We all dream of it, don’t we? Living the life of Mozart, Michelangelo, or Moliere, practising our culture under the beneficent patronage of some European noble. Only of course it wasn’t like that. It was more like being George Michael working under Sony.
What I want to do is breathe new life into the patronage model, and see if I can make it work for 21st century producers of culture. There are models that come close: bursaries awarded by bodies like the Arts Council, or private institutions pay someone to do their stuff out of the public or private purse; laureateships empower someone to work on behalf of the people; many august cultural bodies – theatres, orchestras etc. – allow donors to become members.
But none of that quite does what I want to do. First and obviously – er, they don’t pay me! Second, and most important, they don’t match the ideological principles of my personal manifesto: Free is good; Culture is a direct conversation between artist and audience.
So this is what I’ve come up with.
1. Decide the amount you need to live on. In my case, with my debts and commitments, I think I could live more than comfortably on £35,000.
2. Work out what your working year is in terms of hours. I make my working year 2660 hours.
3. Make all your work available for free.
4. Allow people to make payments should they wish, and show the running total on your website.
5. Devote half your working hours to taking up commissions from your patrons, and the other half to producing the stuff all your fans love. Effectively, let your patrons buy you by the hour. Make sure they understand you will keep writing your kind of thing, but that you will produce shorts, poems, etc on subjects of their choice, or go and speak at their events, give them writing lessons, produce blog copy, edit their work, whatever you want to offer! My only rules would be my ideology’s mine, and I will only promote what I really like (I won’t do my patrons’ PR).
6. Keep a record of what you do, for how long, online – which in itself may be of interest
So that’s the model. Who’s up for tearing it down?