Thursday, 11 April 2013

Crowdfunding the DIY Institution: a pathway to financial sustainability?

What role might crowdfunding have in the financial sustainability of DIY archives and museums?

That was the question raised today on learning of Sheryl Davis’ efforts to raise enough money for a visit to a built music heritage site in Memphis. Sheryl is currently a DIY practitioner – a music heritage preservationist who currently acts as a volunteer consultant in the preservation and reimagining of music heritage sites. Using GoFundMe  she is hoping to raise the $800 needed to “complete a site visit to Elvis Presley’s endangered Circle G Ranch and review the Circle G Foundation’s  documentation and research efforts”. As her fundraising page explains, “this will be her first opportunity to meet in person with other [Circle G Foundation] members and visit the ranch and Horn Lake community”. Up until this point Sheryl has been “working remotely” as the Foundation’s “volunteer historic preservation consultant”. Fundraising for the visit began on April 3 and donations are already at $400.

Might crowdfunding provide new revenue raising opportunities for projects being undertaken by DIY archives and museums?

Crowdfunding is defined by Karl Laemmermann  as ‘the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations … [and] is used in support of a wide variety of activities, including disaster relief, citizen journalism, support of artists by fans, political campaigns, startup company funding, movie or free software development, and scientific research’ (p. 9). 

As such, crowdfunding has the potential to extend the collaborative preservation efforts already underway in community archives, reaching out to interested parties well beyond the geographic locale of the physical archive or museum. Crowdfunding is already helping musicians tour and record albums, with a notable example being the Japanese band Electric Eel Shock  who raised over $50,000 in less than two months using the crowdfunding website Sellaband. It seems to be a natural extension for crowdfunding to be included in the financial strategies of DIY music institutions given that these archives and museums are already grounded in enthusiast and fan activity. And there is of course a considerable market for musical nostalgia that these community archives and museums can tap into. We are, afterall, currently in a cultural moment described by Simon Reynolds as 'Retromania'

Certainly crowdfunding would be a logical source of startup money for an archive or museum that is only at early conception stage. But, as a Guardian article  indicates, there is uncertainty around whether crowdfunding can be a long term source of financial support for cultural organisations. Yet, even if only used as a one-off source of income, getting on the crowdfunding wagon might make a huge difference to what is currently possible in DIY institutions including, for example, being able to finally complete the cataloguing of a collection, or preserve deteriorating shellac discs, or upgrade and expand storage facilities, or, closer to Sheryl Davis's experience, to fund DIY archivists and curators to travel to other DIY institutions to share knowledge and create a networked community of DIY music heritage practice.

In my research-to-date, none of the DIY institutions I have visited have mentioned crowdfunding as a source of financial support. It will be interesting to see if this changes as my research sites expand.