There can be no confusion between an investment decision and a charity night. Investments are made, expecting a certain return, taking into account factors such as the current economic climate, risk and time frame, whilst heeding the advice of bankers and specialists and bearing in mind one’s private ethical concerns. Charity, other than in its Christian meaning of ‘love of humankind’, the one after faith and hope, is the ‘voluntary giving to those in need’. An anonymous gift, a regular bank transfer, an impulse donation. No return is expected. Yet despite proverbially ‘beginning at home’, charity often takes on the form of a public display; a table at a fundraiser, a bid at a fashionable auction, patronage and sponsorship. Money is however not always the essential element. Philanthropy requires effort, organization, networking and often its causes need no mare than a figurehead, an endorsement, a sign of approval.
On the crossroad of investment and charity, there is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows new businesses to raise money online from private investors via organized platforms such as Crowdcube, Seedrs, Kickstarter.
Crowdfunding is not a new phenomena. The collective raising of funds or praenumeration has existed for centuries just as cooperative movements have seen the pooling of funds to promote new business models. But the scene has changed and there now exist many types of crowdfunding.
Anybody can apply for crowdfunding and from start-ups to small entrepreneurs, the group of crowdfunding initiators has been steadily expanding. In an aim to remain or become independent, journalists in China have via crowdfunding initiatives been able to raise funds to conduct free, investigative reports. Civic crowdfunding initiatives with projects such as the construction of recycling facilities, public parks and playgrounds are spreading. And more and more, artists are appealing to the public and their fans for funds.
Artistic freedom, Grants and Consumption
There has never been a consensus regarding the role of art and the need for culture in society. Forever the domain of disagreement and controversy, artists have a tough deal. Creators, visionaries, parasites, vessels and carriers of our zeitgeist, delusional oracles. Who will say but time? But in the mean time…
Starving artists do not make better artists. Peripheral or marginal art is not better art.
Art needs exposure and public endorsement. And sometimes, though not always or exclusively, artists need financial backing. Grants, subsidies, commissions and also crowdfunding can provide such support.
Crowdfunding is based on the idea of ‘the wisdom of the crowd’. But who is this crowd? Can the crowd be trusted? Does the crowd have a long-term view? In civic crowdfunding, when the thrill of the initial campaign is over, will the crowd take responsibility for its projects’ future challenges? In artistic crowdfunding, will the crowd continue to champion the artist when tastes change, when fads fade? What are the risks for the survival of the artist’s independence and integrity?
Risk and Responsibility
Crowdfunding as an investment is not without risk for while the platforms are regulated, the fund-raisers are not. Returns, and often the investment schemes themselves, are uncertain. If in other, artistic and small-scale crowdfunding projects, the crowd is to be held somehow accountable, the recipient too needs to take responsibility. Putting one’s name up for crowdfunding should not be synonymous to simply begging for lazy money and endorsing a crowdfunding project should not equate to charity. Not if we wish crowdfunding to exist as a valuable, funding alternative.
So what does one do when the sister of the neighbour of the cousin of your child’s BFF, the one who used to major in harp at the conservatory but decided to drop out in pursuit of a pop career, combining industrial sounds – the terminology was mentioned – with aforementioned harp, launches a crowdfunding project, asking for funds to support aforementioned musical endeavour? 5$ gets you a free music track, available on iTunes. 15$ gets you the same with an additional t-shirt. For 100$ the harpist comes to your home and gives a mini concert.