Reinventing the Patron

Crowdfunding is bringing the arts back towards a patronage model. Sculptor Carrie Fertig and IndieGoGo pro Anastasia Emmanuel discuss how the internet can give an idea wings

Feature by Cathleen O'Grady | 01 Aug 2014
  • Reinventing the Patron

Edinburgh-based sculptor Carrie Fertig wanted to create a giant pair of flameworked glass dove wings in Chichester Cathedral. Made from three hundred individual feathers, the wings would hang from a metal frame 61 feet above the ground. Why? “Because it is going to be completely amazing.”

Unfortunately for Fertig, funding bodies didn’t seem to agree, and her applications were turned down. Undaunted, she turned to crowdfunding, and after her campaign on IndieGoGo hit its target, she was able to bring Glass Wings for Chichester Cathedral to life. “I would definitely do it again,” she says. “I feel like it’s getting back to a kind of patronage model. It’s particularly poignant in Chichester Cathedral, because all cathedrals got their art based on patronage, and still do.”

Crowdfunding is booming, and more projects than ever are flocking to the web to bring their ideas to life. The recently-launched GoCrowdfundBritain campaign aims to see more than 1000 tech, music, fashion, arts and charity projects across the country raise £1 million, with a particular focus on encouraging projects in the regions. “I’m from Yorkshire, and it kind of frustrates me that all these really good ideas aren’t coming to life as much outside of London,” says Anastasia Emmanuel, IndieGoGo’s UK Marketing and Community Manager. “It’s not because of a lack of innovation, or great creative talent, and so I figured it must be because of the lack of awareness of crowdfunding as a viable way to raise money. The whole point is, you shouldn’t have to come to London to fund your idea.”

For many artists, musicians, inventors and philanthropists, crowdfunding is churning up possibilities for funding that would never otherwise have existed. “Crowdfunding opens up the possibility of making a much larger project than you might get based on the normal income streams an artist might have,” says Fertig. “Not everyone ticks the right boxes for standard funding bodies.”

With the recession having caused banks and investors to tighten their belts, raising funds over the last few years has been harder than ever; but this is only part of the story, according to Emmanuel. “The banking crisis wasn’t the originator of the problem, but it was the catalyst. Even out of a recession, banks don’t lend money, so your options are payday loans or bootstrapping your company. Or knowing investors, and a lot of people don’t have a black book of angel investors.”

Like Google with information and Twitter with communication, the aim of crowdfunding is the democratisation of finance. “Traditionally, if you had a great idea, you would have to raise a lot of money to get production going,” Emmanuel explains. “But someone without that experience, or without those contacts, wouldn’t make it. So you end up with the same people monopolising industries: the same filmmakers making the same films, the same musicians being able to fund their albums. It works across every single category, and what crowdfunding does is completely level the playing field.”

It’s become about more than just raising the funds, she adds: “It’s everything else you get too: market relations, reaching out to community and customers, validation, incubation. It’s a way to create people that are very involved and excited about what you’re doing. Maybe a bank or an investor wouldn’t fund you, but the crowd wanted to, so they did. The crowd is genuinely very good at telling whether ideas are good or not.”

The validation aspect is a vital one for artists, says Fertig, who may find themselves discouraged when turned down by big funders. “They go, 'Oh, it’s not a worthy project.' One of the big things crowdfunding does for you is say ‘Yes, this project has wings.’ Sorry. That was pretty bad.”