Wednesday 15 July 2009

Patroned by the People: A Very Old New Way of Making a Living

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?


  1. I'm gonna give this a try, too! It looks too much fun not to do.

    The only trick is: if you don't get adequate funding, do you NOT release your work for free? If not, is that negatively impacting your marketing opportunities?

    Still, it's the best idea I've seen in a long time. Good luck!

  2. Visionary stuff!

    Transparency is important here... if people can see that just because you've published something here or there, you have no expectations of living like a king, you place yourself in a position where patronage is more likely. You are more like a non-profit organization which publishes its operating costs.

    Would you post quarterly reports? In Q3, my ideology is...

  3. Hey, there MCM! I kind of wrote this for you after our chat the other day. I'd thought about that, MCM - one of the things I had wondered is doing it for 3 months in advance of teh period in question (whilst writing on top of the day job as at present). That way you know how much you have, and can put it all into an interest-bearing account, and offer you patrons the choice of taking it back with interest or turning it to some other culture-related good cause - or seeing if you can get a half-time job.

    Maybe we won't tear the idea down but refine it - then we can build a whole community of writers on the model (a new Factory!) - I should see what my fellow Year Zeros think.

    Hmm Freevolutionary times, comrades!!

    Nice way of putting it, Piers - I have no desire to live like a king, just to have enough to get by.

  4. That's an interesting idea. You could try putting a paypal donate button on your blog. The kind of work you are suggesting is much like a freelance writer\editor does at the moment.

  5. That would be the way to do it, Paul. I love the idea that pwople would be able to pay to have a reading written for their wedding - or a special chapbook produced for an anniversary -that kind of thing, but maybe that's just the hopeless Byronic romantic in me!!

  6. How did this experiment work out for you?