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Crowdfunding is just the beginning of the horizontal funding of creativity

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2012


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.”

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2 Responses to “Crowdfunding is just the beginning of the horizontal funding of creativity”

  1. Gien Says:

    Hi Michael,

    Yes, we are all interconnected. I came here through watching the Keiser Report volume E272. You were being interviewed by Max on Bitcoin. I have been researching alternative currencies for the purpose of implementing in a local economic pilot project in South Africa. I had been investigating Community Exchange Systems, LETs and others. I recently enjoyed Money Fix with my family. There has been an energy pressing me to watch Max, whom I recently discovered and he resonates with a lot of the experiences in my own life journey. Then when I heard you speak about Bitcoins today on episode E272, your words resonated deeply with what I am doing here in Africa trying to find an open source model that works.

    In the interview, when you shared your ideas, it was like a pinball machine hitting all the high value targets: centralized financial system causing environmental ruin, transition towns, the nonscaleability of other forms of local currency …. all ideas that I am searching answers for.

    Now, reading the above, it also brings up recent thoughts I have been having, questioning the entire monetary foundation of this current economic paradigm (maybe regime is a better word) we all currently live (slave) under. The Money Fix is fresh in my mind, especially the thought that the money system creates artificial scarcity – one tends to look at things differently when you have the specific mechanical knowledge of how the system is rigged so that a certain percentage of people have to lose. I’m pertaining specifically to the fact that the present system creates more debt than actual money in the money supply – the principal has to therefore be used to pay for both the total principal and debt existing in the economy.

    What a revelation this was – a light bulb going off! It became crystal clear how the system is rigged so that we all have to compete for the scarce-by-design supply of money to pay off both our principal and our debt – whether it’s a student loan, a home mortgage, a vehicle mortgage or a business loan. What it means is that regardless of how hard and smart everyone is, some people are just going to lose. It’s like being in school and being marked on a bell curve; there always has to be a certain percentage who fail.

    That idea is related to the thought of whether it is possible to create a personal ethos of sharing rather than hoarding. This question is intimately connected to this blog post. This is a huge mental shift in the minds of many creatives because it means trusting in the universe to take care of you. When we exist and are conditioned by this current paradigm, we automatically think from a perspective of scarcity. When we have what we think is a great idea, the next thought that follows is: how do I protect it? IP, NDA’s, copyrights, patents. These are all tools of a mind entrenched in scarcity, often borne out by reality.

    The problem, it would seem to me, is much like the dilemma and paradox of violence in the world. Gun owners in the US continually cite the 2nd amendment and defend gun possession through that. Yet, if you normalize guns through law, then you normalize violence as well. Guns are not designed to flip eggs or to clean gutters. They are only designed for one thing; to kill efficiently. The 2nd amendment people don’t get that the right to bear arms is what creates a society filled with violence and solves problems through violence. By normalizing it, that is how people like the most recent mass murderer James Holmes turns to it for his solution.

    In the same way, by normalizing scarcity, we normalize competition and selfishness rather than trust in compassion and interconnectedness. It suppresses our spontaneous compassion nature and constructs an artificial competitive nature ontop of that. To create a society in which we can trust that our creative ideas will be supported rather than stolen requires there to be a sufficient threshold of people who hold the same idea be crossed. The proof is in the pudding. So the big question to me is: how do we get there? There will be some who will have to put their valuable ideas out there and trust that the support will come.

  2. Michel Bauwens Says:

    Thanks for the effort put in sharing your ideas and questions. Our work is dedicated to find the answer to that key question on how to change this dysfunctional system. This doesn’t mean we have a full answer, but we’re constructing it, along with many others, and the pieces of the puzzle increasingly fall into place. See Jean Zin, Changing the System of Production, in the Journal of Peer Production, as well.

    Michel

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