Crowdfunded vs Publicly Funded Entertainment

My favourite example of a Kickstarter project is from Zack Danger Brown, who simply asked for some funds to make a ‘potato salad.’ The page went viral, and he ended up raising nearly $56,000.

Kickstarter has revolutionized the way creative people can finance their work. The premise is simple; anyone can promote an idea they’ve had, and others can donate money to help see it become a reality. Over  $3,643,039,213 has been donated by people to help fund a range of different ideas.

I think some genuinely great creative work has emerged from Kickstarter. I helped fund a full series of YouTube show Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, which went viral after having the aesthetics of a kids TV show, but was really a dark satire on how children are influenced by the media.

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But I would argue ‘crowd funding’ for the creative industries was around long before Kickstarter, in the form of tax payer funded entertainment. It’s a similar premise, with people paying towards the funding and development of creative work, the only difference being it’s not optional.

In the UK, publicly funded art is chosen by Arts Council UK. They’ve detailed a four year plan of investment, with nearly £600 million given to creative projects around the UK. This will go to arts, museums, theatre shows, and films.

This model has been hugely successful. It’s created high quality creative works, which have been enjoyed by millions. It has supported 830 different creative organisations and help promote diversity and business skills in the creative and cultural industries.

So which type of funding is better?

There is heated debate across UK media about the publicly funded culture. This features predominately in the right-wing press, which often features commentators enraged about the irony of filmmakers using publicly funded films as a platform to criticize the government. Take this Daily Mail piece as an example, which frames Ken Loach as someone happy to take Tory money to make a film criticizing them.

Personally, I tend to side with left wing publications, who are much more likely to say that governments need to invest more in culture, as it’s an area of huge talent for the UK. I have to admit though, I do find part of the argument against publicly funded culture compelling. Why should a theatre show that wouldn’t make a profit on its own merits be publicly funded for the benefit of a niche audience? Especially when that money is drastically needed in areas like the NHS.

But of course, there are numerous arguments for why the arts need to be funded. It boosts the economy and inspires people. As someone who wants to go into the creative industries, of course I don’t want to see the government let it become a privatised sector with profits more important than quality.

ARTS SHOW

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Crowdfunding may seem like a good compromise for those against tax payer funded culture, as people can decide to contribute to arts if they want to, and creators still have a way to finance their work. However, it’s incredibly difficult to secure funding on Kickstarter.

I also don’t think Kickstarter produces the same type of creativity. Where the Arts Council only funds creative words that are culturally relevant, I would argue that the types of work Kickstarter generates are often more pop-culture than arts culture. Although of course, who’s to say which is more important?

I feel they both are, but perhaps in the future there could be a way for publicly funded bodies to use the ideas behind Kickstarter as a model, to ensure that art the public wants gets funded. I think this could encourage more people to take an interest in the arts, and democratize the funding process, as well as preserving funding for culturally relevant creative arts.

 

Header image source: Image source

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A JOY to See: From Sofas to Stages

We all know that the music industry is a tough one to crack, right? After life dealt Toby Ijbema, a good friend of mine and lead singer of JOY, a particularly bad hand, he shared with me his inspiring story of how he still managed to make his music a success.

Toby’s story…

Coming from an artistic family, Toby’s passion in music drove him to pursue his dream of being a musician. He finished his Music degree at Bath Spa University in the summer of 2017, and after a sequence of unfortunate events, was left homeless at 23, forced to couch surf and sleep in garages. He busked on the cobbled streets of Bath just to keep his head above the water…

…Until popular YouTuber Stef Michalak came across Toby busking in July last year, who asked if he could professionally record Toby’s song and upload it.

Stef’s video

After the video of Toby singing was shared on Stef’s YouTube channel, with over 250,000 subscribers, the song attracted a lot of (very deserved!) attention. Stef directed his followers, including me, to Toby’s four-part band JOY‘s bandcamp profile with the option to buy their single ‘TREE’.

The total sales for the song on Bandcamp racked up to an impressive £8000… so don’t listen to me singing the band’s praises, the figures speak for themselves. On top of this, JOY released some tracks on Spotify and began making money from streams, which allowed Toby to pay off his debt, and got him off the streets and back into the studio!

Why is the music industry so competitive I hear you ask?

Not to sound like your dad or anything, but since the digital revolution has given us unlimited online access to music, it has become even harder for unsigned bands like JOY to get their foot in the door of the music industry and actually make a living out of it.

Without alternative forms of funding like Bandcamp, it would have been a hell of a lot harder for JOY to share their music.

