Journal of Aesthetics & protest
Conversations and Theory in
practice. go post-money!!!
by InCUBATE (Abigail Satinsky, Bryce Dwyer, Matthew Joynt, and Roman Petruniak
InCUBATE (The Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and the Everyday) is an experimental research institute and residency program that develops alternative arts funding models and promotes art administration as a creative practice. We are interested in the forms of support available to non-conventional cultural institutions working in Chicago. There are a number of artist-run groups and spaces here, which operate outside the traditional funding models used by commercial galleries and the non-profit sector. To help these non-traditional spaces we decided to initiate an experimental support structure, the Artist Run Credit League (ARCL).(1) The ARCL is a rotating credit association for artist-run spaces in Chicago. The league's format is derived from the tanda (2), a practice involving a core of participants who agree to make regular contributions to a fund, which is then given to each contributor in rotation. It acts as a collective savings account and micro-credit line, based on a mutual trust and a shared faith in the value of keeping the community networked.
Both the credit-cycle and amount of individual credit are determined by the number of ARCL members. If there are 8 members in the ARCL for example, the cycle will last 8 months, and each group will have $160 worth of credit. For each month of the credit-cycle, one ARCL member is paid the full amount of their individual credit. The monthly schedule of disbursements is established by a random draw at the commencement of each credit-cycle. Members can swap out the months that they will receive their credit based on their programming needs. Members are also required to throw one fundraiser per credit-cycle to raise at least two hundred dollars, the collective sum of which is distributed equally to all members on a quarterly basis in addition to the rotating monthly distribution. Besides the participation of individual members, the league is also structured to accept tax-deductible contributions from outside donors wishing to support the entire community.
We hope that artist-run spaces, by investing in the fund, will have an interest in attending each other’s fundraisers and help build the community outward. The fund accrues value as the community invests in its well being. It becomes a sustainable model based on the group’s level of commitment to making it work. In essence, it is an experimental community bank in which artist-run spaces can have a platform for sharing resources and discussing creative fundraising tools.
On the one hand, the credit league is very practical. Situated specifically within Chicago's artist-run community, ARCL functions to raise money, pool resources, facilitate collaboration and build a stronger network. Simultaneously though, there is theoretical dimension: How can interdisciplinary cultural practitioners with differing vocabularies co-generate more equitable, creative, and critical infrastructures to support cultural production?
To share strategies about various alternative funding strategies underway, InCUBATE posed questions to three alternative funding practitioners. These questions are a part of our research towards the formation of the Artist Run Credit League to make it a functional and explicitly critical presence in Chicago.
InCUBATE: In terms of fundraising and resource generation, how does your practice combine traditional organizational models with more experimental approaches?
Geraldine Juárez: (3)My practice tries to create infrastructure, actions and objects that identify and deface the dominant logic of consumption, production and interaction. To do so, I hack the traditional use or function of certain systems and resources to propose or imagine alternatives. I'm not married to the idea of totally functional alternatives, in fact sometimes I'm up for being completely dysfunctional too. But in the specific case of the Tanda Foundation, I use peer funding and open source web technology in order to put out there the possibility of a completely independent "arts foundation" that is held and run by its users who act as patrons as well as candidates.
I really didn't have time or money to open a legal institution. I started realizing that there are actually very functional models on the fringe of the system that could be used to peer-fund a model where people could apply without too much hassle to fund their creative projects. One such model is the tanda—an organization, mostly used by immigrants in the US to save money. I merged it with the logic of the prolific 501c3 institutions. We have patrons. We have candidates. We take donations. We select projects. We vote. We do it in a collective, public and autonomous way.
Tanda Foundation is an unofficial foundation in the sense that we do not have any tax status and are not able to deduct donations. We are invisible to the conventional arts funding system. We do not depend on them to exist, or on the profit of corporations that usually donate money for tax deductions.
InCUBATE: What are the challenges that stand in the way of enacting these experimental practices?
Kristen Cox: (4)The non-profit industrial complex is a trap, in more cases than not - requiring positions of leadership among a board of directors; outcome-based funding, program grants (instead of funding general operating costs) and the continual cat and mouse game between non-profits and donors. I call it the “high grab” effect. Constant prospect researching, always hoping for the next low-hanging fruit, presenting requests for proposals that will magically fit your organization's programs.
