Pledge the revolution: fundraising and diversity
Brooke Boland speaks to two artists and crowdfunders about harnessing the power of diversity to fund and promote their work.
When writer and actor Candy Bowers set up her crowdfunding campaign for One the Bear — an edgy work aimed at young people by Black Honey Company, created in partnership with La Boîte and Campbelltown Arts Centre — she spent hours thinking about how to create a campaign that had social justice at its core.
The result was an outreach and education project that addressed a big issue the arts still grapple with: how do arts organisations get more diverse audiences through their doors?
It’s not good enough to program work, you need to effectively get our audiences through the door and acknowledge that chasm between those who can and can’t access those spaces,” said Bowers.
The campaign wasn’t just about backers funding the performance itself, but contributing to initiatives that improved access. “Don’t you want a mutha-luvin’ revolution? Can you imagine theatre beyond the pale?”, the crowdfunder prompted.
Over $10,000 was successfully raised through Pozible, with dollar-for-dollar matched funding through MATCH Lab. Funds were used to support outreach initiatives like workshops in schools and free tickets for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as commissioning reviews from POC (people of colour) and women.
“Essentially and comprehensively, the campaign organised us in a way,” said Candy. “I wanted to create an outreach campaign because as soon as a work hits a theatre space, the kids I make the work for are rarely there. There are barriers, whether that’s financial or cultural.
“But it wasn’t just about people funding that, it was also about the industry hearing what we were saying, that we want to see ourselves reflected in audiences.”
With this decolonising edge, the campaign for One the Bear is an example of how crowdfunding can contribute to improving access and diversity in the arts.
Written and directed by Patiag and produced by Maren Smith, TOMGIRL celebrates Filipino Bakla tradition, where males cross-dress as women, regarded as a ‘third gender’ in the Philippines.
“The film follows Justin, a seven-year-old boy who says he wants to go to school dressed as a girl because girls don’t get hit. That’s the way kids are innocent and don’t always understand gender politics and that,” explained Vonne.
“His uncle, Uncle Norman, who struggles with his own restricted expression, reveals that he is Bakla and that he loves to dress up as well. Together they sailor moon transform into dresses and hit the streets of Blacktown and encounter Filipino culture. It is a celebration of everything Philippines.”
TOMGIRL received a grant of $30,000 from Create NSW and SBS, but the amount meant an incredibly tight budget, and more money was needed.
“We were kind of left with this question mark around, okay, how do we raise this gap?” said Vonne.
The campaign raised $6,200 through the Australia Cultural Fund and became an important way to galvanise community support and developing audiences.
“In terms of being like a pathway for — and I use this quotation very loosely and in quotation marks — “marginalised” communities or diverse identities, it is a very strong way to gauge the community interest and also as a way to have a central point of discussion of the project too, especially if it is community-based.
“The more crowdfunding you raise and the more people who pledge, the more audience you have. I’d always known that as a model was something I really liked. Building your audience through an online platform in your own way, on your own terms, I really liked the freedom that could afford.”
Vonne also said crowdfunding is one possible way to address gatekeeping issues in the arts when it comes to access to funding.
“One of the big issues I really see, with the push for diversity, I feel like there is an expectation that you can create diverse content, but you need to stay within the pathways that have been established. Which is a really big issue because you are asking people who arguably may not have the same skill set, but you want their stories.
“So they were like, come in and tell me your really cool story about migration or queer identity in Western Sydney, and you’re going to get this much money and your pathway needs to be the same as ours, and I felt like crowdfunding kind of bridges that gap.”
Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.