Alternatives to Gimme, Gimme, Gimme

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In a recent Facebook thread, the artist Oriane Stender posed this pointed question: “What is the deal with artists fundraising among their artist friends in order to make/exhibit/promote their work?” 
“I'm sorry," she added, "but buying you a plane ticket so you can go to your exhibition in another state is not an appropriate project to hit up your friends/peers for. Mentioning it once, okay. But don't continue to harangue people as if your project had some kind of moral imperative.”

Despite the fact that I solicit financial support for this blog (and I’ll get to that in a moment), I agree. If it’s for personal gain or acclaim, don’t hit me up. But if you can come up with an ingenious win/win, I'm listeningand I may give.

Can You Secure Funding?
See if you can find a project grant to underwrite some or all of the cost. I notice, for instance, that artists in the big rectangular states seem to do rather well in securing grant funding, perhaps because there are fewer of them competing for the grant money. Of course, there are the grant savvy among us everywhere who always seem to get fundedfor exhibitions, catalogs, travel. (The more grants you get, the more grants you get. Grant-giving institutions seem to favor those who have a track record of using their funding well.) And artists who teach are smart to avail themselves of the modest professional development grants available through their institutions.
I like this approach because you're seeking funds from the institutions set up to give them. No other artists are harmed in the procurement of your grant.

Want Money? Offer Something
As someone who quietly fundraises year round (see my request in red on sidebar at right) and more vocally in advance of covering the art fairs in Miami, I understand both the need for financial support and the annoyance it creates in those who are solicited. I’ve resolved the issue for myself by seeking funding only here on the blog. If you read this blog (for free), you know the service I provide, and if you can afford to underwrite even a small portion of it, you know what you’re getting. Like NPR. This year, for the first time, I offered a unique digital print in return for a larger donation. Here's what one supporter emailed me after she had received her print in the mail: "Wow, talk about a win/win."
I like this approach because, since you're already here, you know the value of what you’re reading.  If you help underwrite my effort, you get more of what  you like. And I don’t have to stand around, cap in hand, asking for spare change.

Some other examples of Gimme . . . And of Giving in Return
I'm sure there are many, and I hope you will post that information in the Comments section. Here I offer three, win/wins all:
. When Laura Moriarty decided to create a monograph of her work, she went to USA Projects to seek matching funds. Well known in the Hudson Valley as a committed and critically successful  artist and as the director of a gallery there, and internationally known in the encaustic community, Moriarty created multiple levels for giving. Her friends and followers rallied 'round and she met her goal of some $9000.
I like this approach because it offered a supporter several levels of reward. The straight-up donation of a few dollars would be rewarded with updates on original postcards; for $50 the supporter would receive a book, signed by the author (I’m looking forward to my autographed copy); for $100, a book and a small monotype relating to the project.  Also, I know Moriarty will share her grant strategies with other artists; in fact, I've invited her to do just that at a conference I run.  (Another funding platform for artists: Kickstarter.)

. Sharon Butler, the force behind Two Coats of Paint, posted this recently, on the eve of a leave of absence (not sabbatical) from the university where she teaches: “Support the blog (and help pay my studio rent!) by inviting me to your university to participate in student critiques, to lecture about my own art practice, or to lead discussions about trends in contemporary painting and online media. I'm also available to write catalog essays for exhibitions. Thanks. Now back to our regular programming." You can read the entire post here.
I like this approach  because Butler is engaging her academically affiliated readers to seek support from their institutions, whose students would benefit greatly from Butler's expertise. And should you consider her for an essay, you're already aware of the quality of her writing through her online projects.

. Jody Lee, a New York City artist, came up with what she calls her "Partisans" project. She sought studio funding from people who had collected or expressed interest in her work. Says Lee: "I didn’t want them to feel like they were helping bring something about so much as support something that is already fully there and would be taken further with their support." So she printed several copies of a booklet with images of her work via Shutterfly and sent one to each potential Partisan, including a letter of solicitation. Lee's Partisans are welcomed for studio visits, and depending on their level of support receive two or four works on paper a year. Jackie Battenfield, author of The Artist's Guide, interviews Lee about this project in her online Reality Check series.  
I like this approach because Lee engages her supporters with studio visits and artwork. She's not only getting funded, she'd helping to develop collectorsand that will benefit other artists over time. (All the major cultural institutions employ some version of this strategy with membership, special deals, discounts, a sense of being part of something larger, and everybody gets something out of it.)

