REVIEW: Future of… Funding

Sunday – 12pm-1pm, The Gun Club

By Press Room Contributor Ashley Kalagian Blunt

The F word – funding. What is this ‘funding’ and where can we find it, particularly as more traditional funding models crumble like the ruins of a once great empire? Moderator Sophie Byrne, Arts Law marketing coordinator, can’t help but open the session on this plaintive note. Together with author AE Dooland and writer and theatre maker Alexandra Macalister-Bills, Byrne starts the panel with an overview of the current climate of decreasing government support, which at times can feel almost hostile towards the arts.

When government funding does exist, it comes with a demand to quantify, a struggle in the arts. Dooland sums up the situation: ‘Please explain the dollar value on making this person inspired – you can’t.’

There are further challenges, including the murky issue of corporate sponsorship, the attitude that artists should be grateful for every dollar offered regardless of its source, and public perceptions of entertainment. As Dooland points out, people have become used to free entertainment because of the internet – why should anyone pay for it?

But. The tone of the discussion shifts as Dooland and Macalister-Bills describe their successful funding ventures. Macalister-Bills worked with Going Down Swinging during their crowdfunding campaign, for example. The literary journal had lost project grant funding, without which the next issue couldn’t go ahead. Their resulting Pozible campaign ‘definitely wasn’t a sympathy pitch’, Macalister-Bills said. This is one of the key points about raising funds: success requires a strategic campaign that encourages people to be a part of something exciting.

Dooland herself is a crowdfunding success story. After writing fan fiction for years and developing a following, she crowdfunded her first book, and has since maintained a successful career as a self-published author (success as defined by making her mortgage payments).

Crowdfunding has become easier since Dooland began: ‘To get money five years ago, you had to make them cry with your marketing video.’ As more people launched crowdfunding projects, Dooland wondered if it would become more difficult – was she in competition with these projects for funds?

Not at all. ‘The more stuff there is out there, the more it fosters this real attitude of generosity’, Dooland said. ‘I’ve watched the culture shift from begging people for money to putting something out there and saying “Hey, be part of my great idea.”‘

‘People are interested in projects that are different,’ Dooland added. ‘When you explain to people that you have a story that you want to tell, people get really inspired by that idea. They like the idea that they’re holding something in their hands that they’ve contributed to.’

At this point, some of us in the audience may be picturing ourselves rolling in piles of cash, but we’re brought back to reality: crowdfunding has to be done strategically – Dooland says she can only do it once a year, for example. Sending out the rewards after a successful crowdfunding campaign is time consuming, Dooland also warns, and this has to be done quickly to encourage people to contribute again.

In all, Dooland spent 1350 hours writing her first book and more than 2000 on crowdfunding and marketing. Likewise, Macalister-Bills estimates there was more time spent on the Going Down Swinging crowdfunding campaign she was part of than would have been spent on an equivalent grant application.

Byrne hopes we’ll see a shift in the political climate: ‘People need to be reminded that art is valuable, and even if you don’t realise it, it affects your life in a good way.’ In an ideal world, the value of art for art’s sake would be recognised and artists would be compensated fairly, as in any other profession. Regardless, the three speakers conclude: whatever type of funding artists decide to go after, there’s likely to be a lot of work involved – but the effort can pay off.