As part of my interest in alternative economic models for artists, I chose to invite the Chicago group InCUBATE to put on a gallery show at PSU in May for the Open Engagement Conference. InCUBATE decided to participate, inviting me to try out an idea they’d been working on in Chicago with local Portland Artists – thus was born the Artist Run Benefit Society.
A large number of artist-run groups and spaces in Portland and Chicago operate outside of traditional funding models represented by commercial galleries and the cultural non-profit sector. The Artist Run Benefit Society is a volunteer association designed to increase opportunities for collective fundraising and provide social and educational frameworks for Portland’s independent art groups and spaces to support each other, share resources and contribute to their community. The Benefit Society format is derived from the tanda, a monetary practice formed by a core of participants who agree to make regular contributions to a fund, which is given to each contributor in rotation. Such a form is often utilized by Mexican and Latin American immigrant communities as means of establishing informal credit when the use of banks is not a viable option. One of the most essential elements to any Tanda system is a mutual trust amongst all contributing members and a shared faith in the value of the community itself.
I am still looking for more members for the Society – so if any of you out there have questions or are interested in participating, please contact me!
How it works:
The ARBS runs on a cyclical basis, lasting as many months as there are participating artist groups/spaces. The initial cycle will include six local groups and therefore last six months. We are still finalizing which groups will participate, but at this time Igloo Gallery, SEA Change Gallery, Mike Merrill (pending investor approval) and Signal Fire Arts have stated interest in participating.
The ARBS functions in two parts:
Six member-organizations pay $10 monthly membership fee. That membership fee goes towards an administrator (me) who will work on a part-time basis (6 hours/month) on behalf of the members of the Society. The administrator will serve as primary liason between member-orgs and Fractured Atlas, a national fiscal sponsorship agency which:
· provides grant listings
· allows the member-orgs to apply for grants, and
· enables the ARBS itself to be tax-deductible in case outside funders want to donate to the group at large.
In the case that the ARBS does receive a grant or additional funding, those monies can be allocated to all the members as a bonus.
The administrator’s duties will be decided by the group, however possible tasks for the administrator include:
· assisting with organizing the bar night (below)
· sending weekly emails to the group listing available grants
· grant-writing or cultivating donations for the Portland independent community, or
· updating a website with a shared calendar showing member group activities and events
The ARBS will partner with a local bar or cafe who will agree to give part 15-20% of their proceeds one night per month to the Benefit Society. Each of the groups will sign up for a month during the credit cycle to take responsibility for promoting that month at the bar among their networks and taking home the proceeds percentage for their org to use however they wish.
Artist-run spaces and groups, by being mutually invested in the fund itself, will hopefully have an interest in attending each other’s fundraisers and building the community of participants outwards. The fund accrues value the more the community invests in its well being, meaning that it will become a sustainable model based on the group’s level of commitment to making it work. In essence, the Society is an experimental community bank in which artists can have a platform for sharing resources and discussing creative fundraising tools.
History of the Artist Run Benefit Society:
InCUBATE, a group of radical art administrators from Chicago, began work on a project called the Artist Run Credit League in 2008 as part of the exhibition Artist Run Chicago at the Hyde Park Art Center. In the initial structure, the League was set up to work so that each group would pay $20 dollars per month. Each month of the credit-cycle, one ARCL member would be paid the full amount of their individual credit. So, if 10 groups participated, the credit cycle would last 10 months, and each member would receive $200 during one month of the cycle. In the initial version, members were also required to throw one fundraiser per credit-cycle to raise at least $200, the collective sum of which would be distributed equally to all members on a quarterly basis in addition to the rotating monthly distribution. The Chicago version of the Artist Run Credit League developed through discussion with groups in Chicago but hasn’t yet begun functioning.
In order to better understand how to make this model work, InCUBATE is working with Portland artist and organizer, Katy Asher, to begin a League in Portland as part of their participation in the Portland State University Open Engagement conference in May 2010. Katy met with several Portland artists to sense out their responses to InCUBATE’s Credit League. Based on the input from Portland, InCUBATE adapted their model, changing the allocation of the monthly membership fee, and introducing the idea of the popular event in Chicago called the “Peace Party,” held at a place called Danny’s Bar which gives 50% of the bar’s proceeds to a different cause each month. These changes are meant to ensure that the person administering the group does not have to work for free, and that groups will raise more money than they initially invest while simultaneously connecting with others in a community event.
When will it start?
The Portland Artist Run Benefit Society will kick-off with a trivia night and cocktail party on May 15, 2010 at Portland State University. Funds raised at trivia night event will go to the Portland Benefit Society as seed money for their first credit cycle.
Web articles relating to the Credit League:
Journal of Aesthetics and Protest: www.journalofaestheticsandprotest.org/7/tanda.html
Frieze Magazine: http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/artists_run_chicago/
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