Over to You
Have you solicited funds? What were the circumstances? The results? Has anyone ever raffled off an artwork privately? Is there a funding request you found ingenious and/or worth your funding? Conversely, what has offended you?  Your comments are welcome, and they don’t have to be just in response to the previous questions.

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Catherine Nash: Desert Paper, Book and Wax said...

When I first started reading your blog on artist fundraising, I got a sick to my stomach feeling...after all I am only 5 days from launching my project "Contemporary Paper and Encaustic" on USA on October 22nd for a 40 day fundraiser. Yikes! I started breathing again, when I read your reference to Laura Moriarty...I've made my perks list and donors get anywhere from a mail art postcard to smaller encaustic on paper works to larger ones...not to mention copies of the final product on DVD.

I have to admit that it is a bit scary to put yourself out there. Perhaps some folk on my mailing list or in the artists communities might be offended, or I won't meet my goal, or...but what can you do? I cannot create this e-book in the manner I envision without help. I pursued traditional publishers, but they wanted only how-to books. "Contemporary Paper and Encaustic" will present international artists integrating the two media with emphasis on their process into their ideas and content, not their techniques. So I am walking the self promotion fundraising plank!

Richard Bottwin said...

My what a timely post. Last month, an old friend from grad school who lives in a distant city sent me an email with a "Kickstarter" link for donations. He was curating a printmaking show (in which he was going to participate) in another distant city. His email ended with a statement congratulating me on my recent exhibition successes (none of which resulted in any sales and which have been followed by a year of no activity at all). The request made me extremely uncomfortable and I have not responded to his email at all, yet. I find it hard to be asked to support another's career when mine is going nowhere at the moment and there is absolutely nothing in his venture that would benefit me in some way. The show will even be too distant to attend. As a sculptor, I find opportunities to be less available than those offered to painters (he is a painter) and coming up with a gracious response to keep friendly communications alive is going to be difficult.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Catherine and Richard, for commenting. I inadvertently turned off the "allow comments" option when I was posting, and only because Catherine alerted me to the the difficulty she was having, did I realize what I'd done.

I think we need to be able to turn down (or ignore) a request that makes us uncomfortable. It's like those endless requests to donate work to institutions that have no intention of every supporting us.

But if the project resonates, or offers something in return that interests you, a small donation would very likely be welcome.

The important thing is that you should feel perfectly OK about opting out.

Mary Gilkerson said...

I just ready your post on fundraising and had to share my story. In the spring of 2010 I used Kickstarter to successfully raise the money to purchase a small Ettan etching press for my studio. It's a grueling process in many ways- the time pressure is a kicker - but a very rewarding one as well. Kickstarter uses the familiar pledge reward system that is a win/win for everyone. I gave postcards for small donations, posters for slightly larger ones on up to small monotypes and prints for larger ones. It was a great way to connect with collectors and establish some new ones.

Thanks for the community you've created with your blog!

Anonymous said...

I have fund-raised. Last year I had the chance to go to Italy to show work with other NZ artists, remembering WWII in Cassino. I could not afford to go. I offered 'shares' in my trip. For $35NZ shareholders got a share certificate, a handmade postcard sent back from Italy, a long newsletter full of colour photos and an individual 5x6" painting inspired by the trip.
I sold over 40 shares, and raised about $2000 on top of that. Italy was awesome! Some sponsors have said if I ever do something similar, contact them because they felt they got value for money.
It was a huge work commitment on my part but well worth it.

Nancy Natale said...

I'm happy to say that I'm not on many lists of organizations that ask me to donate my work for their auctions, but out of the blue I received an email from one I had never heard of and had no connection with except that my work would fit with their premise. They somehow found me and emailed requesting I donate a piece and also exhibit my work at their awards program. When I opened the attachment to see the details, I found that actually there was no opportunity to exhibit and the only things they planned to show were those for sale. Here's how I responded because I'm undertaking an educational campaign:

"Thanks very much for contacting me and requesting that I donate work for your silent auction.

Although you say in your email that you are hoping to create an exhibit of art made from recycled materials, it seems that you are really only creating an exhibit of work that you are selling. If it were just a matter of exhibiting my work, that would be one thing and I might consider participating, but as a matter of policy, I don't donate work because it costs me too much time and effort to make it. I have to support myself and selling my work contributes to my income. I hope you will understand that artists work just as hard or even harder to make a living as people in other lines of work, and asking an artist to donate her work is just like asking a doctor to donate medical care or an attorney to donate legal advice.

I don't mean to be snippy about this but to get you to think about what it means for artists to donate their work to an organization. I hope you can come up with an alternate plan for raising money."

Oriane Stender said...

