Anatomy of a Failed Fundraiser

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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30 Days ago Article19 started something that Article19 has never done before, we tried to raise funding from the people who visit this website every month.

30 days later and that fundraiser has ended its run in failure. You pay your money and you take your chances, that's how it goes. The question as to why did it failed is probably impossible to answer however.

One thing I know is this, raising money is hard, in fact it's very hard.

Over the last month Article19 was able to make tens of thousands of people aware of what we were trying to do. Not only through advertising on every page of the site for regular visitors but through social networks, emailing, texting and any other method we have for communicating with people.

In statistical terms it would only have taken 0.5% of our monthly readers to donate £10 each to hit a target of £3,000. So why could't we hit it?

Any editor of any news website will tell you that getting your readers to give money, through donations or otherwise, is extremely difficult. Internet users are simply not tuned to give money to online publications because almost all websites on the internet are essentially free to use.

Another major issue is that Article19, as a publication, concerns itself with an industry full of dancers who are very badly paid and quite a lot of those dancers are a big part of our reader base. The pages of this website are full of stories of the ridiculous wages and employment prospects of the very people we were asking for help.

Dance students have a hard enough time of it and many professional dancers are working two or three jobs just to keep the lights on. Most admin folk, the ones who don't work at The Royal Opera House, are not rolling in money either.

The result was, perhaps, predictable.

It makes us wonder, here in TheLab™, if our next project should be called "Billionaires, How They Should Spend All Their Spare Cash!"

Despite all of that though many did pledge support and for that I am truly grateful. The support really does mean more than hitting the actual target.

Cold Irony

There is also the distinct possibility that many people who read and use Article19 actually don't like Article19 very much.

From the very start, many years ago when I was writing on a single page on another website*, Article19 (it wasn't even called that back then) was talking about the wide world of dance the way it really was for the people living and working within it.

As a dance student I intensely disliked Dance Theatre Journal, The Dancing Times and the other dance publications for the simple reason that their writing was completely irrelevant to me and bore no relation to the dance profession that I was experiencing on a day to day basis.

I also believe that this art form doesn't belong to just a few choreographers and even fewer theatre directors. It belongs to everybody that chooses to be a part of it.

A new dance maker with little or no money scratching out a work in a dusty corner matters just as much as anybody else. Article19 can't always get to them to provide coverage, if only, but their work is important because everybody starts somewhere.

When you, our dear readers, look at the wide world of dance does it seem fair to you? Does it seem like everybody gets an equal chance to succeed or fail? Do you think everybody is doing everything they can to make the dance profession progressively better for everybody?

Like it or not Article19 is the fourth estate for dance and when you're in that position making friends with everybody isn't really possible. Some people are going to love you and a lot of people are going to hate you.

So yes, a lot of people dislike Article19, but that's part of the job and I don't take it personally, even if there are some out there who try really hard to make it personal.

Twist and Sulk

In a suitably ironic twist a couple of days ago a job advertisement appeared for an "Editor" on the completely ignored and massively expensive (£16Million at last count) Space project being run by ACE and the BBC.

That particular job comes with a salary of £50,000(+) per year for the lucky winner. For that kind of money Article19 could cover every single dance company in this country including every GFA recipient for a year and still have money left over to buy a pony.

The job description for that position describes one of the editors tasks;

"To lead on making sure all copy on The Space is high quality, readable, accessible, fresh, well written and interesting to the general reader"

Apparently that means writing like this, an interview with an academic, that reads exactly like the nonsense I disliked all those years ago from Dance Theatre Journal.

Writing like that won't so much get people interested or engaged with the arts as it will have them searching for the nearest rhinoceros to headbutt.

Perhaps a comparison between the massively well funded Space and the not funded at all Article19 is the perfect metaphor for the arts in the 21st century.

The thing with all the money is pretentious, ugly and stupefyingly boring. Article19 on the other hand is almost completely out of control, gets to show some amazing work from great companies and dancers, speaks to actual issues and is, most importantly of all, fun.

Even the people who dislike Article19 keep coming back and keep reading because at least this publication is interesting, at least this publication is capable of provoking an emotional response. Isn't that what all art is supposed to do?

I will close by thanking all of the people who pledged support on Kickstarter, all of the people who shared the campaign with others on social media and through email, all of the people who come and read Article19 every month and keep on coming back (and have done for years now).

A special thank you though to all of the people who really don't like Article19 but also keep coming back. This website is not Facebook, it's not about being friends, it's not about liking everything that everybody says or does just because. Article19 is about seeing this industry as it really is, what you do with that information is up to you.