“I can’t really thank Stef enough for what he did, it felt like some weird fateful experience when it happened, I definitely won’t ever forget that”

Toby told me, expressing his gratefulness. He goes on:

“It’s a tough industry, but this has definitely given us a leg up into its inner workings. We just have to keep going and keep making music, not only to break through, but to show our gratitude to everyone who contributed to helping me out of those hard times”

Sometimes all it takes is a stroke of luck – and I think we can all agree that Toby’s story is a testament to the saying: ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’.

22nd March 2018 – JOY @ Moles

Since then, JOY have been working on new tracks (check out their latest release “Seahorse”), and performing in local music venues such as The Nest in Bath and The Mothers Ruin in Bristol. Why not catch them at an upcoming gig?

I went to see JOY perform at a gig in Moles (an underground live music venue) in March earlier this year. Although the Moles stage has been graced to have acts such as Oasis, The Smiths and Ed Sheeran perform on its humble stage, the venue also thrives in championing upcoming local artists such as JOY.  Which not only gives them invaluable industry experience but also exposes them to new audiences.

So… were they any good?

I know I might be biased, but if Nirvana were playing next door, I’d have chosen to watch JOY a hundred times over! Despite their sombre lyrics, the band manages to leave you with a feeling of “great pleasure and happiness”, I guess JOY’s music does what it says on the tin (…or rather Oxford dictionaries definition of the word ‘joy’).

(Featured Image: Soul Media)

 

 

Harry Potter and the Era of Creative Commodification

When Professor McGonagall said, ‘there won’t be a child in our world who doesn’t know his name’,  the UK creative sector were unaware of how accurate this would actually be! The series that has generated billions for the British economy and, in my opinion, provided yet another example of the success of creative funding, but was it commoditised from the beginning?

The film series changed UK laws about child actors and their schooling by suggesting that the change would be an ‘investment’, and it’s a series that generated movies, a studio tour, a theme park, exhibitions, a West End play, and gave me a tattoo! But, while I was at the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play in London, standing in the queue amongst thousands of people who’d paid at least £30 to be here, we were handed leaflets for a free Harry Potter art exhibition, but most of these ended up in the bin. So, I started thinking – why are people more willing to pay for certain creative pieces, than attend free exhibitions? Who decides what is high and low art, and why are we so eager to commodify the high arts to such heights that the ‘low’ arts get left behind?

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Inside a West End Theatre. Image free to use under the Creative Commons CC0: Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/wells-theatre-norfolk-virginian-210914/

In an economy where only 20% of UK citizens attended theatre performances in 2016, maybe there should be some relief that the West End is still thriving considering the Harry Potter play is a sold-out performance until April 2019. Maybe then there isn’t the question of why the public will so willingly fork out cash for a franchise in a certain form of art, rather than freely viewing the same franchise in a different, lower form of art. But, how is this theatre production maintaining its consumers, and why can’t other creative sectors do the same?

The show itself is engaging, and for any Harry Potter fans it is like coming home to Hogwarts and reliving the magic once more, though I won’t give too much away #keepthesecrets! – But, the price of a Harry Potter fan is costly … the cheapest tickets in the theatre are £30 to attend both shows, and these seats are with a restricted view, the best seats in the house are the floor seats, which are £75 per show, so £150 altogether. Is it worth it? Definitely. But, should we stop commodifying the arts and alienating people who cannot afford the high prices? Definitely!

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Own Image of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Tickets.

I don’t think all art should be free, it is difficult to say who should pay for art, and what art should be free, but should art be more affordable and accessible to all? It’s not really that hard to figure out.

The Harry Potter play it is where it becomes difficult — the actors deserve to be paid for their work, the production needs money for maintenance, so the performance can’t be free. So, what do you think? Why were there so many people willing to pay for this form of art from a franchise they know and love, but then binned flyers for a free exhibition on the same franchise? To me, this is where the distinction between high and low art muddies the creative sector, people become more willing to pay for what they consider to be ‘high’ and more valuable art, and forget about the ‘low’ forms which are a cheap alternative.

My experience at the Harry Potter play showed how audiences are more likely to pay for something they know is guaranteed to provide a good time. But, considering this play, and most of the ones on the West End are well established plays, does this mean that creative persons without an existing fan base are less likely to earn revenue? What do you think this means for the future of the creative economy? Let me know!

 

Feature Image Credit: Own Image of Harry Potter London Theatre.

 

£170 million pledged to fund arts outside of London! BUT, can NESTA’s ‘Creative Nation’ ever truly be realised?

