Crowdfunding the Arts

By Eric Crampton 25/03/2015


Christchurch Art Gallery’s budget is being hit in the latest round of Christchurch Council austerity measures.

The Christchurch Art Gallery’s fund for purchasing artworks will be cut by more than two thirds under wide-ranging budget cuts proposed for the arts.
The cuts mean the gallery’s art buying fund will fall from $250,000 a year to $80,000 a year, making it one of the most poorly funded art collections in the country.
It has to trim 6 per cent from its budget over the next three financial years as part of operational spending cuts proposed in the Christchurch City Council’s draft long-term plan.
Under the cuts, the gallery would host about 12 exhibitions a year compared to about 18 before the 2011 earthquakes, reopen later this year without some hoped-for building improvements, and not replace some staff cut after the earthquakes.
Gallery director Jenny Harper said the cuts would mean more reliance on external fundraising.
“Everyone knows that $80,000 doesn’t buy you much, even from younger and less established artists.
“It is fair to say that this is a city with multiple priorities. We will still be able to buy a few things and we will still be able to receive gifts and fundraise. We will be increasingly reliant on community funding to build the collection.”

One potential solution for new acquisitions? Crowdfunding through PledgeMe.

The latest Art Gallery bulletin has entries from a few folks on crowdfunding and the arts. I’ve copied mine below.

Crowdfunding is a new take on an old method for funding the arts: patronage. Count Ferdinand von Waldstein earned lasting fame by his early sponsorship of Beethoven. While patrons supporting the arts through Kickstarter can hardly expect similar name recognition, they can similarly enjoy a sense of part-ownership of the final production.

Arts patronage was typically, and remains, the domain of the wealthy. Smaller patrons could never really be sure how much difference their contributions made. Consequently, donations can suffer from what economists call a public goods problem: because everyone can benefit from a work when it is produced, it is often best to sit back and wait to see whether the work might be produced without your contribution. And so arts organisations provide special bonuses for members of their affiliated groups of supporters.

While this comes some way towards solving the public goods problem, crowdfunding alternatives provide a more direct approach: no donor is charged unless the project has enough pledged support to go ahead. Each donor can then feel part-ownership of the project. Because of the donor’s support, along with that of like-minded others, an artist could make something new and beautiful – as judged by the donor. The New York Times reported in January that the traditional fine arts have some of Kickstarter’s highest success rates.

The public goods problem remains where some would-be supporters delay pledging in hopes that the threshold is reached without their contribution. Clever crowdfunding initiatives can mitigate the problem by providing bonuses to early pledgers, like signed tokens from the artists that can be produced at low cost but are of high value to supporters as it enables them to display their affiliation and support.

Even better, arts organisations can use crowdfunding mechanisms to gauge support for the different initiatives they might undertake. A gallery could propose commissioning several different works; patron support through PledgeMe would determine which were commissioned, and supporters could receive small versions of the commissioned work in acknowledgement, from pins through prints.

PledgeMe supporters of a [hypothetical] Christchurch Art Gallery commission of a new painting (by an artist like Jason Greig, for example) would hardly earn Waldstein’s fame. But, a supporters’ limited-edition lithograph of the newly commissioned work could be fame enough for many supporters – including me.

When the city can barely manage to get its roading in order post-quake, art gallery acquisitions are a luxury – though I’d agree with anybody arguing that the anchor projects need a strong re-think in the current budgetary environment too.

Gallery collections can be supported through donation though. The Press reports that the Challenge Grant, where Council matches raised funds, will remain at $220,000 per year. Were this dedicated to acquisitions where half the cost were covered by crowdfunding, the Gallery could nicely leverage the crowdsourced contributions and ensure that it acquires the pieces that its patrons think most valuable.

And my offer to pledge towards any new Greig commission, in exchange for a lithograph, stands. I’m so annoyed that I didn’t pick up his early pieces when he showed at Gallery O in the Arts Centre. Just didn’t have the budget for it then.