an alternative business model for the arts...?
What to do if...
- you are passionate about your art (whether music, visual art, or whatever kind of "form") and wish you could spend more time at it (and even wonder about deriving some income from it)?
- you want to take your art more seriously and "get it out there" to more people, but you don't really see yourself going "full-time," or even necessarily "part-time," in an "employment/income-generating" kind of way?
- you would like to "take the plunge" and try to pursue your art on a part-time or full-time basis, but you wonder if there's an economically viable way to do it?
- your gifts have been affirmed by others who say they would like to support your artistic vocation but aren't sure how?
- you have a real drive to explore or pursue your artistic vocation, but sense a disconnect between your own values, goals, and priorities and the kind of lifestyle and assumptions (eg: "tour! tour! tour! sell! sell! sell!") that seem to be expected/required if you want to be "serious" about "making a go of it" with your art?
As I've wrestled with these questions I keep finding more and more people who wrestle with them too. As you can see on the sidebar of this blog, I am blessed to have friends and colleagues who are pursuing their musical/artistic vocations in a host of creative ways that are as varied and interesting and dynamic as the people themselves. Thankfully there is no "one way" to do this - any more than there is "one way" for any of us to do our art. I have learned and continue to learn a great deal from these co-conspirators... and I've been curious if the approach that I've been developing might be of interest to others as well.
There are a bunch of different models/metaphors that can help describe the approach that I'm taking (which some have taken to calling "Community Supported Music"). In many ways it's a web-based 21st century spin on some very old ways of structuring economic relationships. See which one (if any) of these metaphors resonates best with you:
1) Community Supported Music (CSM, or CSArts - see my last post and an earlier, more whimsical description) is like a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm - redefining the relationship between "producer" and "consumer" to be a partnership in the growing and consuming of food. The CSA model offers the opportunity to have a direct relationship (and the possibility of direct participation/involvement) with the person and the place and the process that is growing your food - locally, organically, sustainably. In the same way, Community Supported Music offers the opportunity to have a direct relationship with the person who is "growing music" (or paintings or dramas or whatever) for you (and, quite possibly, motivating you to try your hand at it as well).
2) CSM (or CSArts) is like a decentralized and democratized way of "commissioning" art. Instead of a single wealthy benefactor (or agency or entity) financing/supporting the artist, there is a community of people that sees its role as supporting a particular artist, benefitting from the art, and helping to bring that art to the world.
3) CSM/CSArts is in some ways like a pastor-congregation relationship. A community decides that it is important to call someone and charge him or her with the functions (among others) of living in the community and paying attention to what is going on, spending time in prayer and Scripture study, and preparing something (eg: a sermon) to share with the community on a regular basis for the "building up of the body of Christ." There will be weeks when the pastor (or the congregation) feels that sermon was particularly "inspired" and other weeks not, but that doesn't change the fact that this person has been called (and is financially supported) to carry out this particular function in the community. In many ways this is how I tend to see my role as songwriter. And the CSM system is a way, again, to "decentralize" that function so that the "local, supporting community" can be made up of people from all over the place.
4) The artist in a CSM/CSArts system is like the medieval "town fiddler" (or the "community flute players" that played at Jeremy and WuYan's wedding in China a few weeks ago - see photo above). This is a local person who is bi-vocational and does not typically "make a living" exclusively with music, but everybody knows that when it's time for the party (or the wedding), the "town fiddler" (or "flute players") can be counted on to be there, fulfilling their social function and helping the community to do its thing.
And on and on it goes... I'm sure you could add to this list.
While each metaphor is different, and teases out different aspects of the relationship between the "artist" and the "community," it seems to me that they have a great deal in common:
- relationship and community based
- small-scale and "local"
- more about the "process" (and the social function in the community) than about a "product"
- an economic structure that is "in proportion" with the life and values of the community
While I'm still in the beginning stages, already I'm finding this approach to be a better "fit" with my values and goals and priorities than many of the mainstream assumptions that I hear about what it means to "make it" and "succeed" in "the music business." I see this approach as a way to value long-term sustainability and health over "making it big"; a sense of "enough" over unfettered ambition; a strengthening of relationships in the living out of artistic vocation rather than a sacrificing of relationships in the pursuit of "success."
What do you think? Can you see an adapted form of this model working for you? Could this kind of approach help you to explore and live out your sense of artistic vocation? Is it a mechanism that could help you support someone else's...?