Our adaptive challenge
Because the not-for-profit arts sector has institutionalized “sweat equity” and there are large disparities in how resources are distributed, and because dependence on ever-dwindling philanthropic funding is unsustainable, HowlRound will endeavor to overhaul how resources are defined, identified, developed, and leveraged in order to increase our sector’s ability to make work and support the creative lives of artists in a dignified and equitable way. We will do this through stewarding CULTURE COIN, a peer-to-peer digital currency backed by a peer-to-peer sharing economy that matches artists’ needs to the community’s available and latent abundant resources.
Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?
With CULTURE COIN, we aim to put the “equity” back into “sweat equity.” Who does the current arts economy serve? If the answer is: “just a few,” why don’t we, as culture workers, collaborate to create an economy that works for the most amount of people possible? HowlRound’s learning and experience in commons-based, peer-production initiatives and technology projects such as Journalism, TV, and Mapping (that engage thousands of participants per month) has set the stage for us to steward CULTURE COIN’s co-creation. CULTURE COIN is HowlRound’s next intervention to enable artists, institutions, and their communities to tap into their greatest inexhaustible resource: each other.
What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?
It has been our field’s assumption, based on five decades of the “successful” not-for-profit theater model, that sweat equity is an economic necessity for artists and for our current model to work. The assumption is that we must continue to propagate the system of uncompensated sweat equity in order to produce the cultural sector.
It has also been our field’s assumption that through capturing philanthropic resources, we will continue to generate sustainable, long-term revenue that will positively impact the vitality of our arts sector. Our model is based on the faulty assumption that philanthropic funding is on an unlimited growth trajectory.
What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?
As the TDF study “Outrageous Fortune” reveals, artists’ economic lives and careers are extremely precarious compared to full-time staff at arts institutions. This is an ethical issue about systemic resource inequity. At the same time, efforts toward integrating artists into organizations (such as Mellon Foundation’s playwright residencies, which we are documenting) are opening up our field’s mind to radically new strategies.
The philanthropic arts funding pool mirrors the economic trends at large. As such, the availability of funding has been extremely volatile in recent years. As a sector, we must act now to develop alternative models of sustainability and reduce our total dependence on these financial forces.
What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?
We will steward the co-creation of CULTURE COIN—a digital currency and resource sharing economy for all artists. It will be commons-based, peer-to-peer governed, and transnational. Aspects to be co-designed by a global arts community include:
- PAYMENT: A culture worker makes a piece of art or produces something for our civilization’s benefit and gets paid in CULTURE COINS in addition to or instead of a central bank currency.
- EXCHANGE: The currency’s value is backed by the CULTURE COIN community’s pooled resources. These resources are intellectual (skill sharing) and material (space, gear, lodging, food).
- RESOURCE MAPPING: Every organization, artist, and culture worker will have some resource to contribute and exchange in this parallel economy.
Our vision of success
Our vision of success is to help create and steward a community of theater-makers and cultural producers who embody the ethos, who benefit from, and who contribute to the cultural commons as a regular practice. We will be successful if current and future cultural resources are realigned and re-imagined to be accessible to and benefit the most people possible. We will be successful if the arts/theater becomes more integrated into civic life and civic discourse.