Thus Rises The Individual Curator and Commissioner

There was an intriguing piece on Wired last week (h/t Thomas Cott) about an alternative approach to funding events via Kickstarter. Andy Baio talks about funding record projects, conferences and festivals by essentially lining up the speakers/performers/resources and then seeing if anyone is interested in buying tickets to the proposed events/project. If there isn’t enough interest, it doesn’t happen.

What was most interesting to me is how this type of approach really empowers an individual to curate a project. You may not be an artist yourself, but you have an idea of what combination of artists and concepts might be compelling and then can set out to bring it together.

While this is sort of my job already, there is something of an expectation that there will be balance in those I invite. I have a certain responsibility to make sure my facility and events are being run in a fiscally responsible manner. An individual isn’t necessarily saddled by those expectations. They can do a project as a one off and no one is concerned about whether their activities are serving the needs of the community.

Makes me wonder if this might be a potential mode of operation for the future. One of many that might replace the non-profit arts organization.

If taken at its face, this approach seems shift some burden to the artists/speakers being invited. If the event doesn’t happen, will they get paid? While Baio doesn’t explicitly mention it, I am guessing you would have to provide some sort of guarantee of payment to the artist/speaker regardless of whether the performance happened or not. Baio alluded to this in a couple places, including his requirements for these projects.

Projects like these have three big requirements.

Strong, achievable concept. Commissioned works should be scoped down to something realistic, because you’re paying for their time, but high-concept enough to capture the excitement of other fans.

Organizer. The funding may come from the crowd, but there needs to be a single person managing the project and handling all the logistics and small details.

Due diligence. The organizer will need a firm agreement from the artist, committing to a timeline, payment, and any other demands. Also, if the project results in a tangible work, determine who owns the rights to it before you start raising money.

While most artists and speakers like being paid, they like to be seen and heard even more so there is also some incentive for them to help promote the cause. It may not occur too frequently at present, but it could certainly become commonplace if the practice of running a project up the flag pole becomes more wide spread.

The other thing, of course, is that it turns your audience into much more active advocates for the work because there is a possibility it won’t happen. We know that many audiences today, especially among the younger generation, tend to wait to see if something more interesting might come along before buying a ticket. Since the performance will occur regardless of their commitment, there is no incentive to commit. The threat that the event might not happen can garner an increased investment in its success even if it is only that people continually check the progress of the funding to see if the event will happen.

A commenter to the piece pointed out a service in Brazil which rewards the early adopters. It sells refundable tickets to a show until the minimum is met. Once the event has secured its funding, it starts selling non-refundable tickets and apparently starts reimbursing the purchasers of the refundable tickets up to the their full purchase price.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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