Pre-production: finance

Many great art projects are self-funded. Grant money and philanthropic dollars don’t often make it to regional artists. It makes funding ambitious projects difficult.

I’ve always self-funded my art practice even though much of my work ends up in public spaces, galleries, and festivals. When I used to work in 2D – mixed media, painting, and photography, I would sell work from exhibitions that would go back into my practice to buy new materials. However, the move to digital media and installations made it harder to generate funds except through the occasional, small artist fees (if I was lucky).

Having written many grant applications over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a dark art unless you’re well connected and networking the system from start to finish. In many ways, self-funding gives you the freedom to take the work where it needs to go rather than being captive to the interests of stakeholders for the sake of funding.

Self-funding projects requires discipline though…and lots of budgets. I work for myself by the hour or day, so I only get paid when there’s work to do, and then I often have to wait 4-6 weeks for payments. When I do get paid, I religiously squirrel away 10-15% of every payment into a savings account for the purchase of equipment or art project-related expenses. When I’m busy, it adds up. I’ve estimated my investment in Eye of the Corvus to date has been about $10,000 in equipment purchases alone. It’d be twice that if not more if I was accounting for my time.

Interestingly, there appears to be a requirement by many grant providers that artists significantly self-fund their work anyway. Unless you’ve been successful with other grants or donations, you don’t have any other income streams to work with. You need to keep track of the investment you make in your own work – don’t underestimate it because you’ll find it’s more significant than you first think.

Taking on crowdfunding

Some believe it’s worth investing in the conversations art sparks, the beauty it brings, the new ideas it promotes, the soul it adds to our communites.

Eye of the Corvus is the biggest project I’ve undertaken since my Artlands Festival work, Volucres, in 2016, for which I received $10,000 from festival organisers to assist with production. After equipment purchases and rentals, fees for technical assistance, and various other materials required for the installation, there wasn’t much left of what was probably supposed to be the artist fee – about $2,000 for a work that took 18 months to develop.

So, it was with some degree of desperation after missing out on a major project grant worth $30,000+ at the end of 2018, that I looked to the Australian Cultural Fund (ACF) as a platform for crowdfunding my project. I’ve written a blog on my artist website explaining the mindset you need to crowdfund. It’s not something you do half-heartedly.

ACF_crowdfunding

In the first 3 weeks of my campaign, I managed to raise 65% of my $5,000 target. I was truly humbled and proud that many of the 23 supporters who felt this project worth of support were from my hometown or surrounds.

It’s been a big job managing and monitoring the campaign – keeping communications flowing without overdoing it, following up with donors, monitoring the analytics, planning the next week’s actions, and more.

It’s as much about future works

Some say artists have a choice to produce work or not, or to produce big, ambitious, experimental work, or not.

I’m also hopeful at this point that another grant application I have in for $5,000 will be successful when announced in coming weeks. Every bit helps this project become something I can build future works on.

That’s the thing –  it’s not just about this project, or even the next one; it’s funding that helps me build a sustainable practice that doesn’t keep me in debt forever, for the benefit of the public who experience the work. So many times, I’ve thought, “I’m done. I can’t afford to keep doing this…”. Then the next idea starts to take shape, and we start again.

Those who say artists have a choice about whether or not to create are those who have never been driven to create anything. Art benefits us all. Some believe it’s worth investing in the conversations art sparks, the beauty it brings, the new ideas it promotes, the soul it adds to our communities. To those people, thank you. You are as much a part of the art-making process as the artist.

The breakdown

For those who are interested, the following breakdown gives you an idea of how quickly the cost of producing works like this add up.

👉🏻 $20 buys more AA & AAA batteries (I use a lot!)
👉🏻 $50 buys a spare SD card for the three cameras or two audio recorders
👉🏻 $70 is a tank of fuel for field trips into the region for shooting and recording or part of a day’s hire car rental in Iceland
👉🏻 $100 buys a spare battery for a camera
👉🏻 $300 covers basic living expenses such as groceries for a week in Iceland (it’s expensive…as much as $7 for a coffee, $16 for beer)
👉🏻 $1,000 will help pay for the virtual reality camera yet to be purchased or half the airfare to Iceland and back
👉🏻 $1,300 is what one month of the residency in Iceland costs

So far, I’ve upgraded my camera to find something lighter to travel with, which also meant a new selection of lenses. Given the brief of the project, it’s also meant the need for a drone and a virtual reality camera, and some different types of microphones. I’m now pricing high-end laptops light enough to travel with but with enough grunt to handle ultra high-resolution video editing. Most of these things I’ll use in future works and my content production…but they do take a large chunk out of the project budget.

Click here if you’re interested in seeing the Australian Cultural Fund campaign (it’s up until the end of March)

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