Research Funding 2.0?

Recently Kevin Kelly wrote a thought provoking post about how artists might function in the internet age.

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

The problem I had with his post is the word “only.” Having relied heavily on internet fundraising to produce a documentary film I know how much work goes into getting just a few hundred donations. A recent Savage Minds poll, which involved nothing more than clicking a button, was only able to garner 400 clicks from our own true fans. Kevin Kelly later posted a letter from musician Robert Rich, making a similar point, saying that

In reality the life of a “microcelebrity” resembles more the fate of Sisyphus, whose boulder rolls back down the mountain every time he reaches the summit.

If it is that difficult for a musician or a filmmaker to secure the patronage of 1,000 true fans on the internet, what is the anthropologist to do? Is it possible to even talk about bypassing traditional research institutions and appealing directly to the internet to support our projects? I think so.

We may not be able to live off of it, but it seems to me that small scale research projects which have a strong element of public interest should be able to secure funding in this way. Just look at the success of DonorsChoose, a charity which funds projects proposed by elementary school teachers. Only projects which are able to reach their fundraising goals get funded. Otherwise you can reassign your money to another project.

Anastasia Hudgins, a lecturer and former classmate at Temple University’s department of anthropology is trying to do something similar for her summer research project. She and two undergraduate students are trying to raise $4,000 in the next two weeks to fund a research trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She wants to followup on earlier research with Cambodian sex workers, to see how they have been impacted by recent laws outlawing prostitution. Like DonorsChoose, you only pay if enough people agree to fund the project before the May 15th deadline.

My personal experience tells me that this is a lot of money to raise in a short amount of time, but I’m curious to see if this works – and if it doesn’t I get to keep my $20. I can envision a DonorsChoose like site dedicated to anthropological research, where people can request small grants to replace a broken camera, buy a plane ticket, hire a translator, etc. After all, if we don’t want to depend on the military to fund our research, we need to find something better!

3 thoughts on “Research Funding 2.0?

  1. The art historian I spend so much time with would probably take this opportunity to remind you that patronage is funding strategy 0.0 — witness all of the nativity scenes on church windows which feature Mary, Joseph, the Magi, and the bishop who paid for the stained glass staring in rapt adoration at the Christ child. I guess the difference here is that you are relying on a small set of geographically dispersed patrons rather than a local arts community of bourgois philanthropists or, you know, Abbot Suger. For a while in my fan fic days I made a fair amount of $$ writing donors into my stories… it was good fun.

  2. I was able to fund a portion of my fieldwork through donations on my website after my university refused to help me out with an emergency grant. I raised a little over $1000 in around 3 days thanks to my readers and friends. It was quite a surprise to be able to raise so much in such a small amount of time. I’m sure if they do it right they can easily raise the $4000 needed.

  3. Josh,

    I think the difference is what it entails to “do it right” – having a research blog is one aspect of this as it builds up a large readership which knows and trusts you. This is what I was talking about in terms of the hard work it takes to build up “true fans.”

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