What do you know about crowd funding? It's a pertinent question in these hard times for arts funding, politically and economically. I discovered it thanks to following the musician Amanda Palmer on Twitter, watching with increasing astonishment and delight as she raised an incredible $1.2 million to fund her latest album, having originally asked for $100,000, claiming that this method of funding was the 'future of music'.
As the year progressed it got harder and harder to be a freelance writer - anyone following that career path will surely know what I mean, although no-one in the creative industry or the job market in general can be finding things that easy at the moment - I began to think that crowd funding might be a useful way to help get myself to the Hawthornden Fellowship I had been offered last year, when things were a little less financially constrained.
I got the fellowship on the back of my first book, Turning, which was published by Headland Publications last year. It offers unconstrained time and silence in a castle in Scotland to write. Trouble was, I was beginning to think that I would have to pass on the opportunity because work was so fragile and hard to come by. Who'd want to sit in silence in a castle not writing because of mortgage worries, after all?
So I went to Sponsume, one of a number of crowd funding websites that have sprung up in the last few years, and set up a campaign to try and buy myself time to work on my second book of poetry.
The beauty of crowd funding is that it takes the funding of artistic ventures right to the heart of the audience who are interested in the art. One is encouraged to offer 'rewards' for people who contribute - in my case, I am offering anything from limited edition postcard poems to a very limited number of private readings to people who contribute.
I have agonised about the naked-making feeling that such an open form of money-raising engenders, and the risk of making oneself look foolish, greedy or just plain arrogant, but have been gratified by the response from many people, some of them friends, some family and some (and this is the most wonderful part for any artist) people one doesn't know who either like the art in question or like the idea of supporting an artist. It is also a wonderful feeling to be able to offer them all something in return.
I don't think crowd-funding is the best way of raising really large amounts of money, unless one has the social networking nous, fanbase and reach of someone like Amanda Palmer, but I do believe it is an excellent way of creating small but potent amounts of money for individual projects and (and this is important) creating publicity for them that is not mired in corporate profit-mongering.
At the Free Verse Book Fair, I had an interesting discussion on the ethics of this sort of fundraising with Adele Ward of Ward Wood Publishing. There was some concern that raising funds for, say, a new anthology of poetry via a company like Sponsume would smack of vanity publishing.
There is a telling difference between crowd funding and vanity publishing, however. With crowd funding, poets included in an anthology can promote it to friends and family via Facebook, email, Twitter and so forth without ever having to fork out a penny, alongside the publisher who should be equally hard at work promoting it, and the people supporting it will get copies of the book as 'rewards' when the funds are raised. If they want to put more money in, these 'rewards' can be increased in desirability by adding limited editions, signed copies and more. What could be better in small press publishing than a publicity-generating pre-ordering system?
Even projects like mine, which are more personal, are viable if it is clear that there are goals in sight. In my case, when I was offered the Hawthornden Fellowship, my publisher perked up and said: "Oh, good! I look forward to seeing the next manuscript!". Without that in mind, I would have felt much more uncomfortable about setting up the campaign.
I also equivocated early on about the ethics of such a project on Facebook and was gratified when the poet Jon Stone fired back with the comment (and I'm paraphrasing a little, as it's hard to find the exact comment immediately on Facebook's clumsy Timeline): "I'd rather see 100 poets funded for a month's retreat than one poet funded for a lifetime's career".
It's this attitude that makes crowd funding exciting for me - the possibility that many people who might not find it easy to get a creative project off the ground, given the bureaucratic hoops one is expected to jump through with big funding bodies, could find that they suddenly have the time (with a little careful thought and a fair amount of work sat at the computer gritting their teeth and promoting it) to do something marvellous with the support of family, friends and people interested in their art.
As my campaign draws to a close, I realise that the process has been somewhat akin to the feeling I get when I test a new poem out on front of an audience for the first time. There are nerves, palpitations, the worry that it might not be liked. I have noticed and edited out flaws as I have gone along, and made the campaign stronger. It seems to have gone down reasonably well this time. I might try it again some time, but not for quite a while.
Before that, I want other campaigns to come to life. I want to see more writers and creators of all sorts getting their ideas out there and promoting them. Crowd funding may not be the future of arts funding (joyous though Amanda Palmer's hyperbole was to watch), but I think it could and should play a large part in that future.
I will certainly be looking out for good campaigns to support as and where I can when I get back from Hawthornden. More power to your crowd-funding elbows!
To take a look at Adam Horovitz's Sponsume campaign, or even donate if one of the 'rewards' tickles your fancy, click on this link: http://www.sponsume.com/project/help-send-poet-hawthornden-fellowship-0
Adam Horovitz is a poet and journalist. Born in London in 1971, he was raised in Gloucestershire. He was poet in residence for Glastonbury Festival's official website in 2009, was voted onto the Hospital Club 100 as an 'emerging talent' in 2010 and is a 2012 Hawthornden Fellow. His first collection, Turning, was published in 2011.