Artists Anonymous’ Alexander Parsonage argues Arts Council England could use the Crowd Funding Model to give control of arts subsidy back to the people.
As anyone involved in funding for the arts will know the big new development has been the emergence of so called ‘Crowd Funding’ websites. The basic concept is simple – rather than seeking large sums of money from a single source, they ask a large number of people for a smaller amount. The website which pioneered this concept was the US based ‘Kick Starter’.
How does it work? Artists post a short video about the project and then outline in writing what they want to do with the money they’ve asked for and the perks they’re offering to people who donate them money. They need to set a target amount they hope to raise and a time frame they wish to do it in. If they receive enough pledges to reach their target in the timeframe they’ve set they recieve the money – if their project doesn’t succeed to reach it’s target the people who pledged money have it refunded and the artists have to go back to the drawing board. And it’s been extremely successful – at least in the US – a report on the website ‘Wired’ states:
‘More than 14,000 people have posted projects on Kickstarter, and more than 400,000 people have supported them, contributing a total of more than $35 million. Eighty new projects are launched every day, and $1 million is pledged every week. The site has tapped a source of patronage that was all but nonexistent before. The result, says cofounder and CEO Perry Chen, has been the realization of thousands of passion projects—a lone sailor who wanted to travel the world and send Polaroids and origami boats to backers, a designer who created a free online library of symbols, a vegan food truck in Louisville—that might never have found funding otherwise.’ http:/
We’re yet to see if such crowd funding websites will capture the imagination of the British public in quite the same way as they have across the pond – but irrespective of that I think it suggests an interesting idea for the arts council…. why not give control of the arts council’s budget back to a crowd. If ‘Kickstarter’ can successfully allocate $1 million a week to various projects why couldn’t an arts council crowd site do likewise with the arts council budget? Here’s what i’m suggesting:
In 2004 (the most recent figures I have to hand) Arts Council England gave out roughly £40 per head of population. So why not set up a crowd website where English citizens can register and then allocate how their £40 is spent? Obviously not everyone in the country would want to do this – so any money that isn’t claimed could be pooled and then allocated by an Arts Council team as it is currently. Alternatively you could simply allocate all the arts budget to people registering on the site each month, so the more people who register the less money each has to give out, but the overall sums being given out each month would stay the same. The Arts Council would still have a role, but it would be a much reduced on, simply needing to administer the website, thus saving millions of pounds which could be re-invested in creative projects.
Why is this such a good idea?
1) More Money – as the only back-end costs ACE would have would be administering a website
2) More Accountable – decision makers would be spending their own money so would be directly accountable to themselves
3) Less Bureaucratic Burden on Arts Companies – as funders will be directly accountable to themselves, they wont demand the same level of accountability from arts companies
Fundamentally it all comes down to accountability. The Arts Council are rightly concerned with their accountability to the English people, who’s money they spend. As a result of this they have to ask arts companies to constantly prove they are spending the money well – which adds a huge administrative burden onto small companies. The result is that lots of money that is meant to be going to artists has to be spent on administrators writing reports about how the money was well spent and not waisted on administrators…. which leads to a ridiculous catch 22. But this situation is only created because the arts council need to be accountable to the people who’s money they’re spending. If the people themselves were spending the money then that entire burden of accountability would be removed.. the people wouldn’t need to prove to themselves that they’d spent their own money wisely.
So if it’s their money they’d be spending why not just do away with the arts council all together and just let people choose to spend their own money on arts projects if they wanted to? Simple answer is that most people wouldn’t. And that’s ok – but as with most of public life the individual choices people want, and the outcomes they want are incompatible. We all want a flourishing cultural life, a world class health service and the very best education…. we’d also like not to have to pay for it. The beauty of this scheme is that no one is given an opt out – so we all get the outcome we want. While at the same time it gives everyone an equal stake – it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are you will have the same opportunity to support the arts.
This is democratisation on the real level – with citizens directly deciding the outcomes they want. The only way a project could get funded is if it captured the imagination of the people who’s money it’s asking for. What could be fairer than that?