Hi Joanne,
Thanks for continuing the discussion here. I don't have anything new to add, but I'll just reiterate that my objection is this: we all get solicitations to donate to worthy causes. Environmental, political, human rights, animal rights and other organizations all ask us for money based on a moral imperative, a plea to fight against some injustice. Asking friends and fellow artists, most of whom are stretched as thin as you are, to help you finance making your artwork is not in the same category as these moral/political requests. We are all trying to finance our studio practice. If I have any "extra" $ (ha!), it goes to fight against some injustice. Helping you (meaning you artist who is fundraising on kickstarter or wherever) complete your project or pay your studio rent or fly you to Artprize doesn't have any more benefit to the world than me using that money to continue financing my own work. We are ALL trying to continue our work as artists. Being asked for money by a fellow artist feels like being guilt-tripped by people in situations similar to my own.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Mary, Cat, Nancy and Oriane for your comments.

Let me address Oriane's response first, since it was her FB comment that sparked this post. You are right that many artists are stretched thin. I would say if that's the case you have absolutely no problem saying No. Really, no artist should ever have to feel badly about saying No.

But bear in mind that many folks solicited by artists are not other artists. They may be collectors, colleagues from work, family, or those friends who have an interest in the artist's work--people with actual paying jobs.

I also think that Cat's fundraiser offered some interesting options. To get to Italy, she provided a postcard and a painting, as well as a newletter of her travels. For some folks, armchair traveling is a viable means of transport, and Cat provided the "trip." Win/win.

More win/wins: Mary provided monoprints to get her press. Catherine will provide works on paper, small to larger. These kinds of offerings interest me. I am not wealthy, but I do collect art, and while trading is my preferred means of acquisition, I love the idea of getting a small work for my donation--to say nothing of the book or CD that is the fruit of the fundraising. (Disclaimer here: I will write an essay for Catherine's e-book.)

I do think that using artists to raise institutional funds is despicable--especially those institutions that have no intention of ever offering any consideration to the donating artists. In that regard, Nancy hit all the right notes. Indeed, we might all adopt her turn-down when confronted with requests to donate:
"I don't donate work because it costs me too much time and effort to make it. I have to support myself and selling my work contributes to my income. I hope you will understand that artists work just as hard or even harder to make a living as people in other lines of work, and asking an artist to donate her work is just like asking a doctor to donate medical care or an attorney to donate legal advice."

Haley Nagy said...

I see absolutely nothing wrong with hitting up your artistic peers for donations on a worthy project (this blog does a great job of covering what is/isn't appropriate here), so long as you offer your donators something of value in return. In this day and age, you don't even have to get offended and "say no" - you simply ignore, just hit delete or click on "unsubscribe".

Runners hit up runners, kids hit up grandparents, classmates hit up classmates, employees hit up coworkers. What is wrong with asking for support from the people you already know share an interest in what you do? Even if it is for personal gain/acclaim but you can offer me something like an original print/artwork for little $ - I'm in. (How else do I build my own personal art collection?)

In some cases, if the project is one of research or scholarship that will benefit your own artistic community, then there is double the incentive. I've known several artists who used Kickstarter or just a regular e-mail campaign to fund projects, specifically for travel to do research for their work. And a lot of those were successful despite the fact that most people simply donated $5.

And for those who can't afford to donate, no guilt is necessary! Sometimes the best support is a kindly written e-mail explaining you can't donate but filled with lots of encouragement (or the contact info for a friend who will let them stay in their spare bedroom during their travels).

As always, this is another great post on professional practices Joanne (and Natalie, I totally agree - the donation of artwork is something else entirely. I vaguely recall another post on here about that very issue).

Tina Mammoser said...

An interesting point. I'm starting a Kickstarter campaign in the new year and have friends who just successfully did a Kickstarter for film fundraising. In fact very few supporters were friends - and none of the highest value supporters were people they knew.

The fact that the comment was on Facebook makes me wonder. Is this particular person social networking mainly with other artists? If you follow an artist, surely that artist is aiming at potential clients and supporters? I will promote my Kickstarter fundraiser on Facebook (and others) because the majority of fans and people I follow are business contacts, including collectors. While I follow some artists I try to keep them a focused group of artists I actually know. They are welcome to unfollow me if they are not interested in my business posts, of course!

However, I also am against the "gimmee" approach. Fundraisers must offer the funder something in return. Even with grants the grant agency has their own agenda and the artist must meet their expectations. My fundraising to date has always been a system of pre-selling work, perhaps at an incentive price, not just asking for money.