Starving Artists & Crowdfunding

There’s an interesting movement afoot that taps the power of grassroots fundraising.  The Chicago Tribune is calling it crowd funding, and I think I’m going to borrow their terminology (if with my own spelling tweak). First, check out the article here:

I’ve been interested in the development of websites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and others, that ask for pledges to individual projects.  I like the format, and the spirit of it, which for me ties into the best intentions of the non-profit tax code.

In the non-profit world, the idea is that a wide field of smaller donations from your community is favored by the tax code over  big one-time donations from single supporters or foundations. The reason is that non-profits are given tax breaks because, in essence, they are owned by the community instead of by a board of investors (as in the commercial world).  It’s a public service.  There are many ways in which non-profits can get around these stipulations, and many ways in which the non-profit tax code fails to work in the best interest of organizations, but in its most idealistic iteration, the community wins.  I feel like the new trend of crowdfunding operates on similar principles, but without the bureaucracy of the 501c3 non-profit rules.

At Caridad Svich’s No Passport conference last year, I was struck by the tremendous number of participants from the Off Off Bway community who actively sought to reject the corporate structure of non-profits.  Caridad herself now manages a theatre publishing house called No Passport Press that is not incorporated as a non-profit, despite the fact that it may at first seem like the most logical step.  By making this choice, she is free to raise funds in whatever way No Passport chooses, without the structure of a board of trustees, officers, etc.  It was refreshing for me  to remember that we don’t always need or want corporate-derived structures to do our best creative work.  Even so, the idealistic purpose of the non-profit tax code — a wide but shallow pool of funding — remains integral to this grassroots model.

In addition to Kickstarter and the like, there’s also been an interesting groundswell among local crowdfunding collectives that solicit and vet applications for funding from individual artists of all kinds.  I am a particular fan of Sunday Soup, “an international network of meal-based micro-granting initiatives” (in Boston, Feast Mass); InCUBATE Chicago, whose members “act as curators, researchers and co-producers of artists projects”; SLOUP, “a monthly soup dinner in St. Louis that supports projects, primarily artistic or communicative, that need a little funding and belief”; and the Awesome Foundation, where trustees are each required to donate $100 a month towards the funding of monthly $1000 grants.  (Boston has our own chapter, called Awesome Boston. You should apply for funding!)

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