Beyond Patronage: Artists and Experimental Monetization

On creative funding and distribution.

In September 2018, Kickstarter hosted a panel entitled “Beyond Patronage: Artists and Experimental Monetization” at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria. Here, the panel’s moderator and Kickstarter’s Manager of Creator Initiatives Lindsay Howard shares highlights from the discussion.

Famous New Media Artist’s Hand by Jeremy Bailey, from Krystal South’s Exhibition Kickstarter

Earlier this year, The Creative Independent, a Kickstarter-published resource, released a survey on the financial state of artists today. The results revealed that the most helpful income sources for artists are, in order of importance: freelance/contract work, having a day job, and receiving family support or an inheritance. Following that were private commissions, grants, and, lastly, gallery sales. The results lead us to believe that most artists are making a living by having a day job, and their artistic practice on the side.

At Kickstarter, we think that funding and distributing work can be as creative as making it. In September, we invited five panelists to join us for a discussion called “Beyond Patronage: Artists and Experimental Monetization” at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. Artists Stefanie Wuschitz and Kevin McCoy, curators Estela Oliva and Christoph de Jaeger, and Kickstarter’s Christoph Nagel offered the approaches they’ve been working on and thinking about recently.

Become co-investors with your creative community

Artists are drawn to metropolitan areas for the opportunities they offer, but the cost of living can be prohibitively expensive. The solution: team up with like-minded folks to share the cost and foster creativity.

Artist Stefanie Wuschitz introduced the audience at Ars Electronica to an initiative she’s working on called Bikes and Rails, a crowd-investment opportunity to create long-term affordable housing for artists in Vienna. The centrally-located house will provide a home for seventeen artists, as well as refugees, and be collaboratively owned. Investors contribute funds as a loan, receive interest rates, and then will be paid back if the house is ever sold. However, the investment they’re making is more cultural than financial: the hope is that the building will become a safe haven for provocative, political art-making over the course of many generations.

Stefanie is also the co-founder of Miss Baltazar’s Laboratory, a feminist hackerspace with a community-centric philosophy. They host workshops, events, and solo exhibitions for female-identifying and trans people, to encourage further development of skills, resources, and opportunities. The artworks and workshops are free or available through exchange, and the building they rent to host their events is funded through a government subsidy — which is decreasing, so they’re considering how to diversify their revenue streams. “Beyond advancing skills, one of the most important things we offer is encouragement and support, so that women and minorities are more likely to continue making work — and take risks,” Stefanie says.

Between the Resorts by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy (2012)

Experiment with new technologies

When artist Kevin McCoy first started researching blockchain, he saw a potential solution for how to monetize digital art. It’s always been a challenge to bring digital art into the contemporary art marketplace, he says, because digital files can be easily shared, copied, and distributed. Kevin envisioned this format as a way to create uniqueness and scarcity by registering works on the blockchain. The works could continue to circulate online, but their ownership would now be tracked through one primary system. He launched a startup called Monegraph to test the idea.

After four and a half years, and hosting more than 65,000 registrations and transactions, Kevin isn’t sure that this is the correct approach. “Monegraph provides a mechanism for receiving payments, and keeping a record of those transactions, but I don’t think that’s enough to provide an urgency around the digital art market. It’s not a magic solution,” he says. “I think there needs to be more effort put into building desire and commitment, not creating functional tools.” Monegraph continues to operate as an artist-driven, user-driven platform for buying and selling digital files.

Maximize every creative idea you have

Kevin and his wife, Jennifer McCoy, create digital artworks that can also function as sculptures, video installations, and prints. “We realized that once an idea was translated into a physical format, there was more opportunity to participate in the art market,” he says. Each time they come up with a new idea for an artwork, they immediately start thinking about how it can extend into multiple projects and perhaps multiple mediums. This helps them increase the number of works they have available, while also maintaining the uniqueness of each piece.

On the panel at Ars Electronica, we discussed how the artist Petra Cortright uses a similar model, as she explained in her recent interview with The Creative Independent: “Every single thing that I make gets used in multiple ways. When I’m making a painting, it might also become a video, or I’ll isolate a paint stroke and turn it into a marble sculpture. Everything has multiple outputs.” Kevin describes the idea of segmentation as being very contemporary, as artists think more broadly about how their work is experienced in physical spaces likes galleries and across social media platforms.

Lintillasniffer-FAT32crack-gluttonKayakingHOWTO.cnf by Petra Cortright (2016–2017)

Seek out collaborators who offer complementary skill sets and resources

How can artists leverage brand collaborations in meaningful — and financially fruitful — ways? In our discussion, curator Estela Oliva outlined a number of projects she’s developed between artists and companies, particularly a recent one called Into the Wild, Decoding the Creative Journey, produced by Makerversity and supported by Arts Council England and Innovate UK. The collaboration involved an eight-month incubator program, which came with a stipend, to help artists launch businesses — or products — as an extension of their practice. The initial seed funding helped artists commercialize their ideas, and get access to opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. Estela contributed research on her observations of the artists, designers, and makers. “It was exciting to see how artists approached design challenges; they brought a whole depth of considerations,” she says.

Often, the company or brand benefits as much, if not more, than the artist. Christoph de Jaeger runs a program in Belgium called Art&D Labs, which pairs artists with researchers at technology companies in the spirit of Bell Lab’s Experiments in Art and Technology. The participating artist receives funding and research support, while the company gains from having an artist’s creative perspective on their work. The cross-disciplinary collaboration is a mutually beneficial way to mix new ideas, methodologies, tools, and resources. “One of our artists had the idea that they wanted a robot to walk backward, which is something that the company’s researchers hadn’t considered. It sparked an interesting discussion, and ultimately the researchers modified their technologies to accommodate the artist, walking away with a deeper understanding of how and why they’d made certain initial decisions,” Christoph says. Ultimately, the artworks, as well as the IP, are owned by the artist and can be bought or sold at their discretion.

New Now 3 by Jonas Lund, one of the participating artists in Art&D Labs.

Try using Kickstarter and Drip in unexpected, creative ways

We’ve seen some clever, surprising uses of Kickstarter and Drip in regards to funding, distribution, and community support. Both platforms can be helpful for community-focused projects that require collaboration to get off the ground — and for building momentum around an idea. Kickstarter’s Christoph Nagel presented Krystal South’s Exhibition Kickstarter, an exhibition that commissioned and offered limited-edition artist works, and Pope.L’s Flint Water Project, in which the artist raised funds to buy tap water from Flint, Michigan residents, bottle it, and offer it as a limited-edition artwork. The art sale proceeds went to a relief fund for victims of the Flint water crisis. “These projects are about starting a conversation, raising awareness, and asking the audience to actively participate,” Christoph says, “and those do very well on Kickstarter.”

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Stories about how independent creators bring their projects to life.

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