I’m feeling pretty jazzed at the moment about patronage as a funding model for creative endeavours.

It’s a pretty simple idea: instead of today’s dominant practice, where creative works are funded and owned by someone expecting to make money back from advertising or sales through a limited distribution channel, under patronage, creators fund their work by appealing directly to potential fans, asking them to put up funds in advance in return for various rewards and input into the work. Historically, patronage was widespread, and meant that artists, musicians, and philosophers gathered in the courts of sympathetic nobles to seek funding, lending their creativity to the glory of kings and emperors. In return, nobles gained prestige as patrons of the arts as well as substantial influence over the works created.

Today’s patronage models are a little different, in that they rely on a much more broader base of patrons. Instead of seeking out extremely wealthy individuals to fund entire works, creators can appeal to a worldwide audience through the internet, collecting many small contributions directly from the people who care most about their work. This is a good thing for creators and patrons alike:

  • Patrons are more likely to receive satisfying entertainment, as their preferences factor directly into the creator’s decision making process.
  • Creators have a guaranteed audience of fans in the form of their patrons. Since creators often labor under artistic motivations, this can mean a lot – it’s easier to feel confident in one’s creations if you know that others like the general idea. In other words, it’s easier to take risks.
  • There is greater opportunity for ‘pure’ creative vision as middlemen who muddy the waters by pandering to advertisers and the lowest common denominator are eliminated.
  • Creators are encouraged to think about their works upfront, and their ideas are subject to initial scrutiny that can validate and refine them. There’s less chance of groupthink, and a more articulate design process.
  • Niche genres can thrive, particularly if they’re willing to start out small and run lean. Projects that address many fewer fans can be funded.
  • The public domain is richer. Since funding is provided up front by patrons, there’s less reason for creators not to put their work in the public domain, enriching us all. In particular, it makes it easier for non-fans to try out things they wouldn’t normally buy, potentially converting them into fans.

It might be that patronage isn’t the best funding model for all creative works, but here’s a few examples where it’s been successful:

  • Kickstarter is a thriving internet example. Through it, I’ve contributed to open source recordings of classical music, RPG-themed short films, and comics. Their model allows creators to make proposals through video and written presentations, to offer rewards for patrons at different levels, and to selectively fund projects based on whether a sufficient amount is raised. Projects range from a few hundred dollars to several million, and support from computer games to music, crafts to special events, and gadgets to fine art.
  • Most modern orchestras run on a hybrid patronage / ticket fee model. The Seattle Symphony, for example, runs an annual budget of $24m on about half ticket sales, half patronage. Patrons get additional benefits such as social events, access to musicians, and lectures, as well as a certain level of prestige (much as noble patrons once did).
  • Wolfgang Baur’s Open Design project does tabletop RPG design on a patronage model, allowing patrons to participate in the design process, democratizing not only the funding, but also the creativity itself.

There are many more – these are just the few I’ve paid close attention to.

As traditional publishing industries that rely on firmly controlled distribution of hard-copy works continue to erode, it’ll be very interesting to see how patronage evolves. The fact that big box book stores are dying doesn’t mean people don’t want to read, and the collapse of newspapers has little to do with the public’s interest in the news. It’s just that the old business models are increasingly being undermined. I don’t foresee corporate creative endeavours going away, but I do expect them to become less dominant in the long term, and patronage seems a likely means of that happening.

Questions for comments:

  • If patronage comes to dominate creative endeavour, what negative implications might there be?
  • Are there any creative domains in which patronage won’t work?
  • Is it possible to fund really big projects (AAA game titles, movies, cathedrals) with patronage?