Arts Council England, in 2017, released an overview of their upcoming 4-year spending plan, these reports included an increase in the amounts given to places outside of London. But, of the £409 million to give a year, only £170 million of that will be granted to places outside of London. With more than half of the funding going to an area that houses only 8 million out of the 66.5 million people who live in the UK, can we ever live out NESTA’s desire for us to be a creative nation…?

The NESTA 2018 report shows the need for expansion in the creative economy outside of London … and despite there being ongoing discussions that the UK needs to lose its London-centricity, for me this is maybe the first important report to show how much the economy needs to change and develop to accommodate creative people outside of London. But, does that mean that anything is going to actually change? I sure hope so!

With the digital revolution mentioned in the 2013 NESTA Manifesto accelerating the UK into a new form of living, it is also changing the economy. The digital revolution, or disruption, as named by Hargreaves, is letting the creative industries thrive, as predicted by NESTA in 2014, with their suggestion that of all the industries the creative sector is most likely to succeed in the robot technological revolution (when we will hopefully have robots doing our dishes). Then, with all these predictions coming to life, as people wake up to their Alexa everyday … why is there not equal funding across the UK?

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Amazon’s Echo ‘Alexa’ devices are fast becoming home essentials. Image free to use under the Creative Commons CC0: Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/echo-dot-amazon-language-assistant-2937627/

With digital disruption and robot technologies apparently taking over, who’s to say that anything is tied down to location anymore? The Internet and these latest developments can be accessed from anywhere across the UK, so with the entire creative sector being so broad with the latest technological developments, why can’t the funding do the same? Surely, a creative person in London, is just as likely to create a revolutionary idea, as a creative person in Cardiff?

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Cardiff’s potential is just as great as London’s with buildings like the Millennium Centre. Image free to use under the Creative Commons CC0: Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/mermaid-quay-wales-cardiff-bay-89121/

Obviously due to the funding differences, the creative economy in London is much greater than across the rest of the UK … there are more creative jobs in London than jobs in the financial sector, so maybe then London is hosting the new, modernised concept of a way of life that provides people with freedom to explore their actual interests than being restricted to traditionalist jobs. So I ask  if other UK areas are granted the same amounts of funding, would they then flourish into these creative cities, like London, where the economy is constantly growing?

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London is clearly thriving … but who’s next? Image free to use under the Creative Commons CC0: Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/travel-within-stock-company-city-3261953/

But, what comes first for areas outside of London … the funding to allow their economy to grow? Or, the creative economy of the cities growing first to justify the investment? It is a difficult cycle, and understandably why London receives the majority of UK funding as they give back an astonishing £42 billion to the UK economy, which is almost half of the entire amount generated by the UK creative economy.

Funding is scarce in the UK, and investment kind of has to be a sure bet, but who’s to know if other UK cities could generate the same amount of money for the UK economy? It can never truly be understood until these cities are treated in the same way as London, and given the same amounts of funding. There has to be something to break the cycle, and whether that will be the NESTA 2018 ‘Creative Nation’ report, who knows? It is an answer that only time can give us.

 

Feature Image: London – Image free to use under the Creative Commons CC0: Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/river-bridge-water-reflection-city-3355663/

Nothing in this life is free: should you have to pay for culture?

In 2017, the average British family spent £73.50 a week on recreation and culture. While this may seem like a large amount on first glance, the Office for National Statistics included a host of activities under this bracket, from sports participation to downloading music. Despite this generous categorisation, these figures can allow us to consider what we are really spending our money on. Whilst some consider it our human right to engage in culture, the truth is that the creative industries have been witness to a mass decrease in available funding. With the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport dedicated to promoting this sector, the question remains: is culture a public or private good? Once the curtain falls, who should foot the bill?

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The changing face of theatre. Credit: Lennart Tange (via Flickr)

Where is the money?

The 2008 global financial crisis hit the cultural sector hard. According to Arts Council, the aftermath of the economic downturn meant that there was a 20 per cent reduction in local authorities’ spending between 2009/10 and 2014/15. This has resulted in an often volatile and competitive cultural landscape where venues must compete for a slice of the ever-shrinking money pie. Everything must be funded in one way or another if they are to survive. However, it can sometimes require a combination of determination, innovation and luck to secure the required finances. For the consumer, this can mean that cultural venues either don’t have the money required to operate, or have inflated prices at the door.

Personal experience

This year I have attended a host of cultural events. In March, I saw a highly-acclaimed West End musical, and in February I attended an intimate local comedy performance. Both of these required me to pay money, and while the latter was less expensive, I nonetheless had to reach into my pocket to experience both. However, this wasn’t brought to my attention until I attended Women Representing Womenin April, a performance-based workshop and conference which looked into representation and exclusivity. The event, which was entirely free, had been made possible by research funding. It brought together women from all walks of life to discuss issues they felt strongly about, included talks and interactive workshops, and culminated in a final live performance. There was even food and drink provided throughout the weekend – all for free.

