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05 June 2017
This month's topic: D for distribution
Ilustración de Emily Flake publicada en el NY Times 5-1-17
Free money? Ask the government for it, not your contacts

In January 2017, I attended, as a spectator, a round table discussion about the new challenges of crowdfunding in culture that was held within the framework of MuseumConnections, a fair for museum products, in Paris. Participating in the discussion were representatives of institutions that had used micro-sponsorship to finance some of their activities, from two platforms specialised in collective funding of cultural projects and the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, a French public agency for the conservation, study and promotion of heritage that has just created its own platform for the gathering of private donations.

Crowdfunding, also called micro-sponsorship or collective funding, is a “phenomenon of financial disintermediation by which promoters of projects calling for funds– through the emission of values and social participations or by requesting loans – are put into contact with investors or bidders that seek yields from an investment” [[The usual definition offered by Wikipedia: [2017.07.04]]]. The popular perception is that, thanks to crowd funding, projects can be financed that wouldn’t encounter economic support through traditional channels (of public grants or a large private investment) and, with this idea, in the last few years, campaigns have been launched for the collecting of funds to shoot films, record records, publish books or make exhibitions. And at this stage, we all know someone who has launched one or participated in one as a donor.

A priori it can seem the solution to all the ills of the cultural economy, particularly during the last few years with the cuts in grants, both public as much as private, and the effects of this on the market, amongst other things. But what before was the exception has, bit by bit, become the norm, and as such, the issue is slowly becoming perverted. To sum up; the round table I attended in January ended with the moderator saying that the utopia in a near future was that we would all be donors and micro-sponsors of cultural projects through these platforms, with a sort of collective exaltation of the virtues of crowd funding. These virtues being not just monetary (the gathering of the funds themselves) but also for their impact on publicity, and above all, the involvement of the public in the initiative in question given that in general the public can follow the development of the project and even receive some type of recompense for their participation.

Having reached this point, I ask myself what class of utopia is it, where the responsibility of making cultural production possible falls upon the individual, where cultural promoters find themselves obliged to become marketing professionals, to sell their projects as products and be held accountable for their work at each step so that the investors can evaluate their advances. I ask myself also how have we arrived at a situation in which museums and public institutions believe that the best way to involve the public in their activities (already financed in a large part by public capital and by the entrance fees paid by their users) is asking for money for a third time. I’m curious to know what type of culture we’d be left with if crowdfunding were to become the usual way of financing artistic projects. If, instead of calling for political cultures adapted to the needs of the sector, we let ourselves be carried along by inertia and launch a campaign of collective funding each time we want to do something, competing amongst ourselves for the same support. Or better still, we make use of our network of contacts to “realise our dreams”, as it says in the habitual language of these platforms.

Will there be an invisible hand regulating this new system? Or will it arise that the more gifted (or adapted) to this system would achieve the greater quantity of resources to carry out their ideas? Who has the best idea or the best friends? Who possesses a greater quantity of time to dedicate to granting publicity to their project? Who offers the better compensation for participation? It seems to me that before talking of utopias, of dreams come true, communitarianism or the freedom of public involvement, as was done at that round table I attended in January, it’s worth having a few things clear. Like, for example, that a campaign pre-selling a product is not the same as one for crowd funding. Or if the recompense for a donation is a tax deduction, it is perhaps not correct to talk about patronage, nor altruism, or self-management. Nor to insist on how surprising it is to want to generate community and new users of culture through fundraising campaigns rather than educational programmes or one’s raising awareness.

Shivers ran through me, when the moderator of the round table, swept along by the euphoria generated in twenty minutes of debate, declared “this is just the beginning”. And I thought about the artists embodying the new spirit of capitalism [Boltanski, Luc; Chiapello, Ève: El nuevo espíritu del capitalismo. Madrid, Akal, 2002 [Paris, Gallimard, 1999]]], with the exception becoming the norm, everybody competing against each other in a system governed by the law of the strongest. And I also thought about some American citizens who are now already using crowdfunding to pay for their medical treatments because they have no insurance that covers their costs, and in the possible donors judging the gravity of their illness and their economic situation based on a video made to appeal to their empathy and [even their pity .

Glòria Guso is an art historian and a researcher in the social sciences. She was born in the periphery of Barcelona but lives in Paris and her second home is Germany. For her PhD thesis in sociology she studies the international mobility of the visual arts professionals. She writes, coordinates, edits, documents and criticizes.

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