The most difficult thing for artists, even successful artists — aside from inspiration, of course — is obtaining funding.
In this country, it’s a matter of scrounging around. Hoping to sell something while working on another job to support your art. Looking for grants. Writing proposals. In Europe, a lot of artists easily receive grants from the government, which is a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. (Some say it leads to self indulgence, while others say it fosters a great respect for artists.)
Since we don’t live in Europe, we’re on our own. You can’t always hold bake sales and open up a lemonade stand to solicit funds, like schools did in days gone by (and that some still do). But thanks to the power of social networking, artists are beginning to find a new source of financing for their projects.
A nonprofit group, United States Artists, solicits donations from regular folks who want to help with the arts.
This isn’t entirely new. Rock musicians have begun to solicit support on their own websites from fans, to help get funds for new recordings. Sometimes those fans are not only rewarded with new songs from a favorite artist â€“ but they get an acknowledgement on the album (and on occasion in the song itself).
But using a social networking site is something new. You don’t expect Facebook to be a place for people to solicit funds. But a site devoted to an arts community is something else. Most artists aren’t good at fundraising â€“ but a site such as United States Artists simply allows them to put a brief description of their projects online, and hope for the best.
The social networking aspect of the site encourages artists â€“ a solitary bunch, used to working alone and without much feedback â€“ to interact not only with a community of other artists but, even more important in our civic age, to interact with an audience.
So far, in tests, the site has worked for projects from photographer Zoe Strauss, who got money for a project documenting the effects of the BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast, and filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, who used the site to get funds for a project on black family photographs.
This type of fundraising has appealed even to more established artists such as the jazz musician Bill Frisell, who raised over $20,000 for a program called “The Great Flood,” about the Mississippi River flood of 1927 and its effect on society and music.
This is a way for everyday people â€“ lovers of the arts â€“ to contribute to the arts without feeling their money is going into a big pit of “endowments” they have no control over. It’s a direct answer to a response for something tangible: the creation of a work of art.
It’s the new paradigm of the digital universe: speaking directly to your audience.
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