Women Representing Women
The conference was held over a 2 day period. Credit: Carolyn Westwater

Culture for all

It felt somewhat out of the ordinary to wander into a venue, listen to speakers and engage in culture without giving anything in return. But why is this? In reality, there are a host of free events up and down the country for those who wish to seek them out. Eventbrite is a great tool for finding these. The Culture White Paper contends that “everyone should enjoy the opportunities that culture offers, no matter where they start in life”. While it would be futile to suggest that all cultural output should be free of charge, local authorities should have provisions in place to support those who are in a disadvantaged position. This could be done by creating a hardship fund for financial aid or by ensuring that there are a minimum number of free events that everyone can attend.

Attending Women Representing Women opened my eyes to the ways in which events can be produced for a low-cost whilst also being equally as rewarding for the attendees. The truth is that there will always be some aspects of culture that are extortionately priced, as commercial companies utilise their success and find opportunity to make money. However, culture is ultimately a public service and a basic human right, and every corner of society should have the opportunity to engage in it in one way or another.

Featured image credit: Cosmix (via Pixabay)

 

Can We Afford Free Museums?

When did you last visit a museum?

Free admission to museums around the UK was introduced in 2001. These national museums are sponsored by DCMS, a government department for culture, media and sport. Every year, the Arts Council England (ACE) – who are funded by DCMS – invests £7.5 million in museums.

Since the introduction of free admission, numbers of museum visitors has increased significantly.

“The premise of free admission is to allow people to see the nation’s collections: those things that they already own with no economic barriers to entry.”

– Michael Dixon, Director of Natural History Museum

Admissions to museums which have always been free have also risen; as Michael Dixon suggests, the nature and perception of national museums has also shifted as a result of increased free admissions.

national history museum
Image source: National History Museum

But not everyone agrees with the funding of museums through public taxation and in our current political climate, the allocation of government funding is under the spotlight more than ever.

The ACE describes museums as an “integral part of everyday public life.” But is this really the case? Are museums as integral in the same sense as hospitals?

Probably not. And many argue that having free museums is an idealistic concept. But just because museums don’t affect our physical health doesn’t mean they don’t positively contribute to society in one way or another.

According to the ACE, arts and culture (including museums) are beneficial for 4 reasons:

  • Education: produces well-rounded adults, who contribute as empathetic citizens and creative workers
  • Health and wellbeing: positive impact on general wellbeing, health and life satisfaction
  • Society: creates cohesive communities, reduces social exclusion and isolation
  • Economy: contribution to the national economy and strengthens economies and communities outside of London

With constantly increasing pressure on the NHS, healthcare providers have begun to utilise the arts and culture. As a result, the reduced demand for GP and other mental health services could be saving the NHS £500 million each year.

However, some argue that museums being free of cost supports the idea that art is not worth much and is a second-rate culture. Similarly, others believe government subsidisation produces arts of a low cultural value:

“Not all art can be commercially viable, but the best will be – and the best is all we, the public, need. Subsidising the mediocre doesn’t improve anyone’s cultural life.”

– Douglas McPherson, Telegraph

But the ‘best’ that theatre critic McPherson is referring to is a purely subjective concept.

For instance, a current exhibition at National Museum Cardiff ‘Bacon to Doig: Modern Masterpieces from a Private Collection‘ allows the general public to view private collections of modern British art at no cost. The collection features work by many of the 20th century’s best British artists, including Francis Bacon and David Hockney.

Image source: Megan Sylvester at National Museum Cardiff

So would Douglas McPherson consider the works of Francis Bacon – who is recognised internationally as one of the best painters of the modern era – to be ‘mediocre’?

McPherson fails to recognise the economic barriers of the commercial arts evident in the increase of museum visitors from lower socio-economic groups as a result of free admissions. Therefore, removing government funding of the arts and museums would exclude those who do not have the financial means to enjoy them.

Removing this funding also supports the idea of the arts private goods rather than public, and as a luxury rather than a human right.

It is clear that those, like Douglas McPherson, who already have the financial means to access the arts may never appreciate the value of subsidised arts and culture. Perhaps it is down to us, the public, to take advantage of what is being offered to us for free while we still can.

Discover the UK’s top 20 free museums here.

Featured image source: mymodernmet.com, art by Sophie Cave