Crowdfunding in Performing Arts: Channeling Your Inner Medici

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Arts patronage was once the exclusive realm of the ultra-wealthy. The Medici family of Renaissance-era Italy, for example, underwrote memorable art from Botticelli to Michelangelo. Through their patronage, such wealthy donors exercised tremendous power over the artists they supported, requesting sculptures, sonatas and sonnets in honor of birthdays, anniversaries, mistresses or maybe even favorite family pets.

Musical Hostages. How could artists ever complain, since their livelihood depended on their patrons? One famous protest was by the composer Joseph Haydn, who cleverly wrote his Symphony No. 45 (“Farewell”) to send a message to his patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy of Austria in 1772. The Prince had demanded a long performance season from his house orchestra, led by Haydn, and the tired musicians wished to leave the Prince’s estate and return home. This symphony’s last movement was written so that the number of musical parts gradually diminished; as each musician finished his part, he extinguished his candle and walked off the stage. The Prince agreed to give the musicians their vacation!

Old Money & New Money. In the U.S., family names like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Guggenheim have long been associated with both business success and cultural patronage — evidenced not only by physical buildings like concert halls celebrating the performing arts, but in ongoing funding from their foundations.

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 9.29.23 AMToday a new funding source has emerged for the performing arts, fueled by the internet: crowdfunding. While wealthy patrons are certainly invited to participate – deep pockets will always be needed – part of crowdfunding’s unique appeal is its universal reach, down to the shallower pockets of millions of average folks, from all walks of life.

One of the most well-known sites is, which claims that more than 4.5 million people have pledged over $723 million for 45,000+ creative projects since Kickstarter’s launch in 2009. Most successfully funded projects raise less than $10,000.

What’s Being Funded? This crowdfunding infographic shows the category “Films and Performing Arts” as the third most active crowdfunding category in 2012, trailing only “Social Causes” and “Business & Entrepreneurship.”

With the growth of crowdfunding, today anyone can be a performing arts patron. Art that’s funded by everyone truly belongs to everyone. Will this democratic, dynamic influence change the artistic and creative processes? We cannot wait to find out! And if your performing arts organization had success with crowdfunding, we’d love to hear more! We may share notable stories in an upcoming blog.

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