Funding in the arts is a constant topic of discussion for many, especially for individual artists, independent galleries, museums, and community art centers. Even though a rare few are self funded, most organizations are in constant need of funding to cover operating costs, artistic programming, and educational initiatives. With such limited resources, how are individual artists expected to fund their own artistic practices?
Exploring alternative sources of funding is on a steady increase, and I find that crowdfunding is on the rise, helping established and emerging artists to continue to survive and thrive in their studios. Artists are turning to peer-to-peer supported online resources such as Hatchfund (www.hatchfund.org), Indiegogo (https://entrepreneur.indiegogo.com), Patreon (www.patreon.com), Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com), You Caring (www.youcaring.com), Fundly (https://fundly.com), Just Giving (www.justgiving.com), and Facebook (www.facebook.com).
I interviewed internationally recognized ceramic artist Beth Cavener and ceramic artist and recent graduate Kelsey Bowen on their own unique experiences with successfully raising funds using online crowdfunding platforms.
Cavener has successfully funded two large-scale projects; one in partnership with United States Artists (USA) and the other, a self-directed funding initiative to support her volunteer-based internship program at Studio 740—allowing artists and supporters the exclusive opportunity to work closely with her in Helena, Montana.
Edith Garcia: What was your impetus to go online for support?
Beth Cavener: Normally the way I work is to conceptualize a two-year-long project that culminates in an exhibition or project at a specific location and time period.
Toward the end of 2010, I had several new experimental ideas for my projects that included large-scale mixed-media installations. Being a new way of working for me, I felt that these large-scale projects were possibly beyond my reach in terms of time, scope, and resources involved for me to tackle alone. It was around this time that I was contacted by USA Projects, which, at the time, was an artist-specific crowdfunding site, attached to the prestigious United States Artists Fellowship Program (a not-for-profit grant-making and artist advocacy organization). I was intimidated about doing it, but USA Projects paired each artist with an advisor who helped us to create the campaign on Hatchfund (now at AIM, a not-for-profit promoting technology to create brilliant communities) and paired many of us up with small matching funds and charitable funding organizations.
The Come Undone project was a success. We raised $20K. The entire cost of the show exceeded $90K in expenses, and without the encouragement and support of all the small donations, it would have been really hard to push forward and have the confidence to follow through.
EG: After a successful partnership with United States Artists–did it change your perception on how it would be possible to continue to fund your projects, and the way you worked?
BC: Yes. In 2016, I decided to try again, this time with a different approach to crowdfunding. At that time I was focusing on creating an entirely new series of work for an upcoming solo show. However, this time I was faced with the challenge of being a new parent and being able to find enough time to work in the studio.
Facing these new dynamic changes and shifts, I had not been able to find the resources that I needed (specifically time and money) to produce a new body of work since Come Undone, and I knew I was going to need help. Then, I came across Patreon, a website that encourages supporters to act collectively as patrons for artists as opposed to funding specific projects.
I created a Patreon account to ask for help specifically for the internship program that I have been running in my studio for the past 15 years. I had assistants and volunteers during the two-year work period, but travel costs, food, and lodging for each intern was exceeding $1500 per person, so I asked the Patreon community to help in funding some of the overhead costs.
EG: Was working with Patreon a successful endeavour for your internship program?
BC: I was humbled and amazed at the level of support I received! I think the most engaging aspect for me with these campaigns is that it gives people the opportunity to come to Helena and work closely with me. Individual supporters that might not have had the resources to cover the cost of taking part in such an experience are the very people that have always inspired me to make my work and I hope that I can inspire them as much as they have inspired me throughout my career. There is something uniquely intimate and wonderful about having a crowd of people following and cheering you all the way to the finish line.
Along with established artists finding new approaches to funding and developing larger socially engaged collaborative projects, I wanted to know about the current state of the marketplace that young artists graduating from art colleges face today.
In speaking with a few recent graduates from the California College of the Arts where I teach, I discussed the challenges to continue making artwork right after graduation. I often recommend artist residencies as a way to help avoid the overhead expenses that come with setting up a studio space, then crowdfunding to cover any additional costs.
Kelsey Bowen, a recent graduate from the California College of the Arts, turned to crowdfunding when she received the news that she had been awarded a long-term artist residency at Red Lodge Clay Center in Red Lodge, Montana. Bowen shares her experience of using Indiegogo to fully fund her residency.
EG: What was the deciding factor for you to go online for support for your artist residency?
KB: I feel that Indiegogo was a really successful way of crowdfunding for my residency. It backed my need for funds with a reliable platform that people online are familiar with and trust. Additionally, Indiegogo specifically created a marketplace where I could sell work to earn support. This was a far more positive experience for me because an exchange of artwork for support made the funds feel earned. It was also a way for me to validate my cause to my supporters because I had the chance to prove I was going to be making work at the Red Lodge Clay Center and share my experience on Instagram and other forms of communication.
EG: Can you walk me through your experience using the Indiegogo platform for the first time?
KB: Indiegogo requires a campaign video, and creating a video was by far the most challenging part of the fundraiser. Making the actual video was a lot of work. I had to clean and organize my post-thesis show studio and work on a series of different projects that would showcase both the ideas I wanted to explore while at the residency as well as products that I would be exchanging for support on the platform. I was lucky to have help from my partner Josef Peters in editing, interviewing, and encouraging me through that fourth hour of raw video.
During my short-tem residency, it changed the way that I worked at the Red Lodge Clay Center because I was constantly thinking about each person that helped me get there. I felt the responsibility to post updates and keep up a better presence online to show backers that I was fully taking advantage of my residency opportunity. I also loved that it offered a sort of front row seat to followers who wanted to be engaged in my practice. There weren’t many (I’m new), but the small, encouraging crowd of supporters was worth a lot to me.
As an emerging artist, I see the future of artists using online fundraising steadily growing. At the same time, the potential to be more and more successful when crowd sourcing can have such a direct impact on your career, especially at the beginning stages when you are working to build a professional presence.
That “Share” button matters a lot.
EG: Describe what you feel are some of the most important elements of using this online platform. And, what you feel is important for other young artists to know.
KB: Although preparing my Indiegogo campaign was daunting at first, it was an experience that I would absolutely encourage more artists to navigate. The educational benefits alone, especially as an undergraduate, were immense. Moving through the stages of creating my campaign taught me valuable skills in communication, social engagement, shop listing and selling work, packaging and shipping, time management, and accountability. It took many hours and several days of editing, self promoting, and networking with my potential backers. Much of this territory was new ground for me, offering an extreme sink-or-swim learning curve that fluctuated between easy backstrokes and lungs full of water.
As the landscape continues to change, along with our very complicated relationship with the digital world, new possibilities are always just around the corner. Let us hope that future trends will continue to support new generations of artists and designers to come.
Beth Cavener recently had a solo exhibition titled “The Other” at Jason Jacques gallery in New York. She continues to use Patreon as a way to fund her internship program and to help run her artistic practice.
Kelsey Bowen’s is now a long-term artist-in-residence at the Red Lodge Clay Center, Red Lodge, Montana. To learn more about her residency experience and the new body of work she created, please visit:
the author Edith Garcia is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the California College of the Arts. Garcia received her MFA from the California College of the Arts, and MPhil at the Royal College of Art in London. To learn more, visit www.edithgarciastudio.com, Instagram: @nenagarcia, Facebook: edith.garcia.nenadot.