Posted in Concepts, Economics, Science & Technology, The Future | 2 Comments »

While driving back from Akaroa this evening, I got to thinking about enjoyment and time, probably as a result of the flow that navigating windy roads always brings. It seems to me that you can think of enjoyable or otherwise positive experiences as existing in four possible temporal spaces:

  • Before – Looking forward to something is often as enjoyable as doing it. In some cases, experiences seem positive in the future, but negative once they’re done, or while you’re doing them – fish and chips, for example, never tastes quite as good as it seemed when I was paying for it. Similarly, one can be disappointed, perhaps by a bad movie or a corked bottle of wine.
  • During – What we normally mean when we say something is enjoyable. That we are happy or content while doing it. Flow fits in here.
  • Immediately after – A positive feeling immediately after completing a task. For me, exercise is a good example – I feel like crap while I’m doing it, but great afterwards. Similarly, writing a paper or doing the dishes.
  • Far later – Nostalgia, remembering through rose-tinted glasses. Holidays always seem better in retrospect, particularly if you were covered in mosquito bites and sunburn at the time. For me, a trip to Fiji in 1997 fits well here, as I got food poisoning shortly after arrival and spent the whole trip being ill, yet I still have vivid and fond memories of the place we stayed.

Two short observations, then:

  • It’s not necessary that an activity result in positive experiences in each of these four time periods, and in fact, few do. That’s OK, and is maybe good to remember when immersed in a time period that some activity doesn’t perform well in.
  • Innately, we seem to greatly privilege the during time period. It’s good to enjoy oneself while doing something, but during is often much shorter than after. I certainly find thinking about how I’ll feel after I’ve done something to be a great motivator.

Posted in Concepts, Philosophy | No Comments »

Came across this in an issue of IEEE Computer today. It’s a simple conceptual model from the 1960s by a guy called Bruce Tuckman of the stages small groups go through; groups such as committees, work groups, and project teams. The basic stages seem obvious, but, as with many models of human behaviour, the value comes from their being made explicit such that they can be recognized, acknowledged, and facilitated appropriately.

Here’s what the original article says (my emphasis):

Groups initially concern themselves with orientation accomplished primarily through testing. Such testing serves to identify the boundaries of both interpersonal and task behaviors. Coincident with testing in the interpersonal realm is the establishment of dependency relationships with leaders, other group members, or pre‑existing standards. It may be said that orientation, testing and dependence constitute the group process of forming.

The second point in the sequence is characterized by conflict and polarization around interpersonal issues, with concomitant emotional responding in the task sphere. These behaviors serve as resistance to group influence and task requirements and may be labeled as storming.

Resistance is overcome in the third stage in which in-group feeling and cohesiveness develop, new standards evolve, and new roles are adopted. In the task realm, intimate, personal opinions are expressed. Thus, we have the stage of norming.

Finally, the group attains the fourth and final stage in which interpersonal structure becomes the tool of task activities. Roles become flexible and functional, and group energy is channeled into the task. Structural issues have been resolved, and structure can now become supportive of task performance. This stage can be labeled as performing.

So, basically, small groups go through the following phases:

  • Forming – the group forms, and members break the ice and begin to get to know one another. Individuals develop the confidence necessary to function within the group.
  • Storming – group members begin to assert themselves through conflict as social roles are negotiated. They act to maintain their own individuality as well as determine their status within the group.
  • Norming – common vocabulary, assumptions, and goals are articulated, and the group begins to function together. Group identity forms.
  • Performing – the group becomes productive, trust becomes firmly established, and group energy is channeled primarily into the task at hand.

I don’t know about you, but these stages certainly feel familiar. I don’t think it’s useful to claim that these are distinct and clear stages, however. Rather, I think they’re best thought of as overlapping phases describing a ‘natural’ progression. With that in mind, then, here’s a bunch of ways you could use this model:

Firstly, with a model at hand, it’s easy to see when behaviour deviates from a ‘normal’ pattern. This isn’t intrinsically bad, but, if unexplained, may be indicative of certain problems within a group.

Secondly, individuals and subgroups might not necessarily move through this progression at a uniform rate – if part of the group is still stuck storming, it makes it hard for the rest of the group to begin norming. In such situtations, a skilled group leader might be able to gently nudge such individuals by, for example, allowing them other outlets to express themselves.

Thirdly, it seems like these stages aren’t just what normally occurs, but also what needs to occur for a group to function. It’s probably important to be aware of this when forming expectations of a group’s performance.

Fourthly, it’s always nice to have a vocabulary to describe things like this, particular given that the elements of group behaviour are normally quite implicit.

Edit: Lastly, it’s interesting to think about the emotional conflicts and outbursts that sometimes occur and realize that they’re actually just part of the process rather than some intrinsically negative distraction.

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Posted in Concepts, Mind & Society | No Comments »

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