Artists tap into micro-philanthropy to find patrons

Several artists based in Philadelphia are experimenting with an alternative way of raising money. A new website called United States Artists allows artists to solicit small amounts of money from a wide variety of people.

It’s similar to already existing sites such as Kickstarter.com and artsfunds.org, which artists are learning to handle with care.

Traditionally, arts funding starts at large foundations, trickles down through arts organizations and winds up in programs which employ artists. Rarely does anyone simply hand money directly to an artist. But micro-philanthropy sites allow artists to solicit small amounts — $10, $100 — directly from patrons.

Photographer Zoe Strauss said unlike institutional support, individuals who donate through micro-philanthropy sites do so because they are personally interested in her work — or in her.

“It’s much more intimate than an overall blanket statement of supporting the arts,” said Strauss, who raised morethan $5,000 from 64 people through United States Artists in its beta phase.

“For me it adds a lot more stress. Which is OK. I don’t mind being obligated to others so long as I’m able to be fluid within it to do what I want to do,” she said.

A director at The Center for Emerging Visual Artists, Amie Potsic, said that as micro-philanthropy sites become more popular, artists will have to boil their projects down to a short and clear paragraph. That’s antithetical to the way most artists work.

“To be honest, almost no one takes the time to consider an artist’s work at the length and depth that the artist considers their work. So you really need to figure out a way to boil what you’re doing down to the essentials and really romance people into joining your cause,” said Potsic.

United States Artists launched a beta version of the website last May. Philadelphia-based ceramicist Kukuli Velarde raised almost $4,000 from 24 people to buy a kiln for a community pottery workshop in West Kensington. That all happened before the site officially launched.

 

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