Collective patronage, a democratic arts funding

According to Sequenza 21, a mini-movement of art funding is happening beneath the surface of the debates over government versus corporate sponsorship. Small orchestras are pooling their resources to collectively commission pieces by contemporary composers, in the way that big groups in New York or Boston or San Francisco do fairly routinely.

Apparently pianist Jeffrey Biegel is leading the charge in this regard, serving as a kind of artistic dealmaker.

Is it working? A new work by composer Joan Tower, initially comissioned by 65 small orchestras and later given new impetus by Ford sponsorship, has been played more than 80 times, and is being released by Naxos. It’s not stylistically ground-breaking work (“It’s not Ligeti but you knew that,” writes S21’s blogger), but getting orchestras to play modern work at all is a worthwhile cause.

I wonder if this model could work in other fields. I suppose movies are routinely collectively financed, with angel investors that rarely see their money back. Novels are almost always a labor of personal love, although grants do help. Maybe online reading groups could form what would essentially be their own micro-publishing houses, give authors community-chest advances, sponsor writing retreats, as long as they owned (like a publisher) some share in the final work.

I am a sucker for any way to finance creative endeavors that doesn’t require giving a large corporation the sole copyright, and doesn’t lead to poverty.