In light of Art Basel’s recent crowdfunding initiative, Art Radar investigates the new fundraising model and its impact on the non-profit art scene.

Crowdfunding has been a successful means of fundraising across a variety of fields. Art Radar looks into how visual arts organisations have fared so far with the unique fundraising method. 

General view of Art Basel Hong Kong 2013, MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel) AG. Image courtesy Art Basel.

General view of Art Basel Hong Kong 2013, MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel) AG. Image courtesy Art Basel.

The Art Basel Crowdfunding Initiative 

In September 2014, Art Basel announced a surprising partnership with online fundraising platform Kickstarter. The initiative aims to implement the idea of crowdfunding to catalyse support for non-profit art projects. An independent Art Basel “Crowdfunding Jury” selects or ‘curates’ a number of non-profit art projects that need funding, and these curated projects are presented to a global community of potential benefactors on the Kickstarter Art Basel page.

The current Art Basel jury panel comprises:

  • Hammad Nasar, Curator and Head of Research at the Asia Art Archive;
  • Glenn Phillips, Head of Architecture and Contemporary Art at the Getty Research Institute;
  • Mari Spirito, Founding Director of non-profit organisation Protocinema.

The Kickstarter community allegedly pledged over USD1 billion to fund creative projects. According to Art Basel, the unique partnership “offer[s] visibility and support for a wide variety of artistic projects” and the goal is

to support non-profit visual arts organisations, at a time when public funding for the arts has been dwindling, by sharing their stories, generating contributions, and reaching out to new audiences.

Although the partnership met with considerable skepticism initially and was off to a less than enthusiastic start, all projects from the first batch chosen by the jury have now become successfully funded.

Screenshot of website of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Image by Art Radar.

Screenshot of website of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Image by Art Radar.

A novel approach

For many of the non-profit initiatives, crowdfunding is a completely new experience. Art Radar spoke to Aaron Seeto, Director of the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney, whose “Actions for Tomorrow” Chinese artist collective project was the third to become fully funded on 18 October 2014. Seeto is pleased with the results, which came in the form of direct and indirect support:

This is a very different way in which we would normally fundraise, and we were aware that we were keen to attract a different group of supporters to the organisation. […] We were able to mobilise both our Australian and international networks, and I hope that by the end of the campaign, if they had not supported it, they at least knew more information about 4A’s activities in Australia.

No stranger to fundraising, Seeto made sure that his team’s first venture into crowdfunding was done the right way – by ensuring a wealth of available information for potential benefactors:

Primarily, [what made this project successful was] the Kickstarter webpage, the video which we produced, the prizes and our own social media contact. Crowdfunding campaigns rely on social media and they are incredibly hungry for information, so this was a priority for our team for the entire duration of the campaign. […] Most of the work […] is making sure that there is more and more information out there.

Austin Smith films street art in progress. Production still. Image courtesy FSAP.

Austin Smith films street art in progress. Production still. Image courtesy FSAP.

The crowdfunding philosophy 

For Kim Dryden, Co-director of the Filipino Street Art Project (FSAP), crowdfunding represents more than just a means for fundraising. The FSAP has also been raising funds through Kickstarter, separate from the Art Basel initiative. Reflecting on the exhausting yet fulfilling experience, Dryden tells Art Radar that crowdfunding promotes a community-driven, populist philosophy for artistic creation:

What really makes Kickstarter successful is the sense of investment that users are making into projects. When you donate, you’re helping get something – a product, a film – off the ground. You can be that initial push that makes someone’s dream job come true. That type of individual support gives you such a better feeling than donating to a large non-profit. You can listen to someone’s story, feel their passion for what they do, and get the satisfaction of being part of the process and seeing it completed.

Dryden further comments on how the FSAP’s focus on street art is a good fit for crowdfunding, and reveals how their crowdfunding model allows artists to have a stake as well:

We consider FSAP to be a community-driven initiative, with all the artists, photographers, bloggers and social media followers having equal stake in what we’re trying to accomplish. That populist philosophy is integral to street art’s appeal, as well as the main idea behind crowdfunding. In the same vein, we wanted to do a round of fundraising that allowed the artists to be financially invested in the project. […] Every donation above USD10 commissions original designs or artworks from Filipino artists. The crowdfunding platform allows us to support and promote artists as we work on the film. It’s a win-win.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, 'The Treachery of the Moon', 2012, digital pigment print, 69 x 104.75 cm. Edition of 9. Image courtesy the artist and SculptureCentre.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, ‘The Treachery of the Moon’, 2012, digital pigment print, 69 x 104.75 cm, edition of 9. Image courtesy the artist and SculptureCenter.

A democratic platform 

Before Art Basel stepped in, crowdfunding was generally the domain of smaller-scale initiatives that benefit from intimate, community-driven support. The Art Basel brand was able to generate a large amount of publicity for its chosen projects. Mary Ceruti, Chief Curator of the SculptureCenter, whose survey of Thai video artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook is receiving Basel-backed crowdfunding, says:

The Art Basel Crowdfunding Initiative allowed SculptureCenter to bring wider attention to an exciting and important project. The money raised will enable us to restore important video works – something our regular exhibition budgets would not support.

But will art world ‘giants’ or giant-endorsed initiatives crowd out smaller projects in the crowdfunding universe? Dryden is generous in her response, saying that if such partnerships get projects made, it is a good thing for a lot of people. She warns, however, that the essence of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms lies in their independence:

Kickstarter is about the users deciding what they want to support. That fair playing field needs to remain at least somewhat intact.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, 'Two Planets: Manet's Luncheon on the Grass and the Thai Villagers', 2008, digital pigment print, 75.5 x 75 cm. Edition of 9. Image courtesy the artist and SculptureCentre.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, ‘Two Planets: Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass and the Thai Villagers’, 2008, digital pigment print, 75.5 x 75 cm, edition of 9. Image courtesy the artist and SculptureCenter.

A potential new trend?

In spite of successful fundraising, Seeto warns of the costs of the crowdfunding model:

I do think that organisations should think really carefully about what projects they may put forward for crowdfunding campaigns. […] They are extremely resource hungry [and] require a lot of setting up and maintenance.

Nevertheless, the crowdfunding phenomenon opens up doors to initiatives who wish to experiment with new and more interactive forms of fundraising. Whether by going it alone or applying to be endorsed by Art Basel, projects that utilise the crowdfunding model will encourage community participation in art projects and generate greater awareness in non-profit art initiatives. Ceruti tells Art Radar that the trend is just starting:

Crowdfunding has obviously been successful across a variety of fields and non-profit visual arts organisations are just starting to experiment with it. I don’t expect it to replace good, old-fashioned fundraising, but we are just perhaps starting to understand the potential it has to fund very specific activities within an organisation’s programme.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: fundraising, promoting artart fairs, art and the community, Chinese artists, Filipino artists, Thai artists

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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