Microfinance for the Arts: How to Build an Investing Community

By Mariko Chang, EAP Fellow Microfinance for the Arts

As artists and arts and culture workers, we are fueled by passion, ideas, and the creative process. And although we hate to admit it, we need money, too.

With that in mind, in March I attended an evening seminar at Pro Arts in Oakland to hear John Spokes, Director of Development at United States Artists, talk about microfinance opportunities through a program called USA Projects.

Microfinance with USA Projects

In 2010, United States Artists Projects (USA Projects) was formed in response to recent budget cuts and a diminishing number of individual grants available to artists. Similar to Kickstarter, the organization gives large groups of people the ability to donate small amounts of money to specific projects. For instance, Michel Varisco raised more than $11,500 over several weeks to fund a photography book in which she proposed to document the beauty and destruction of the wetlands and Gulf of Mexico.

This process, known as microfinance or microphilanthropy, uses an online platform to funnel private donations directly to artists. With the help of technology, sharing information and funding are convenient and easy, which helps to engage new donors.

Benefits for artists

  • Professional services: USA Projects provides one-on-one advice to help with your pitch and video. Dedicated staff members also provide consultation regarding project deadlines, goal setting, and social networking. (Note: Grants, fellowships, residencies, or other recognition are required prior to participating in USA Projects.)
  • Matching funds: USA Projects offers access to a pool of funding to leverage additional support. A development team assists artists by matching them with interested donors or agencies that help to build one’s personal donor base.
  • Fundraising share: Artists receive 81 percent of the money raised from the campaign (the remaining 19 percent goes to USA Projects). Although this may seem like a lot, USA Projects boasts a 75 percent success rate with an average of 114 percent raised over goal set.

Benefits for donors

  • Tax deduction: As a nonprofit with IRS 501(c)(3) tax exemption status, all donations to artists through USA Projects are tax deductible.
  • Social network: USA Projects offers social networking features as part of its website, which allows donors as well as other artists to track the progress of both an individual artist or project.

My two cents on microfinance

Early this year, the blog Read Write Web published an article stating that Kickstarter was on track to outfund the National Endowment for the Arts. For me, this proved the power of collective action, and I wondered how this model could transform the relationships between people and museums.

Today, museums struggle to address the gap between established donors and younger generations. Based on the concept of microfinance, one solution might be to give younger audiences an option that fits their lifestyle, budget, and comfort level. By providing interesting opportunities to give without it being a huge commitment, museums can help familiarize younger audiences with the idea and act of philanthropy in hopes of building life-long community members.

Have you tried microfinance, either as a donor or to fund a project? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image: Adapted from a photo by JD Hancock


How Not to Get Screwed When Signing a Contract

By Danielle Siembieda-Gribben, EAP Fellow

For anyone just starting out in the public art world, it can seem tempting to take any commission you can get. No doubt it is competitive out there, and there may be dozens of people applying for the same calls for proposals.

If you have been one of the lucky few to receive a public art commission, you may be saying to yourself: “I am so lucky to even get selected, let me sign the contract before they change their minds!”

Before you do, think twice — and come prepared.

On January 31, 2012, I attended a webinar from California Lawyers for the Arts titled “Public Art Contracts: What Every Artist Needs to Know about Public Art Commissions, from RFQ to Moral Rights.”

Here are the top ten tips that I took away from the seminar.

  1. You will only receive 15 to 20 percent of the commission budget. For example, if the budget is $30,000, you will receive $4,500 for the entire duration of the project, from design to fabrication through execution. The lower the commission, the lower the artist fee.
  2. Your ideas are yours, not the city’s. When you present your proposal, put your name, copyright, and date on every page and slide. By doing this, you prevent others who may borrow or “appropriate” your idea to be built by someone else.
  3. If you are working with fabricators, do not sign any contracts with them until your own contract is finalized. Some fabricators may charge you for their design time and, if you end up losing a contract, you will have to pay them anyway.
  4. Most likely you will get paid on a time schedule with different payouts for different benchmarks. When this happens, front load the payment so you don’t get stuck with big fabrication bills at the end.
  5. Title vs. copyright. Never sign your copyright off to the city. You own that! Remember Prince? He had to change his name to a symbol to get out of a copyright dispute.
  6. Site compliance. The city shall be responsible for all expenses, labor, and equipment to prepare the site for the timely transportation and installation of artwork.
  7. Insurance. Yes, you need it. You’ll primarily need liability insurance until your work is installed, and then it is the city’s responsibility.
  8. Where did you get that model? If you use an image of a person, place, etc.  in your work, make sure to get a release from them.
  9. Site credit. Don’t you hate it when you see an amazing piece of public art work but have no idea who did it? Make sure the city pays (not out of your budget) for a plaque or credit site near the work with your name on it.
  10. Budget. These budgets are the hardest. It takes a lot of time to put one together, but they are very important. Call around to fabricators to see the realistic cost for your project. If it’s out of scope, think about scaling down. Also, call a public art manager to see if they have any input.

