedom.

Artistic patronage is still alive and well today, though on a much smaller scale. For example, my husband has been my artistic parton for the last seven years. He has held the job to support us both, while I have honed my art. And I am thankful to add that he hasn't made me write what he wants, he's let me write what I want.

2. Artistic Grants, Awards and Residencies


Thanks to organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and many other smaller organizations, there is "free" money out there available to artists and writers.

The downside of this is that most artistic grants or awards require you to prove some level of accomplishment before they will grant you money. It is often a case of "You have to have won a grant to get a grant," which tends to perpetuate the same artists winning multiple awards. There are not many out there for the artist just starting out. And, in my experience, grants tend to be very specific and VERY competitive. There are a whole lot of hungry artists waiting at that table, and your chances of getting anything for your plate are pretty slim.

Even with an award under my belt and over 20 publications, I have yet to land a grant that I've applied for.

3. Holding Down Another Job 


This is probably the most common way that struggling artists support themselves. They get a full-time or part-time job to pay for their livelihood and squeeze their artistic pursuits into the remaining time. Sadly, this is difficult for many artists to maintain. Time spent on that job is time lost honing their skills and craft. The artist may risk health or injury on that job, risks that could impede their ability to produce art in the future. And often, the art gives way to the more practical needs of putting food on the table or providing for a family.

4. Crowdfunding


Crowdfunding is relatively new to the scene of artistic funding, propelled primarily by the engine of the internet. Crowfunding is the collective cooperation of a network of people (usually people in the artist's realm of influence) who pool their resources to support an artist or specific artist work. This is much like patronage, but it is a patronage by the masses, by the common man, if you will, rather than the royal family.

Artists have been using the idea of Crowdfunding for quite a while, employing their individual websites as venues, but recently large crowdfunding sites have been popping up all over the internet, the largest being Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding is personal.


Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter co-founder, says he doesn't really like the term "Crowfunding." To him it sounds too impersonal, like a mob of faceless, nameless people are going to support you. In reality, crowdfunding taps into the network an artist or creator already has. It asks the people who already believe in the artist to back him, and to spread the word to people they know to back him, allowing word-of-mouth to form a network of personally connected  and invested patrons.

Crowdfunding isn't only for the rich.


For a long time art and artistic pursuit were relegated to the realm of the rich or famous. One of the beauties of crowdfunding is that is allows people with very little money to join in, either as an artist or patron (or often as both). Art can be expensive to make and buy, but by getting in on the ground floor or an artist's career, many people can fund and buy early original art for less.

Crowdfunding is satisfying. 

Crowdfunding comes with the satisfaction of knowing you have just helped an artist who might not have otherwise gotten on their feet or developed further as an artist without our help. You have made a difference in the artistic world.

Crowdfunded art isn't a part of the artistic status quo.


Traditionally, art has been vetted through an existing artistic machine-- the foundations, publishing houses, university art programs, and funding venues that have, for so long, dictated what was good art, and what was not. With Crowfunding, the people decide what art the people want. If people want to see it made enough to back it, it gets made. If they don't, it doesn't. But no one from on-high is saying it won't sell because it hasn't been seen or done before. This allows for more innovation, more thinking outside the artistic box, and maybe chucking the box altogether.

Crowdfunding is a participatory act. 


And finally, an element of crowdfunding is often a personal invitation by the artist into their creative process. A patron of crowdfunding isn't just someone who pays the bill. They are also a participant. They may get to have input into what is created. Or receive updates on the process. They may get invited to read the book first, or come to a dress rehearsal of the performance, or visit back stage. They have become an insider to the creation of an art form they themselves do not practice. They have been inducted into the world and ways of the artist themselves.

And who knows. That just might ignite the sleeping artist inside themselves.

Want to check out a practical example of Crowdfunding? Take a look at my current Kickstarter Project: Ghost Hand, a project to fund my YA paranormal thriller. 

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Comment by Susan Noelle Bernardo on August 7, 2012 at 6:16am

Dear Ripley - Thank you so much!! I currently have a kickstarter project going, too, and I have been explaining the concept of crowdfunding to friends and families and everyone I meet - this wonderful summation will make it easier.

I have said once before that my dream job would be to be a patroness of the arts...and sites like kickstarter enable everyone to become just that.  How amazing that sites like this exist to nourish creativity and originality in a world which needs it so urgently!

As a writer, the opportunity to pre-sell and promote a project is invaluable...  I've just attended four days of the SCBWI conference in LA...even after you get past the gamut of agents and editors and sign a deal, it takes about two years for your book to be printed.  We wanted to get our book out sooner than that.  It's a picture book intended to help children deal with grief and separation anxiety, and we believe it will do well in the self-published arena -- and the sooner we print Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs, the sooner we can get it into the hands of children who need it.   In fact, for every copy we pre-sell, we are donating one to a charity that helps children!

Running a successful kickstarter project does take a lot of advance preparation and work!  Our project has been up for about 5 weeks, with 6 days to go -  we hit our goal one week ago and have now reached 102 % of our goal (hooray...we can print more books!).  This has meant doing a lot of self-promotion, which doesn't always come easily!  facebook postings, e-mail updates, reaching out to bloggers, and lots of personal appeal letters to friends and families.  I can't wait to put the finished product in their hands!

And now, I am off to check out Ghost Hand ...if you have a chance, I'd love for you to check out my children's book:   Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs

xoxo Susan Bernardo

Comment by Joanne Tombrakos on August 7, 2012 at 6:01am

Good perspective on crowdfunding as a modern day form of patronage . Had not thought of it like that. Thank you.


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