Why aren’t more Australian artists crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding has emerged as an important source of funding. So why, given its success rate and ability to grow both the supporter- and audience-base, aren’t more artists turning to crowdfunding to raise money for their art?
By Brooke Boland.
Kickstarter, Patreon, Pozible and Creative Partnerships Australia’s fundraising platform, the Australian Cultural Fund (ACF), have enabled financial support for many creative projects in recent years.
And yet, in comparison to other funding avenues, crowdfunding itself – the practice of funding a project by raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount – is used by relatively few artists and creative professionals.
According to the Australia Council for Art’s report Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia by David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya, only 11% of artists surveyed chose to crowdfund in the years 2011-2015. This is despite the high success rate of these campaigns, with almost 80% of these campaigns successful.
“[Crowdfunding] has the highest success rate among all other funding sources,” said Petetskaya. Making Art Work report, page 109.
While the report doesn’t focus solely on crowdfunding, another interesting finding from the research points to the equal gender representation in this form of funding.
“(In crowdfunding) the success rate is exactly the same for men and women. Usually, with other funding sources, you see that male applicants are getting a little bit more of the funding available,” she added.
‘Crowdfunding fatigue’ and approaching family and friends
A general wariness around crowdfunding, however, persists in the arts and creative industries. Especially when it comes to ‘crowdfunding fatigue’, which is the effect of too many requests for funding by those potential givers that campaigns target.
But is this a productive attitude to have towards a potential financial source that has proved highly successful? Australian Cultural Fund Manager Aneke McCulloch says no.
“Artists and small organisations need to remember that people want to support the arts, so that’s not necessarily a productive attitude.
“Instead, think about what it is that you have to offer, what it is you are planning to achieve, then find the people who will love it, and don’t be afraid to let them know you have an opportunity for them to support it!
“We haven’t as an industry decided to pull back on selling tickets or releasing music just because everyone is already doing that all the time, so why should we pull back on crowdfunding?” McCulloch added.
Canberra-based graphic novelist Stephen Kok raised $8,000 on Kickstarter for his second graphic novel Word Smith — $3,000 over his initial target. He said the result “was quite a surprise,” especially compared to his previous crowdfunding campaign, which raised $3,750.
“The other thing that surprised me was the number of backers. For the first campaign, 114 people backed it. The second campaign almost tripled what I previously had. This one had 274 backers of which only about 50 came from Australia, the rest were international,” Stephen said.
About half of the backers who supported his first campaign were family and friends. While Kok still approached these backers for the second campaign, he asked them not to support the project unless they were genuinely interested in reading Word Smith.
“I didn’t want them to feel guilted into helping me out, so I said to them if this book isn’t for you, or you don’t like the genre — you don’t have to back the next one. I don’t want to hassle my family and friends all the time,” he said.
Instead, Kok cast a wider net by contacting groups and potential audiences he knew were interested in the genre.
The approach worked. “Probably less than ten people were people I felt did it to help me out,” he said.
Aneke’s advice is to get creative when looking for the right audience, especially if you are running second or third campaigns.
“Reaching new supporters is the key here. Don’t exhaust your artist friends, or hassle your family over and over, but put some thought into connecting with new supporters, think outside your inner circle, get creative — this is, after all, our strength!”
An overview of fundraising campaigns on the ACF suggests that, as an avenue for financial assistance, more and more artists are adopting crowdfunding-style campaigns. In 2015-16, 319 artists and arts organisations created fundraising campaigns on the platform. ‘A year later, this grew to 452,’ said . ‘And in 2017-18, we surpassed 600, so it continues to grow.’
“An important thing to note is that crowdfunding is not the only fundraising approach you can take,” Aneke added.
“Using the ACF, for example, you can seek large one-off donations from trusts and foundations, as well as offer a long-term donation portal for your supporters. It doesn’t have to be a time-restricted, high-pressure race! And while the ACF can be used to crowdfund, it is different from crowdfunding platforms as it does not allow artists to offer rewards.
“Another point of difference is that the ACF is not an all-or-nothing platform, so you know that whatever work you put in will be rewarded, even if you don’t hit your full target.”
Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.