There are many other ways to look at your public art contract. If you are nervous about confronting a city or other entity about the contract, keep in mind they have chosen you out of all the applicants, and are set on making the project work just as much as you are.

Make sure to check out the downloadable public art contract templates and resources, and let us know in the comments if you have any contract advice or horror stories to share.

Image: Ben Bunch

The Arts Skyline in 2015

Monday, February 13 and
Monday, February 27
Straw Restaurant
203 Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco (map)

Join EAP and special guests from SFMOMA, SF Jazz and the Oakland Museum of California for candid conversations about new and re-imagined buildings for the arts.

Ten percent of food sales on Mondays in February goes to EAP, so come to Straw for a lightly moderated no-host dinner/discussion with your colleagues. This is your chance to pick the brains of the folks whose jobs in the arts are being transformed by major building projects, and support EAP in the process.

Guests include:
Claire Ball, Project Assistant, Oakland Museum of California
Megan Brian, Education and Public Programs Coordinator, SFMOMA *Former EAP Fellow
Barrett Shaver, Membership Director, SF Jazz
Melanie Hwang, Membership Manager, SFMOMA
Louise Yokoi, Development Associate, Individual Giving, SFMOMA *Former EAP Fellow

RSVP: Save your seat by e-mailing adam@emergingsf.org

Why Business Models Matter: Alex Osterwalder at CCA 1/21/2012

By Katherin Canton, EAP Fellow

Leaving the stone age of business strategy

Seated in Timken Hall at California College of the Arts, Alex Osterwalder started passing out sticky notes because no event is really a design event until you have those little colorful pads.

Alex was at CCA to explain and show next-level tools to support the growth of smart business planning, namely the “Business Model Canvas.” Although this tool is simply a visual format used to discuss a business model, it helps in breaking down the key components of building a coherent plan. Alex didn’t go into those actual components, focusing instead on the reasons behind and productive uses of the Canvas.

How we got hereThe Canvas is revolutionary and practical, simply because it levels the playing field when it comes to business development. Whether you have started and created a major corporation,  are in the middle of redeveloping your business model, or even if you are thinking about starting a business, this tool breaks down the key elements and relationships to consider before committing money and time.

Osterwalder developed this tool in order to spark more complex and deeper dialogues about business models. If it’s your first time looking at the relationship between your customer segments and your key partners, here is the chance to start asking questions that will affect your future business.

The idea here is that we shouldn’t be using outdated business plans when we have come so far in even the types of businesses and relationships we have created.


A Business Model Canvas for EAP

In the Everyday

I have no business background, but understanding this canvas wasn’t as intimidating as it is to read a whole novel on a “successful business plan.” It has also pushed me to think about how a plan can’t be successful without having a solid grounding in the day to day of a functioning business.

This is where my two main takeaways from this lecture come into being:

  1. Ideas should be mobile
    Whether using Post-it notes or an Ipad app, innovative business strategizing relies on putting all ideas out on the table and being able to mix and match potential plans. Another rule from Alex: never put more than one idea on a note. This defeats the adaptability of the single ideas.
  2. Take it to the customer
    No matter how much time or how many resources have gone into researching your audience or potential customer base, it never compares to going out and asking them if they would use your product or service. Even being rejected in person gives you insight into launching a potentially successful or useful business.

In the end both of these principles help you reflect on what you are going to embark on before you commit those precious dollars or hours.

Final Thoughts

By reinvigorating tools we use for strategy development or business development, we let go of the old ways of thinking and running businesses. New tools support more complex modeling and experimentation.

This is where the business model canvas comes into play. It takes speaking, reading, and reworking a business development strategy into a common language (a visible one), but also elevates the number or variables and relationships that we can communicate without having the jargon used in old business strategies.

Check out Alex’s What Is a Business Model presentation on SlideRocket, and sound off in the comments. Are you using a business model, or thinking about one? What’s your plan?

Finding Your Place


A creative party / A party for creatives
co-hosted by Emerging Arts Professionals and THEOFFCENTER
Thursday, January 26, 5:30-8:30 pm
848 Divisadero Street, San Francisco (map)

Join your fellow artists, arts and culture workers, and cultural historians at the new home of THEOFFCENTER (former home of CounterPULSE) for a creative celebration of the ephemeral.

Contribute short anecdotes to our “map of art experiences” to earn your drinks and snacks; bring your business cards to trade for raffle tickets (drawings at the top of each hour) and to give to your new friends.

Live music; wine and raffle prizes donated by Urban Legends Cellars, McSweeney’s, Meklit Hadero, Other Minds, SF Performances, Z Space, and more!

Event Page on Facebook
or RSVP by e-mail