Artist Daniella Turbin used crowdfunding to raise money to support her drawing residency in France

One of the biggest obstacles for visual artists is getting funding. Frame and Reference asked recent graduate and photographer Sam Laughlin to find out more about non-traditional ways of attracting funds. In this special feature Sam talks to Platform Graduate Award nominee Daniella Turbin and Stour Valley Arts curator Dan Howard-Birt about their recent crowdfunding campaigns.

 

With cuts in arts funding in recent years, artists of all disciplines, even organisations, have looked to crowdfunding as an alternative to traditional funding options. Crowdfunding is essentially a way of harnessing an online platform to ask for donations or ‘pledges’ in return for rewards or ‘perks’. Some of the most popular crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Sponsume. Artists, musicians, inventors and entrepreneurs, with an idea or project that requires backing, can create a page on which to introduce their idea – usually with a video. Donations and rewards are tiered, the higher the ‘pledge’, the bigger the ‘perk’. Campaigns have a target amount, and on some platforms, if the target is not reached, the project does not receive any funding.

 

 

Platform Graduate Award shortlisted artists on show at Turner Contemporary 2013, work by Daniella Turbin
At the time of writing, the largest platform Kickstarter, which was founded in 2009, had raised almost $1billion for 63,752 successful campaigns from across the globe. The majority of the projects funded were in the creative industries, with an average success rate of 43% across all disciplines. In my final year of study (BA Documentary Photography, Newport, University of South Wales), I was involved in a successful crowdfunding campaign on Sponsume, with a target of £5,000 which we used for our graduate publication, so I can understand some of the reasons for using these platforms. However, to find out more, I spoke to Platform Graduate Award 2013 nominee, Daniella Turbin, and Stour Valley Arts curator, Dan Howard-Birt, both of whom successfully used crowdfunding platforms to raise money.

 

After graduating from the University of Kent where she completed a BA in Fine Art, visual artist Daniella Turbin, who works in various media, was offered an artist’s residency at DRAWinternational in Calyus, France. Following an unsuccessful Arts Council England application, she turned to the Kickstarter to raise half the total she needed to take up the residency. Turbin found that, although crowdfunding took longer and was more work, it was ultimately more rewarding. “The duration of the project exceeded the time I spent writing the Arts Council application,” she says. “It required me to stick to a daily marketing plan to ensure pledge targets were met, although, at times, this was nerve racking, it also resulted in some unexpected contacts.”

Artist Daniella Turbin used crowdfunding to raise money to support her drawing residency in France

 

One of the keys to having a successful crowdfunding campaign is marketing, much of which is carried out on social media. Having a network to call upon is vital too. In short, if a campaign has more reach, there is potential for more backers. While I was a student it was clear that the network of friends and family connected to our group of 30 students was instrumental in helping us reach our target. For individuals with a limited network, this is sure to be more of a challenge. Yet crowdfunding platforms can also bring opportunities for international exposure. Turbin gained “some unexpected contacts” with whom she has kept in touch, and also expanded her network, received backing from sponsors in Switzerland and Australia. Getting publicity is also helpful. Turbin’s campaign was featured on this website in January.

 

In the visual arts sector, when the topic of crowdfunding comes up it is often accompanied by the complaint that ‘crowdfunders’ annoy potential patrons. However, this generally happens when social media channels are oversaturated with calls for pledges and assistance. So it’s important not to alienate people in your network with a barrage of links and requests. It’s not just individuals that see crowdfunding as a viable option, arts organisations are also using these platforms. At the end of last year, Stour Valley Arts in Ashford reached their target of £1,002 to refurbish its forest studio using the Sponsume platform.

 


Artist Euphemia MacTavish, the first resident of the Forest Studio. Photo Amanda Thesiger

 

Commenting on the process, curator Dan Howard-Birt, Stour Valley Arts (SVA) chose to use crowdfunding mainly because “the project in mind was somewhat reactive and opportunistic” and the organisation “had no budgeted funds within its existing funding plans”. They decided to try and raise a relatively small amount in order to test the viability of the crowdfunding system. It was the sole source of funding for the project, and although an organisation such as SVA has a network to call upon, it was by no means easy. “Crowdfunding requires a different type of advocacy for the aims and ambitions of the project,” Howard-Birt explains. “It certainly takes no less managing as all donors enter an exchange of sorts with the organisation, which the organisation needs to honour.” In addition to this “the costs involved in delivering on ‘rewards’ can greatly impact on the funds raised, and the time used in soliciting backers and rewarding their donations is enormous.” As with Turbin, SVA found crowdfunding to be not only more time consuming, but also fundamentally different from more traditional funding models.

 

A key question is whether the growth in using crowdfunding sites to raise money is directly related to cuts in Arts Council funding. For Howard-Birt, this may be the case, however, he believes that crowdfunding should not be seen as a realistic replacement for exisiting government frameworks. “We should help our government to remember that it has an obligation to support the best in the arts, to support risk-taking, and to support those practices that do not have a developed market place,” Howard-Birt explains. “It is our responsibility as recipients of Arts Council England support to bring the best of the arts to the public in a way that enriches lives and deepens understanding.

 


Inside the Forest Studio. Photo Amanda Thesiger

 

“Crowdfunding tends against this responsibility as it relies on commissioners convincing donors of the merits of a project before it happens – this seems to utterly devalue what is achieved through artistic process, and has no feeling for risk and the extraordinary outcomes that risk-taking can enable.” Crowdfunding is market driven and this has a limiting effect on the structure of a project and its end result. Despite this, Stour Valley Arts may consider crowdfunding again in future, though it must be for a project that can be “packaged in a way that is sufficiently tantalising”. For both Turbin and STA crowdfunding worked, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for all projects, especially those that need to grow organically.

 

Crowdfunding is increasingly being used in the visual arts sector but it isn’t a replacement for traditional funding models and it does have its fair share of obstacles and pitfalls. For students, crowdfunding is certainly one way to fund graduate exhibitions and publications, and for lone artists it is one viable – but by no means easy – option, the pros and cons of which need to be weighed up before putting energy into creating a campaign. That said, it seems that crowdfunding is here to stay and is as much a part of the cultural landscape in the South-East region as elsewhere.