I did all this in my most recent job - checking Philanthropy News Digest announcements for new foundation guidelines weekly. I believe that we'd be more successful and healthier if we engage in a “hug tightly effect,” where your community makes up your membership and you find ways for people to feel involved so that they contribute in substantial ways to your effort.
Now in our fourth year, Fire This Time (FTT) has a revolving membership. My charge is to keep those folks who had amazing experiences their first year, but are no longer active, engaged and invested in FTT. As our base of members grows, so will our donations - much like a credit union or league! Trying to convince middle-income professionals in my larger social network to donate to FTT is taxing. It begs the constant question, "Am I staying in touch enough for them to feel good about their contribution?" "What is it that they need in order to keep them as a donor?" I'd rather not worry about being a mind reader. Kim Klein, grassroots fundraising champion, wrote a great essay that sums it up: "You Already Know All the People You Need to Know to Raise All the Money You Want to Raise.” (Grassroots Fundraising Journal 16, April 1997)
InCUBATE: What do other disciplines have to teach artist-run spaces about fundraising and resource sharing (cf. social justice initiatives, open-source technologies, and or/other micro-lending initiatives)? How can we build a new vocabulary of approaches?
Rachel Wallis: (5)I think that our organizations need to look beyond fundraising and toward resource generation. In a time when grant money and donations are increasingly scarce, we need to think creatively about the non-cash resources we can generate from our community. Shikshantar (6), an alternative education organization in India, aims to have its budget grow smaller with each year that they operate. They rely on donations of time, skills, recycled materials, and public spaces for their work. Not having to raise and spend money for their work not only insures their independence, it also demonstrates the broad support from their community and shows that they are invested and engaged in the work Shikshantar does.
Organizations in cash poor communities have been thinking creatively about resource generation for eons. In Mali, revolving loan funds allow women with very little access to capital to pool small amounts of money each month so that each woman can buy goods in the marketplace. This system allows the women to bypass the high interest rates and outside interference of micro-lending projects and to draw from their own communities and relationships for support.
There is a lack of collaboration and support between organizations in the US. We come out of a culture of scarcity, where we have been trained to think that there is not enough time/donations/grants/ attention to go around. Only by building trust and strong relationships within our communities and between our organizations we will come to discover that when we donate our time and resources to support the people around us, those donations will be returned to us many times over.
1. ARCL <artistruncreditleague.com> (back)
2. "The word tanda literally means turn or alternative order. In Mexico, the origins of the tanda and similar practices involve the need for the people of the working class, and in some cases the middle class, to rotate scarce resources among themselves, in this case money. In the United States, specifically southern California, the tanda was introduced through migration from the working class of Mexico to the United States. This practice has survived in the United States because the immigrants that migrated from Mexico to the United States continued to be of the working class and being immigrants, relied on the tanda as a form of money saving."
3. Geraldine Juárez (simple-mechanisms.com) is a self-taught designer and an artist from Mexico City. She initiated the Tanda Foundation (tandatanda.org) in 2008, an experimental and informal not-for-profit foundation and social networking platform designed for peer-to-peer funding for creative practice. (back)
4. Kristen Cox is a founding member of the Fire This Time Fund (crossroadsfund.org/fire_this_time_fund.htm), a giving circle housed at the Crossroads Fund, which supports creative social change projects initiated by artists, educators and activists who are committed to community-based social and political change. She is also currently the Marketing and Community Relations Manager for the North Side Community Federal Credit Union (northsidecommunityfcu.org), a socially conscious, member-owned, cooperative financial institution in Chicago. (back)
5. Rachel Wallis is an artist and activist living in Chicago. She works with the Other Worlds Project (otherworldsarepossible.org), a media collaborative that documents the flourishing grassroots alternatives to the neoliberal economic model and AREA Chicago (areachicago.org), a publication and event series dedicated to researching, supporting and networking local social, political and cultural movements. (back)
6. swaraj.org/shikshantar (back)