Fundraising Isn't the Goal
At Fractured Atlas and on this blog, we talk about money a lot. We cover why it’s hard to talk about money, how artists can raise money, and argue that pay transparency is anti-racist. We cover crowdfunding, grants, and how to improve your chances at succeeding in both of these ventures.
We understand that a lack of financial transparency is one of the ways that inequalities persist in the arts and that without financial resources it’s hard to create the work you want to make.
As a fiscal sponsor for artists and arts organizations, we support the arts ecosystem by helping artists access tax-deductible donations and apply for a wider breadth of grants. Fractured Atlas is in the business of helping artists fundraise more successfully.
With all of this focus on finances and fundraising, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that fundraising isn’t the whole picture. Fundamentally, fundraising just is a means to an end.
Fundraising is Important
Fundraising through grants or crowdfunding is important for artists.
Most obviously, fundraising can give you access to capital. You can use this capital to purchase equipment and materials that you need to make your work. You can use capital to hire a team or rent space. Having financial resources can allow artists the security to create more freely, if for no other reason than that financial concerns add stress and anxiety that can make it hard to find the emotional space to create.
But there are additional benefits.
Grant funding through an institution can give you non-financial resources. You might be able to access advice and support about project management, budgeting, or other administrative tasks. You might be able to meet a network of fellow grantees who can become a professional and creative network for you. Receiving funding from a grant can give you legitimacy in the eyes of other institutions that might fund your future work or might curate your work for a show or a festival.
Crowdfunding can give you an audience that’s looking forward to your work. The people in your network who believe in you and your work enough to put their dollars behind it will likely still be there when you’re ready to premier your work.
Fundraising is a Means to an End
With all of the benefits of fundraising, and all of the work that it takes to research grants and apply to them, to create crowdfunding campaigns with perks and videos, it can feel like you are just fundraising to fundraise.
We want artists to remember that fundraising is primarily about supporting your art. You aren’t fundraising to win a game called “fundraising.” You are doing it so that you can produce your play or your podcast, choreograph an ambitious dance performance, or fund the jump from acrylic paint to oil.
Raise Money to Spend Money
Scarcity mindsets can make it hard to remember that fundraising is a means to an end. Thinking in terms of scarcity rather than abundance can make us feel like we always have to be looking for more money, more grants, a bigger crowdfunding goal. But in the world of arts fundraising, you’re raising money to spend it, not to gather proverbial dust in your bank account. We don’t want you to be too afraid of spending money to stay on the hamster wheel of fundraising any longer than you have to.
We want you to raise enough money to do your work at the scale that you want to see it done, to create ambitiously and compensate your collaborators fairly. All of this might entail some financial planning and some saving. But we don’t want to see artists get so afraid of depleting your savings account that you never end up actually making work!
Don’t Change Your Art to Get Funded
If you lose sight of the real goal of fundraising, you might find yourself trying to create work that is optimized to appeal to funders. Instead of making work that you find most creatively stimulating, that speaks most urgently to your own inner world or the needs of your community, you instead might try to think about what a big, well-funded institution is most likely to support.
Creating work that’s designed to get funded will result in work that you are less passionate about, that is more watered-down, that feels less authentic to your vision. It’s also not a sure thing that you really know what a funder’s priorities are or what they are looking for! Trying to reverse-engineer a project to fit into a guess of what a funder wants isn’t likely to end well for you.
It is worth noting, however, that thinking about what kind of projects get funding can help you fine-tune your work. For example, a grant might ask you about how you are going to share your work with your community. If you’ve only considered premiering your film on the festival circuit, questions like this might help you expand your programming to help people outside of the traditional arts circuit access your work.
Fundraising is About Building Partnerships
Fundraising isn’t about amassing money as validation, it isn’t about winning a game. Fundraising is about bringing your vision to life and about building partnerships along the way.
Successful fundraising partnerships are ones in which the funder is excited to support the project, group, or artist that they are awarding a grant to or donating to. The artist or group who is receiving funding is excited to work with the funding body to realize their vision. You should both feel good about the interaction and should be proud to be associated with one another.
If you focus too much on just bringing in financial resources, you might forget that you are in the business of building partnerships that will serve you over the long term when you fundraise. It can potentially lead you to accept funding from institutions that aren’t aligned with your values. You might find yourself working with the philanthropic arm of a corporation whose work harms your community or whose labor practices you believe to be unethical.
You don’t want to take money from somewhere that makes you so uncomfortable that you wouldn’t even want to use it, but also, you need money in order to make your work. There isn’t an easy answer, and there’s no such thing as purely ethical money under capitalism.
There isn’t necessarily a right answer to where artists should receive financial support. But there might be a right answer for you about where you should seek funding from.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.