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Social Funding and the Arts

For the past few years I have applied for various blog writing grants, and each time never made it past the first round of applicants. What a grant would mean for the site, is more contests, a better and more professional layout, and working on advertising the get the site out there more. The Creep Machine is doing well, but of course could always be doing better. However, the site is not doing well enough to get a grant. Every year I get denied and every year after I look to see if the winners are still going, and most of the time they are not. You might have a good idea for a site, but do you have the fire and ability to keep going for years? I’m not even posting as much on this site as I would like to be. Anyway, I as talking to some other artists about the whole “arts grants” area, and after talking with Arabella Proffer she wrote a post on her blog about her experience with grants, and the whole idea of social funding, such a sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. She sent over a version of her article to share with the readers, take a look and then comment with your experiences or ideas. Take it away Arabella.

I see so many great artists, designers, creative entrepreneurs who apply for funding, and after going through the ringer, get denied. It seems that it you don’t fit into a certain stereotype—or aren’t already known—the traditional route of seeking business loans, grants from foundations and various non-profits is almost futile. This is especially true if what you are doing is something new, different, or in an industry/genre that these people aren’t familiar with.

Let’s face it, many people who sit of boards or head up foundations are living in a bubble going for the same kinds of projects time after time. In fact, how many artists or writers get grants or funding consistently? Quite a few! It’s almost as if they’ve proven they got funding from one reputable source, then it’s okay to give the green light because it looks good for the foundation to be in the know, not to mention an opportunity for press. Again, most board members and judges don’t go out of their comfort zone or bother to research, and many are partaking for social cache alone. Then there are the ones who grant to former colleagues (cough*cough* NEA and MacArthur grants cough*), former students, or as in the case of a Rome Prize juror, their girlfriend. It really is like winning the lottery sometimes and not just based on reputation or quality of what you do. This isn’t to say everyone who gets awarded isn’t deserving, but it can be very spotty at best, depending on the award level. There is one grant, for instance, where it’s known only by a few that you have to apply 3 years in a row before they will even carefully look at your application. Why 3 years? Because they are making sure you have been a resident long enough (not a newbie to the state), and want to see what other accolades you get first. Funny how they awarded a person who had just gotten a Guggenheim recently.

More than a few friends have also applied for “yay small businesses!” grants that are supposed to help the local economy or contribute to culture, but because the industry wasn’t a familiar one, got denied. It’s also hilarious when this happens with the last resort: bank loans. How many programs are there for small businesses, women-owned, minority, arts related? How many of them actually hand you down a loan for something creative that isn’t a total raw deal? Sure it’s good PR for the bank to have these programs, but they are so muddled with bureaucracy that you’d be amazed how many deserving recipients get denied. On the flip side I’ve seen hucksters who claim to be a non-profit, but in fact are a for-profit business, and yet they’ll get awarded funding thanks to friends or grant writers who know how to spin it.

Despite all of this, almost every creative I know who has recently been denied grants or bank loans went to the internet, and got funding. In fact, many got over-funded! Thanks to websites like Kickstarter, funding isn’t based on a small group of old ladies who don’t like nudes in art or a guy in a bad suit looking at your credit score. These are contributions from people who actually get what you are doing, or are just interested and want to be involved. No politics, no bullshit, and if one person isn’t into what you are doing, you don’t get outright denied. An arts foundation that wouldn’t give one friend the time of day? She was able to raise over $10,000 to do her art project. Another friend who was denied all the “yay entrepreneurs!” grants AND a bank loan? She raised over $12,000 to start her business. Yep, they got more from the internet than from the organizations who exist for the purposes of funding.

In the digital age, and with all the things it is rendering obsolete, is “crowdfunding” going to replace these organizations in the long-term? Or, will it become so over-saturated, mainstream (celebrities ruin everything), and full of noise that you will need a reputation all over again?

Please share your stories, because I’m very curious to see where this is all going.

(full disclosure: I’m the daughter of a MacArthur fellow).

Thanks Arabella for the great article. –Josh

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    Oct 31, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I know this article is about four years old, but I only just read it today. I am not sure whether you received a grant in the interim or not, but Creepmachine looks great. I can sympathize with the topic. In my case I wanted an atelier style education. There are very few scholarships/grants for this type of education out there, and from what I understand, they usually go to students who have already been in an atelier for a couple years. I think that’s great to reward dedicated artists, but I wish there was a separate focus on artists just trying to get a foot in the door.

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