Funding art and culture in the US

The APDL invited local industrial designer and social entrepreneur Rowan Lamont to write about his recent trip to the US.

Rowan Lamont

On a recent trip to New York I was able to visit two well regarded art and design facilities that celebrate design and creativity from different angles. PS1 is a well established leader in its field. Striving to show and exhibit up and coming new artists. Eyebeam is a younger growing organisation that generates new and creative thinking through its incubator residency program. Both are self supporting and share interesting funding models, I thought it would be interesting to take a step closer and see if there are any insights Australian design and creative organisations could glean.

PS1 building in New York

PS1 building in New York. (Image by Rowan Lamont)

PS1 is situated out of a renovated school building in Queens. Having converted the school rooms into exhibition spaces, they fill them with new cutting edge visual and performance artists. The old playground provides a blank canvass for its Young Architects Program inviting architects each year to fill the space with temporary structures responding to a theme. During the summer months the area hosts new DJs and has become the place to meet creatives, hear great music and enjoy a summer party. Opposite PS1 is the museum for graffiti and being based in cosmopolitan Queens it has become not only an arts hub but an icon for new art thinking.


PS1 building in New York

PS1 building in New York (Image by Rowan Lamont)

As a not for profit institution it has had a successful history over the last 35 years based in its current location and facilitates cash flow through its events, shops, and cafe. It has been able to sustain itself with strong ongoing philanthropic relationships. These have been established with individuals, trusts, organisations and foundations. There is a small amount of government assistance although its merger with MOMA in 2010 had little financial incentives rather opening networks and strengthening its position. A program of events is provided that supports the interests of the donors as well as providing mechanisms for new philanthropy to be introduced and become engage with the organisation.

Eyebeam is an art and technology centre for artists and new-technology designers. Their main program is 6 and 12 month residencies aimed at developing and exploring new design and art practices utilising new technology. Based from a warehouse in Chelsea nestled in amongst the docks and private art galleries, it aims to provide a shared incubator environment that celebrates cross pollination and new ideas.  On-site facilitates include well resourced workshops, rapid prototyping machines, technical expertise, and most importantly shared studio space. Having been established for 14 years it has built a network of supporters from its board members, directors to previous participants, and friends of the association that stimulate the rich creative experience with expertise, contacts and support as the participants developing their projects.

Eyebeam in New York

Eyebeam in New York (Image by Rowan Lamont)

Eyebeam are able to secure funding for their programs through a strong philanthropic community who provide donations. This is complemented by an active sponsorship program, companies and businesses have aligned with Eyebeam providing funds in return for sponsorship packages that expose their brand, provide positive exposure, access to events and networking opportunities. As the residencies progress Eyebeam host exhibitions to demonstrate the new thinking initiatives, and provide closure and celebration of the projects. The shows supplement their funds and they go onto utilise the versatile space for external shows and exhibitions.

An interesting strategy Eyebeam have employed is not so much fund raising but budget relieving. An example being the strategic alliance with T-mobile telecommunications who provided electronic equipment for participants to experiment with. This saved costs and provided access to materials aligned with Eyebeams goals and exposing T-Mobile and a positive light.


Eyebeam (Image by Rowan Lamont)

The amount of government assistance PS1 and Eyebeam receive from New York State and Government in relation to their full funding program is a much smaller percentage than other sources of income. This is typical form many arts and design facilities in the USA who secure the majority of their income from primarily money earning initiatives, followed by sponsorships arrangements, and philanthropic donations.

USA has a culture that supports the act of giving, successful individuals feel they have an obligation to share their wealth and don’t mind putting their names alongside others who have donated. Australians by comparison do not openly give money; we simply don’t have the Guggenheims and Getty’s. Australians have a different outlook and we only have to look at organisations like the Surf Lifesavers, CFA, SES, to understand that Australians are far more generous donating their time.

We could take insight from the USA’s entrepreneurial nature to develop alternative income streams and generate new corporate alliances that can be beneficial to both parties.  Australian arts and design organisations typically have a model of Government grant dependency with a small philanthropic element, and even smaller independently earned income.

There are new finance models appearing that seek alternative ways to develop fund sources. Pozible are a Melbourne organisation that crowd sources funds for new initiatives, Artist Bonnie Davies was able take her arts show to the Edinburgh Fringe

The New Models New Money web site easily describes the sectors artists and designers can explore to take them away from the traditional models and open new avenues for funding. Check out their animation:

As more arts organisations become established and the government funding stays the same or reduces the future financial structures are likely to become more aligned with the American model. With less dependence on grants a push towards developing a culture of philanthropy in Australia will emerge, as will an entrepreneurial element whereby organisations will develop alternative creative enterprises and self initiated income sources.