The lesson of the Trump victory for the art world

November 13, 2016

Trump for president. Who would have thought so. More people than you think. The dichotomy in the US is stronger than we wanted to acknowledge. Alie Hochschild wrote a wonderful book about it:. Strangers in Their own country a divide between the high and low educated, between haves and have-nots, between those who benefit from globalization and those who suffer. Between those who live in constant uncertainty about their future and those who will prosper. Those who can get along with all the changes and those who feel passed over in their own country.

And now the parallel with the art world. Which consists mainly of people who are leftish inclined with a cosmopolitan mindset, who prove at least lip service to feminism and anti-racism and for equal rights for LGHBT-people. Almost all lived in the bubble that this mendacious, uncontrolled, anti-feminist, racist Trump could  (and should) never win. People who have little contact with the other half, the people who feel passed over at home.

One can see that many in the art world long for the time when the political elite naturally protected the arts, who assume that the budget cuts should be repaired in the arts and that world would become the same as before.

That era is gone. The current elite can not and will not protect the arts anymore. Populism has become too strong. And the art world has situated itself too far away from the rest of the people.

What can the art world do to bridge that gap? That should be the main topic of the debate. It is necessary, but not nearly enough to tackle social issues in the theaters of this country. But there those who are passed over, are not there. Of course, the classics remain necessary, the experiment remains necessary. But we need a much broader movement than now to leave the theatres and concert buildings of today and move into the neighborhoods. It starts with listening to the why of the (political) choices of those Trump believers and enter the discussion with art. Not to propose the cosmopolitan point of view, but by starting from their questions and feelings. It is time that the art world does not go into the streets to ask for repairing the budget cuts grants, but to enrich the lives of those who feel passed over.

There are many artists who already do, by all means, but they are only drops in the ocean. The largest part of the art world does not participate there. And it will have to. It is the only real answer from the art world at Trump.


The art of funding the arts

October 22 2016

The combination of art and money is and remains interesting. In earlier times, an artist had  a client and was paid per job,  if he was employed by a rich man, a patron, he produced works in paid employment. The best art works produced this way we can still see every day in museums and are heard in concert halls and churches.

It was not until the 19thth century that the romantic image of the artist arose who mainly had to follow his own expression, regardless of job or employer. The autonomous artist was born. That expanded the possibilities of art enormously and also brought us a lot of beautiful art, which can be seen in museums and heard in concert halls.

Only around World War II government subsidies for art came into being. A system that continually expanded and refined through national, provincial and municipal policy. With principles such as uplifting the poor, distribution and accessibility. It also meant a substantial growth in the number of works and artists.

Only that expansion and refinement of the subsidy system now ended. In the Netherlands more or less a quarter of the funding has gone. Many cultural institutions have stopped existing, many artists earn less than before and a lot of support structures no longer exist. And still a lot of young people want to become an artist.

What next?

Kunsten’92, the lobby organization of the sector, published an agenda for tomorrow and the day after: Culture works for Netherlands. This booklet argues that we can not do without art and culture, especially in times of change: “Even now can art and culture is of paramount importance to the welfare of our people, for the renewal of education, economic innovation and development Netherlands’ international profile.”

The question is: how will all this art be financed? Only through subsidy? Not a chance. Even if there will be more funding for arts and culture, the cuts will not be reversed, the situation of the past will never return.

The agenda rightly says: “The art, culture and heritage sector is a growth sector which largely operates in the market, but where investments by the government are a crucial prerequisite for a strong infrastructure.” But then it only goes on about those investments from the government, and not on the market in which culture operates.

Yes, there is a reference to the makers and creatives seeing little revenue of their work, being at the beginning of the value chain, where the money is being made by exploitation by providers and distributors at the end of the value chain. The only call is for better client-employer relationships and to provide better access to the European market.

The agenda also notes the need to invest in an entrepreneurial cultural sector. But here is nothing about the market and about financing, only more about more government funding and how to make it easier to justify that funding.


When funding and when other kinds of financing?

The responses of Kunsten’92 are totally inadequate for the development of a properly functioning market for art and culture. There is no answer to the question: how to respond to a permanently changing world with less grants, lots of cultural offerings and a faltering market.