*Article19 started life as a single page on another website called DanceService UK

photo by Pedro Vezini

  • Guest

    I think you should widen your focus. I'm not into dance but I look at the site because you are one of the only voices calling bullshit on so much of what is done in the publicly funded artosphere. Do more of that.

  • Phil Sanger

    Could there be a way of curating a fundraising gala. I'm sure there are many artists who would perform at such an event. Myself included!

  • It's certainly a very interesting idea but we would be averse to asking dancers and choreographers to work for free. Perhaps if it was part of another festival or event where we could provide coverage and exposure for those involved.

  • kema

    I wanted to give you some cash but am really skint at the moment, why don't you do what other small arts companies do and get £5000 of Arts Council money and put some for R and D, blag how much you are getting in kind and when questioned on your potential audience say 60,000 people, wouldn't that do it?

  • Arts Fundraiser

    Sorry you didn't reach your goal - while a poorly paid audience and free content on the web are certainly factors, I think you had some bigger problems, all of which could be easily fixed if you tried this again.

    1. It wasn't clear what you were going to do with the money. "Keep this website going" is fine for the hardened fans who come here all the time, but people generally like it spelled out for them. For example:

    *£3,000 will mean that in the next 2 years, we can produce 15 high quality videos, showcasing unknown dance work from across the country

    *We will use some of the £3,000 to upgrade our server, ensuring that our new work and archives will be available for the foreseeable future

    *£3,000 will go on five years supply of tea and biscuits, giving our hard-working writers the energy they need to bring you the facts about the dance scene.

    Those are a bit woolly, but I hope you see what I mean. I'm sure you have the numbers to really fill in the details.

    2. It wasn't clear how long the money would last for. Given a video costs £200 each (the only number you had on your Kickstarter page), that's 15 of them. What happens after that? Another fundraiser? You fold? The risks section could have spelled this out more clearly and added a sense of urgency.

    3. Your rewards were unimaginative and basically amounted to "pay more and get your name on a different bit of the site". it's obviously key to keep costs down with rewards, but I'm sure there were free or cheap ones you could put in to encourage those who like that kind of thing. For example:

    *A (low-budget) video thank you tailored for you by The Imp
    *A behind the scenes visit of the making of the video (supporter to pay their own travel costs)
    *A chance to write a blog on the topic of your choice to go on the website
    * A scathing put down about your life written specially for you by the Imp.

    Again, you get the idea.

    These quick critiques are meant with good intentions - I'm sometimes not a huge fan of the way you approach issues in the dance world, but recognise it's good that you do bring certain subjects to light. As a professional fundraiser, it's also frustrating when things like this fail and the blame gets put on external factors, when it could be due to a simple lack of being able to communicate along the right lines. Good luck if you do it again!

  • Many things were considered for the rewards. We can't offer content for money because that's unethical. Behind the scenes stuff is also not practical because we film live performances and Article19 being there is disruptive enough. A video by TheImp™, nobody from Article19 appears on camera, etc.

    In some ways the rewards system that has come about from fundraiser websites like Kickstarter is counter productive. Most fundraiser rewards are pretty terrible, no matter what the project. If it's a gadget you get the gadget and lunch with the people who built it... why would you want to do that?

    We're pretty sure that people got the idea that they were supporting the website and the continued production of the content we produce.

    As for how it long it would last?

    There is no way to determine that, the costs are massively variable, there is no certainty. Plenty of fundraising projects hit their target and the thing evaporates into thin air because the reassurances and "risk" factors of the thing they are doing are just words on a page.

    You are right in that there are things that could be done differently, but it's essentially all guesswork.

    The urgency thing is right though. Most of the donations came in the last two days after 30 days online. If we do it again it will be a far shorter time span and perhaps for a specific project.

  • A

    I happened on this post by chance. I was researching Yvonne Rainer, found you on Vimeo, and ended up here. I know almost nothing about dance, never heard of you before, and live thousands of miles away. It's also my job (yes, I'm lucky to have that job) to make art accessible via a blog. I just want to say how much this piece moved me with its honesty and complete lack of pretension. I really needed this: "We tried a thing, it sucked, and we don't know why. And we'll keep going anyway." Thank you.

  • Rhiannon Faith

    You forgot to mention that article19 is an outstanding educational tool, offering quick access to archives of contemporary dance work that feeds the learning of young dance makers. I have often directed degree students to your site to learn about contemporary dance. So sorry you didn't reach your goal.

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