Excerpted from Ian MacKenzie:
“In 2010 and 2011 respectively, filmmaker/director Velcrow Ripper and I raised over $80K towards our upcoming film Occupy Love, illuminating the Occupy movement and other uprisings unfolding around the world. We turned to crowdfunding for two reasons: 1) traditional sources of development funding have shrunk, even for established filmmakers, and 2) to involve the community in the process of making the film.
It was during our two campaigns that I was able to discern the deeper shift hinted through crowdfunding.
On the surface, crowdfunding seems like a streamlined way to collect donations for a creative project. The underlying “ask” could be stated as follows: “Because I could not raise the money for my project, I ask you to donate your money to help me out. This is a one-time ask, because in the future, I will be able to provide for myself.”
This is the consumer model in disguise. The premise is that we are individuals, driven to maximize our own self-interest. Therefore, it is only through the goodness of your heart that you would support another. After all, if a project is in fact “worthy of making money” in our current economic system, then it wouldn’t need this support.
And yet, with ever more people using the crowdfunding model, it’s no surprise “crowdfunding fatigue” has entered our lexicon. The first few invitations to donate may be charming, but by the 10th or 20th, you’re perhaps ready to hit delete before reading the email. This fatigue also rests on the underlying premise of the consumer model. You only have so much of your hard-earned pie to give away, and once you hit your personal limit, you’re tapped out.
What we are lacking is not the funds to pay for these crowdfunded projects, but the foundational story that allows us to grasp the true significance of the emerging model.
When you examine the type of projects generally being funded, they look far different than what you’d typically see produced by TV networks or traditional record labels: The Spirit Level, a film about how to build happier societies through equality. Or All Together Now, a photo book celebrating women in music.
In short, many of these projects are unlikely to attract dollars via advertisers or mass sales. And yet their impact on the world is far more beneficial than one more episode of Jersey Shore or salacious issue of Cosmopolitan.
In the crowdfunding model, what is really being asked is: “This creative project will be of value to the world. I ask that you support the birth of this project during this time of creation, as you will be supported when you become a creator.”
In this new model, “creator” is a temporary state of gestation and manifestation, much like a mother birthing a child. As a society, we instinctively know that a mother needs special care and attention while in this process, which lasts until sometime after the actual birth. (If you’re lucky, some societies have encoded this in our parental-support policies). Eventually, the creator then shifts back into consumer – and another creator takes their place.
The Shift to Interdependence
In Thailand, if you were to wake in the early dawn hours, you may witness the Buddhist monks leaving their monasteries and weaving silently through the streets. They walk single file, the oldest in the front row, carrying their alms bowls in their fingers. Laypeople wait for them, ready to offer food, flowers, and incense sticks into bowls.
The monks rarely speak, even to say thank you. Giving alms is not thought of as charity. Rather, the ritual is a lived reflection of a deeper reality: that we are all interconnected. The giving and receiving of alms creates a spiritual connection between the monks and the community: the monks offer their deep spiritual work, while the laypeople offer their physical support. Both sides need each other to maintain a harmonious society.
Today, the comparison is important, because we are on the cusp of transitioning to a society that closes the loop on this new model. Rather than perceive ourselves as individuals with only the capacity to create or consume, what does it mean to act on the knowledge that we are, in fact, all interconnected? The missing link in this new creative paradigm is no longer understanding how we support, but why we support.
When I support another creator in birthing their project, it creates the world I want to see. And because I am intimately embedded in this world, I am directly and indirectly affected in an infinite variety of ways. Further, just as I may ask to be supported during my periods of creation, so I must support others with the spirit of selflessness and joy.
You may rightly point out that some countries such as Canada (CBC), the UK (BBC), and others have publicly-funded cultural organizations that fund and produce creative work for the common good of the nation. Yet this model still relies on a traditional, hierarchical method to disperse the funds.
There’s a reason that Occupy Wall Street and other social movements are experimenting with non-hierarchic decision making structures—they are modeling themselves after the most chaotic system of all: Mother Nature. No single entity decides which grass will grow or flowers will bloom. They just do, and the dance works beautifully.
What I am speaking of is unlocking a new economic ecosystem of creativity, where money flows to where it’s needed most. This future is horizontal.
The work being done by conscious creatives in the realms of words, music, filmmaking and beyond, is too important to leave to the skewed bias of the old economic models. Our capacity to free ourselves from the illusions of the corporate imagineers is akin to seeing ourselves again for the first time in a long time.
Our art is a reflection of ourselves, and our ability to truly see the reality behind the curtain: our world is dying, and She needs us to wake up.
Here’s what I see coming:
Crowd-supported Individuals —I know many artists and creatives that produce some of the most profound and beautiful work I’ve seen, and yet most of them struggle with paying their modest bills. I foresee the emergence of individuals supported entirely by funds from the crowd, via ongoing micro-payments and a rotating roster of patrons. (This is already happening: read author Jenny Ferry’s story)
Artist Collectives —rather than campaigning from project to project, I believe the shift also include artist collectives aimed at producing powerful, high-quality content, some for entertainment but many for social action and consciousness-raising.
Crowdfunding Everything —As mentioned earlier, the sprouting of crowdfunding platforms now encompasses a range of purposes. You can now fundraise to fix real-world infrastructure in your city, finance important scientific research, and help journalists break key stories. This trend will continue to apply to everything the consumer model currently inhabits.
The end result is what we could call a “culture of creativity” where there is no hard distinction between the creator and consumer, they are merely conditions which temporarily align and disperse as the desire and need manifests. We become participants in our lives again, instead of passive consumers.
Will crowdfunding completely replace the consumer model? No. The old consumer model will continue to retain a significant portion of economic activity—not every product, project, or idea is suitable for crowdfunding. Though just like we are starting to reclaim our relationships with the artists, we are called to participate in reclaiming our communities.
We are invited to join not out of responsibility, but out of gratitude, a key emotion of the new paradigm. Crowdfunding is a model that better allows us to connect our personal gifts with receivers. This is aligned with the nature of the gift.
Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, says it best:
Gratitude, the recognition that one has received and the desire to give in turn, is our innate default state. How could it not be, when life, breath, and world are gifts? When even the fruit of our own labors is beyond our contrivance? To live in the gift is to reunite with our true nature. As you step into a gift mentality, let your feelings guide you. Let your giving arise from gratitude and not the desire to measure up to some standard of virtue. … Whatever steps you take, know that you are preparing for the economy of the future.”