Apparently Kunsten’92 has no idea how a functioning market looks for culture. When is subsidy in order, when are other forms of financing better suited? If the government is investing in culture where they really cannot support itself, fine. Or where R & D is carried out, just as hundreds of millions of subsidy go to the industry  to encourage innovation and innovate. As the interviews show with successful artists in the second part of the agenda of Kunsten’92, without grants they would not have achieved their artistic and economic success.

Investing means there are costs to be made before the benefits are reaped. It may be through a grant, but also through a loan or other form of financing. When is subsidy the appropriate means and when a loan? How can loans work to be complementary to subsidy? That debate has not even started yet. Each government, each fund has its own subsidies, but rarely, if ever, there is a clear vision of financing other than through grants.

The Scientific Council for the Government (WRR) published Revaluing Culture and spoke of the need to broaden the financial instruments and to prevent further inequality in acces to finance. There are new forms of funding imaginable and research shows that the sector lacks growth opportunities through lack of access to bank financing. At the same time it is clear that the earning power of cultural institutions and artists is very uneven: in the periphery the earning power is less and the same applies to smaller institutions. Recruiting gifts and crowdfunding are only a partial solution.


A new agenda

What we need is not only a sophisticated grant system, but also a sophisticated financing offer of microcredits, loans, crowdfunding and investment possibilities. Knocking at the banks for funding is not a viable route for cultural SME’s (and that applies to SME’s in all sectors). The funding need is too small and not profitable, there are few securities and there is no knowledge of the sector. What we need is a lot more knowledge about different forms of finance and how they can work together. How for example combine grants with loans and with crowdfunding?

The commercial market will not solve this, there is clear evidence of a market failure. Therefore it is time for a new agenda for tomorrow, where interest groups and governments develop a financing agenda together. On that agenda should be:

  • A new positioning of grants and other funding
  • The development of a sophisticated range of financing methods thereby improving access to finance
  • The development and dissemination of knowledge on the use and combination of different forms of funding.

The Dutch Ministry of Culture has done something new: to invest in a revolving loan fund for the cultural sector: the Talent Loan. An initial evaluation of these loans has just been published, and yes, it works. It is only a first step towards a new agenda for tomorrow for a holistic offer of financing possibilities, beyond grants.

Art and money, it remains an exciting topic for discussion.

PS To be transparent, I was one of the co-writers for the evaluation of the Talent Loan. This text is entirely my own.

The Art of Impact, a program without impact?

The Art of Impact: the Dutch two-year program of € 7 million subsidizing art projects with social impact in two rounds. At the first round, there were 428 applications and 36 projects were approved, in the second round 50 projects from the 290 applications received money. And there is a curator who may choose his own projects. How many? That number cannot be found on the site, but the aim was 40. So in total some 120 projects. The program will cease to exist at the end of 2016.

120 projects should give an enormous boost to the promotion of art with social impact. And one would assume that those projects are extensively supported and that we all will learn a lot from this experience. Research is also being done among the projects. On the Art-of-Impact site itself there is nothing to be found about the research. It is apparently carried out by the Kwinkgroep who report this on their own site. How the research is done, is nowhere indicated.

So what remains after 120 projects that received a single pulse and a research report with undoubtedly interesting answers from the projects? What is the impact of The Art of Impact?

So here are three questions about the impact of The Art of Impact.

The first question is what the six art funds (Mondrian, Performing Arts Fund, Cultural Fund, Dutch Film Fund, Letterenfonds, Creative Industry Fund), which implement the program, will do in 2017 as The Art of Impact has ended. Will it now be natural for them to honor art projects with social impact? Will they change their criteria? Or they see it still as a temporary toy of the Minister of Culture and go back upon their own ways?

The second question is whether the program feels responsible for the projects selected after this one-time assistance. Or is The Art of Impact yet another example of the ‘project carousel’ in which interesting projects once get a cash injection and are then left alone? In the UK funds are discussing this approach because many promising initiatives die a premature death by constantly having to re-apply and meet criteria such as innovative, etc.

