Crowdfunding art across the african diaspora
The independent nature of crowdfunding has the potential to be used as a way of circumventing traditional funding structures within the arts, which have historically excluded particular groups. Facing a variety of challenges depending on location and infrastructure, African communities both on the continent and across the diaspora have utilised a number of methods of support, of which crowdfunding is just the latest manifestation.
Starting with a selection of crowdfunding campaigns by arts professionals across the African Diaspora highlighted a number of similarities but also unique approaches.
Andrea Chung is a California-based artist who won a residency in Jamaica which required crowdfunding to support it's additional costs. The project was in partnership with Dr Alicia Bonaparte, and involved researching historical practices around fertility, maternity and child rearing in the African diaspora within a colonial context through archival sources. Chung frequently explores colonial history within her work.
The campaign was highly detailed in terms of the breakdown of costs, which imbued it with a sense of professionalism and transparency that is perhaps not unexpected in more formal funding applications. The project was very much dependant on the receipt of funds, particularly since it covered international transport.
An established artist and widely exhibited artist, Chung managed the campaign herself using the platform Indiegogo, which does not require the entire target to be met in order to receive the funds. In fact, she was able to exceed the target by over $1000, which was then used to cover un-anticipated costs. Chung reflected that in many ways raising money through a crowdfunding campaign was easier than applying for a grant, as a result of not having to compete with 'unknown variables' and being able to 'directly draw on the strength of the project.'
The Three Great Loves of Sean Bravo was the first major project undertaken by mixed-media artist Susan Caldwell. Susan was in an interesting position having previously worked for an arts funding organization in New York City, and so had a considerable amount of insight into the lengthy process that is undertaken when applying for funding through a traditional route. Crowdfunding was appealing because it was 'seeking funding from the end consumer.'
Cecile has been very direct in her pitch that the work of black artists is underfunded and underrepresented, and this was a key point in her plea. From my observations on social media, there is a strong desire for wider, non-stereotypical representations of the black experience which is not being offered by mainstream art, culture and media. As a result, Cecile was able to galvanize a significant social media following and unusual for crowdfunding, many of her donations were not from individuals in her immediate network of contacts.
For African diasporic communities, the act of archiving is not only part of artistic practice, but of negotiating identity and preserving unrecorded heritage. The collective experience of creating an archive has a parallel with the nature of crowdfunding, both acting as what John Akomfrah deemed a space of intervention, within existing structures of power and knowledge production.
The concept of collective financial support is not a new concept in the African Diaspora. Remittance payments are a way for fragmented communities to maintain trust-based relations across both local and global networks.
Tension between the physical, tangible yet static space of the archive in comparison with the fluid, dynamic of the notion of crowd, community and diaspora.
Problems: Lack of sustainability Extra work With whom does the responsibility lie to fund the arts? Do black artists have to disproportionately rely on private funding?