Crowd patronage – geographies of crowdfunding and the arts in the digital age


Latest blog posts about the project:

31/03/16 - AAG Presentation - Musicians in Global Crowd-Patronage Networks

22/08/15 - Visualising Patronage Networks Presentation

31/07/15 - A short history of Patreon

20/07/15 - Some Stats and Flows

Information for participants

Original Proposal

I was awarded a British Academy/Leverhulme small grant in 2014. The project runs from January 2015 until December 2016. I already hate the title, but below is the main part of the bid:

Crowdfunding portals such as Kickstarter offer new ways to raise startup or development capital. This model’s success has seen a similar funding systems emerge which fund artists, designers and makers (hereafter creators) on a regular basis, rather than for one-off products. Websites such as Patreon and Subbable offer users the opportunity to become ‘cyber patrons’ of their favourite creators through subscriptions beginning at $1/month. This model transforms circuits of culture (Du Gay et al. 1997) as new agents are added to, or moved around the circuit.

Cyberpatronage is step change from traditional forms of patronage which in the 19th century was dominated by the richest in society who encouraged the production and enjoyment of the arts as a form of civic duty (Smith 2006). The relationships between patrons and artists was characterised by local relationships in major cities that had the cultural infrastructure and economy to support artists. After World War 2 governments took on the role of patronage by funding schemes designed to enhance citizens’ lives through cultural production, and latterly to contribute to economic growth (Harris 1970). In the 1980s, the neo-liberal policies of Thatcher and Reagan, and their imitators beyond the UK and US, altered the role of government patronage by reducing public funding while encouraging corporate patronage of artistic endeavours, mainly through sponsorships (Wu 2002). Charitable foundations also act as patrons, usually focusing on grassroots involvement or community oriented projects. These traditional forms of patronage continue, but cyber patronage differs greatly and interrupts the circuit of culture in fundamental ways. For example, the internet allows patrons to connect with creators around the world altering the scale and geographies of patronage. Patreon and Subbable act as cultural intermediaries, articulating production and consumption, but also acting as regulators and curators of creators’ work, and enrol new financial service providers to manage payments between thousands of patrons and creators, making a profit as they do.

Following Pike (2009), this project will examine the role of these agents in the realms of production, circulation, consumption, representation and regulation of crowd-supported cultural products. This research will analyse:

  • new geographies and global networks of patronage
  • the impact of new agents on the power relations with processes in circuits of culture
  • the impact of cyberpatronage on existing arts funding schemes

An iterative mixed methods approach will be used:

Stage 1: social network analysis of creator-patron relationships will be undertaken using publically available data from Patreon and Subbable to trace the relational and geographical networks of funding and production. This will also reveal communities of actors in different artistic fields, locations and genres.

Stage 2: online questionnaire survey of creators and patrons (500+ sample identified in stage 1) to examine the motivations for using cyber patronage.

Stage 3: in-depth interviews with a) creators and patrons (20+) to identify the experiences of using a cyber patronage model, and the relationships with funders/creators, b) key intermediaries (website operators, financial service providers - 8) to identify their roles within the circuit, c) professionals (8) from traditional funding bodies to identify their perspective on the role of cyber patronage in future funding landscape


Planned outputs

Below are the outputs i planned at the bidding stage (hopefully i wasn't too ambitious!):

1. Two refereed articles in international journals for academic audiences will be written. The first will focus on the social network analysis approach and related findings, the second will focus on overall findings and theoretical contributions. Drafts of these articles will presented at conferences with the project timeframe to access feedback from academic peers.

2. A data report based on findings from stage 1 of the project for interested parties including website operators and arts bodies.

3. A final briefing report with all findings for website operators, arts funding bodies, and policymakers.

4. Executive summary for all participants.

5. Teaching materials - I will generate a dataset and design a set of teaching resources aimed at contributing to undergraduate quantitative methods teaching in the social sciences. These will specifically focus on social network analysis and data visualisation.