How Fund It and Kickstarter turned artists into artistic chuggers

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

The fundraising sites are great resources for great ideas, but what happens with less inspiring plans?

It didn’t take long to kill the golden goose. When crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Fund It initially emerged, a couple of years ago, they were widely welcomed. Here was a fantastic, innovative way to raise funds for cultural and artistic projects.

Artists, organisations and anyone else with a decent idea could raise the cash for what they wanted to do by going straight to fans, followers and supporters. There was no need to waste time and effort tapping a bank, a benefactor or an arts body for cash. If you were a band, for example, you didn’t have to wait for an increasingly risk-averse record label to take a punt on your new album. Instead, you asked your fans to pay for it in advance.

The websites made it so easy to do. You selected the amount you wanted to raise for your project, put a set of rewards in place for those who pledged cash and started your own fundraising drive. This was the FIY option: fund it yourself.

Funding campaigns also served as a way to bring new projects quickly to an audience beyond friends and family. Many found out about Gary O’Neill’s excellent Where Were You? book on 50 years of Dublin street style from his Fund It campaign, and the book’s first run sold out. Mary Nally’s Drop Everything event on the Aran Islands last year was also a Fund It success, both in terms of finance and promotion.

With crowdfunding, the better the idea, the faster you reach your financial target. But what happens when the proposal is mundane or not fully thought out? What happens when you’re looking to fund an album by a mediocre Irish band? What happens when your campaign runs out of steam before you get near the finishing line? Enter the FIY chuggers – fuggers, you might call them.

When the volume of pledges begins to slow down and the campaign loses its momentum, the fugging begins in earnest. Anyone with even a minor connection to culture or art will know about this. Your Twitter timeline, Facebook page and email inbox fill up with pleas from the those behind the campaign or, worse, their mates who are mates of yours.

As the campaign limps on, the fugging becomes shriller and more desperate. C’mon, these fuggers will say, help a brother out. We’re nearly there! You like art or music or film or books! You like us! You know us! Well, you have the bad luck to know someone who knows us! Give us your cash! Now! Please? Pretty please?

Just as some endeavour to get onstreet charity hustlers off their back by signing up to direct debits, some probably donate to Fund It campaigns as a way of shutting up the fuggers and getting some peace. This is often just a short-term measure. With the deadline on the horizon, the fugging goes up a gear, because, unless the full amount is raised, Fund It or Kickstarter releases none of the cash, and all the work is in vain.

Struggling fuggers

Is there a better way to source funds? Fund-it-yourself campaigns were supposed to be the better way. Instead of fuming that the Arts Council always ignored your application for a grant, you just went off and raised the cash yourself. At a time of reduced budgets and more people chasing ever less cash, this alternative method of raising money made sense. At the start, too, the public were engaged, and lots of projects were funded.

The problem is that not every campaign that hits the FIY road is vibrant enough to command attention beyond a dedicated audience of friends and family. The campaigns that are quickly funded are the ones where the promoter already has an established audience willing to jump aboard (the likes of Amanda Palmer or Louis CK) or where the idea has a spark that reaches the multitudes (the Brydge keyboard for iPads, for example). The rest will often struggle.

Those involved in the process will often quietly admit the fund-it-yourself model is a lot more hard work than it’s cracked up to be. You have to come up with an attractive range of rewards for would-be pledgers to attract their attention and cash, but you also have to ensure you don’t spend all your funds on those rewards.

You then have to plug the hell out of the campaign, probably annoying everyone on your mailing list into the bargain. And finally, when you have the cash, you have to make sure you get the project completed to keep all your pledge buddies happy.

Given that artists are usually better at artistic ventures than they are at business ones, it’s easy to understand why frustration sets in.

With luck they can also understand why those who have to watch admired artists go on fugging drives often wish they’d stick to the art too.