One could even say that giving money to some 120 projects is almost criminal. Of course it is nice to support such a wide range of projects, but how many are actually prolonged in a viable way and have more impact than the duration of the project? Will The Art of Impact select a number of viable projects and ensure that they are supported in their development and funding? Or do we have 120 blanks?

The third question is what will the research generate more than anecdotal evidence of the usefulness of the program. In any case the study could provide answers to the following questions:

                • What is the purpose of the supported projects?
                • How the artists went to work? (Tabo Goudswaard, the curator, has a nice story about the different ways in which artists work, which format is actually used? )
                • What are the results? And what is the intended social impact of the project? Which theory of change is handled?
                • What are the lessons learned, what works, what does not?
                • What can we learn to conceive better projects in the future which have more impact?
                • How can impact be better reached, researched and described in the future, learning from all those projects?

So it’s really not that hard to identify several relevant aspects of impact:

  1. What is the impact of the program for the funds that manage the program? What lessons they draw from this?
  2. What is the impact of the program for the participating projects?  What does it mean for their survival?
  3. How do you assess the social impact of the projects themselves and show that impact? What is there to learn for future projects?

And there is the question of what the program The Art of Impact is doing differently from all the many initiatives of artists that already commit their artistry, their skills, their artistic process in society. Does the art of Impact see other possibilities for art with social value than were already there? Or do they put only a magnifying glass on them? Or will The Art of Impact ensure that the absolute separation – which is still being made – between ‘autonomous’ and ‘social’ art is finally lifted, especially in the art world itself? If so, the program has had at least impact there.

The challenge for crowdfunding in the cultural sector

Thursday, February 11 I was one of the panelists at the crowdfunding cafe Crowdfundinghub. A lot of discussion about the possibilities of crowdfunding in the cultural and creative sector. Afterwards I want to share a few thoughts.

Crowdfunding is a rapidly growing form of financing in the Netherlands. Doubling every year until now the amount of money in crowdfunding deals is approximately 128 million in 2015.

Is that also true for the cultural and creative sector? Not quite: in 2015 the amount spent has increased to 9.5 million on 856 projects, an average of about € 11,000 per project. That is a substantial increase: 80% in volume and nearly 60% per project. Why the latter is in rise, is not clear.

What is striking is that only 7.5% of all volume of crowdfunding goes to the creative and cultural sector, while 23% of all projects are carried out in this sector. How is that possible?

That’s simple: in businesses the average amount of crowdfunding is more than € 90,000, eight times as much. And crowdfunding for enterprises makes 85% of the total. There lies the bulk of the growth of crowdfunding. The banks hardly finance start-ups and smaller companies and thus lending to businesses via crowdfunding takes an enormous flight.

It is the difference between donations and loans. In the cultural sector crowdfunding is almost only through donations. Voordekunst is doing very well and has gained almost a monopoly in the sector. And many artists and small institutions are living from project to project, so that fits here very well. De vraag is natuurlijk of dit van project tot project leven op den duur houdbaar is voorveel kunstenaars, het is niet bepaald een duurzaam verdienmodel. The question is whether this project life is sustainable in the long run for many artists, it’s not exactly a sustainable business model.

Maar wat dan? But what then? In de cultuursector gebeurt (te) weinig aan ondernemingsfinanciering. In the cultural sector there is not much done in loan funding. There are loans, for example in the Fund’s Culture + Fianncing , but not by a form of crowdfunding that is tailored to this sector. The question is whether there is need for a new platform, there are far too many platforms in the Netherlands, at least 80, and most are not viable in the long run. With a commission of 5-10% it requires a very large mass of projects as a platform to make enough sales to be viable. Many platforms have now grants or require investors with deep pockets to keep running.

Ultimately it’s all about the financing needs of the sector and how to provide it. In a sector in which recent years more than 500 million has been cut (200 million national government, more than 70 million provinces, 250 million at the local level) it is no longer sufficient to think only in grants and gifts. Crowdfunding only, donations or loans, is not the answer. It involves creating combinations of different types of financing.

But in my idea there is also a need for a place that provides loans to the cultural and creative sector through crowdfunding. There are plenty of entrepreneurs and professionals in the Netherlands with a heart for this sector who will find this an exciting idea.