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After Hockey's penny-pinching, arts companies look to crowdfunding

In the wake of the federal budget and its fend-for-yourself philosophy, un-entitled artists might soon be spending more time chasing funds through crowdfunding.

The website Pozible was launched four years ago to help individual artists fund specific projects. Now with $25.1 million in cuts to Screen Australia and $28.2 million slashed from the Australia Council (over four years), more artists, and even established arts companies, could venture into crowdfunding.

That’s not so much the wish of Pozible co-founder Alan Crabbe, but the reality of the changing nature of federal government arts subsidies.

“The government is pulling their investment and it doesn’t seem to see it as investing for future generations,” the Irishman told Daily Review, who runs Pozible from Melbourne’s inner-city Collingwood. “We also operate in Asia and the governments there are investing heavily in the creative industries, but here the government sees [arts funding] as a cost and an expense.”

Until now crowdfunding has almost exclusively been used by individuals; Pozible has raised over $20 million for more than 6000 projects since 2010.

The budget cuts will mostly impact on individual artists, but also flow through to major arts companies’ future programming. The country’s biggest 28 arts companies are assured of federal government funds in fixed three year-contracts. They form the Australian Major Performing Arts Group and these companies, which include opera, dance, theatre companies and orchestras, employ professional fundraisers to attract corporate sponsorship and philanthropy.

But are times so tough now that they too will turn to crowdfunding? That’s what happened last year when Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre — one of the AMPAG companies — took to Pozible to raise $10,000 to help send a production of Peter Pan to New York.

Belvoir’s tip-toe into crowdsourcing attracted intense criticism, mostly from individual artists who argued that established companies shouldn’t be siphoning funds from those most in need.

Crabbe didn’t agree with the criticism. “Pozible is providing a platform where people can pitch ideas. It’s about engaging with the public,” he said, arguing it’s strength is not about who is doing the pitching, but what they are pitching.

The small Melbourne theatre company Red Stitch is now discussing the idea of raising money through crowdfunding. General manager Dianne Toulson told Daily Review that although she was in favour of crowdfunding: “There has been a lot of hesitancy within the company because of the criticism Belvoir got.”

Red Stich was self-funded for the first 10 years of its existence but has received project funding from the Victorian government for the past two years. This year it received $75,000 a year for three years for operational funding.

“So does that mean we are not an independent theatre anymore?” Toulson asked rhetorically. “We don’t have the resources to invest in [traditional] philanthropy and fundraising whereas the big companies might have four people working full-time on fundraising. Crowdfunding allows people from all socio-economic levels to get involved.”

Belvoir is also planning to continue to crowdfund when needed. “Arts organisations are diversifying their funding streams and this was always going to increase as government and corporate support shifts,” Belvoir’s head of development Nathan Bennett said. “It’s certainly possible that some organisations will use crowdfunding, but that would only be part of a diverse funding strategy.

“Our experience with Pozible was largely positive. We reached our target of $10,000, but we also raised awareness of our international touring program and started a broader conversation. We’d definitely consider using crowdfunding again for a suitable project.”

Main image: The cast of Belvoir’s Peter Pan who raised $10,000 through crowdfunding to help its tour to New York. Photo by Brett Boardman.

3 responses to “After Hockey's penny-pinching, arts companies look to crowdfunding

  1. The deafening silence from the arts sector make them a prize target for more cuts next year.

    Now turning to crowdfunding? Dear God, they do that anyway… Where’s the fight.

    After those hard won increases last year, the sector just shrugs their shoulders. AMPAG is silent on behalf of its colleagues in the small to medium sector. A disgrace. NAVA haven’t got a clue and show their increasing irrelevance.

    At the very least you’d expect regional companies and CCD organisations (Creating Australia, where are you?) do get out on the front foot over Brandis’ weasel words. But no. Disorganised, resigned silence.


  2. Exactly! Australian artists have to create a new conversation with the Australian people. We need to do this directly and not through the often biased and nepotistic filter of Government waged arts workers. If such arts workers want to become artists (and let’s face it many openly believe they are more important than artists) then let them make the work. Otherwise I’m all for the Government sacking the ‘peasants with power’ gatekeepers and giving money to actual artists and not seeing it go to public servant wages. I went broke doing my big survey show at QAGOMA and that show was supposedly seen by 120,000 people! So go figure hey.


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