Laying a new foundation for arts funding

Being invited by one of the largest private art foundations in The Netherlands, the SNS REAAL Fund, we had the privilege of giving an hour long presentation of not-to-be-missed trends in the fields of the arts, technology and science, followed by a lively Q&A. For this occasion our host had invited the management and staff members from two other foundations, the VSBfonds and the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, in a much appreciated effort to start an inter-organizational exchange of ideas and expertise.

The meeting centered around one question: how can private art foundations stimulate artistic innovation and a vibrant cultural life in the Netherlands in the face of current artistic and technological developments? In our presentation we focused on the forces that shape our world, from the timeless human need for social connection and peer recognition to the unprecedented scale and speed of cultural production and distribution and the unstoppable rise of locative media and augmented reality.

Among many other urgent matters, we discussed the moral and financial implications of ‘digitally born’ art works like Aaron Koblin’s ‘Flight Patterns’ and the ‘commercial creativity’ in projects like Olafur Eliasson’s concept car for BMW. How can foundations avoid a conflict of interest by funding private corporations, without missing out on artistic breakthroughs within the commercial sector? And how can needy artists and cultural institutions benefit from innovative and lucrative consumer-led business models like NIKEiD, an online store for customized Nike-merchandise, and Sellaband, a crowd- or fan-funding website for aspiring musicians?

Our audience assured us that most of these issues had not escaped their attention. Interdisciplinary art projects and public-private partnerships have become very common in recent years. SNS REAAL Fund has supported Streetlab, a platform and festival for young creatives, providing a gateway to (inter)national markets and a professional career. And in Amsterdam, Sellaband and the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK) announced that they will develop a fan-funding platform for art projects in the near future.

However, a number of challenges still need to be addressed by both public and private art foundations:

  1. Accessibility: opening up the application process to more people by introducing scouts, outreach programs and a (more) search- and user-oriented website that can be navigated easily and that combines prescribed instructions with user generated folksonomies (tagging).
  2. Transparency: using off- and online tools to inform the public on relevant developments and data, like the number of submitted, granted and refused applications or the output of funded projects in terms of visitor numbers or media coverage etc. with the real-time Dashboard of the Indianapolis Museum of Art as an inspiring example.
  3. Knowledge sharing: integrating and disclosing information that will help improve the quality of applications, such as matching tools for applicants that are looking for collaborators, application forms that leave room for comments and tips for future users, and an online market for trade in skills, money and connections.

Given the (other) priorities and limited capacity of these private foundations, we suggested that they should create a new business unit or satellite organization that could function as an independent think tank and advanced R&D lab and certainly would accelerate new developments. There are various instructive examples of organizations that have set up an experimental counterpart, both individually like OMA‘s AMO, Benetton‘s Fabrica and Google Labs, or collectively with the n8‘s play- and fruitful collaboration with the museums in Amsterdam as as a good case in point.

We will continue our conversation with SNS REAAL Fund and we invite everyone with an interest in arts funding (intellectually and/or money-wise) to provide us with new and fresh ideas. In the meantime you can see our travels around the world in 80 slides:

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