While “Don’t quit your dayjob” is still the favorite thing to say from dads everywhere to their kids starting DIY projects, grassroots arts funding will remain an issue. The cash sources are limited: Door money is awesome, but often is just enough to maintain what’s already happening in a space rather than making room for growth. Grants are an option, but require a lot of people power. As we saw from Silent Barn and the Ché Café, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe wind up being popular for spaces in a time crunch without a ton of resources. Which is more often than not.
LA 2050‘s Grants Challenge is a really interesting mix of these last two options. It works like a grant in that you fill out questions in an application. It works like a crowdfunding site in that a ton of people vote, so it involves public input in some way. Check out The LA Fort’s voting page here. After spending some time with The LA Fort recently, it was awesome to hear their excitement around LA 2050’s Grant Challenge, and how the mission of the Challenge tied in with theirs. The LA Fort is a two-year old, all-ages multi-use arts warehouse in Downtown LA. With a ton of renovations and legal work in development, they’re perfectly poised to be a recipient of one of the $100,000 parcels LA 2050 is giving out. They offer a space to the community that’s hard to find in the city, and even harder to find in Downtown Los Angeles. You can and should vote for them here.
Both The LA Fort and LA 2050 grew out of a community need. LA 2050 is a baby of the Goldhirsh Foundation, with a focus on what the ambitious title sounds like: What do we want Los Angeles to look like in 2050? What will it take to get there? By working with over 30,000 Angelenos through awesome block parties, youth-led interviews and more, the initiative developed a vision for five goals in LA’s future. They envision LA in 2050 as a place to Play, Connect, Live, Create, and Learn. The LA Fort comes in as a major player in LA’s reality of ‘Create’; So do 62 other submissions who are now competing in the ‘Create’ section for $100,000 in LA 2050’s Grant Challenge.
This made me remember the Pepsi Refresh Project, one of the first big crowdsourcing-for-good grantmaking projects. Based off a similar voting structure, Pepsi spread $1.3 million to participating organizations in amounts of $5,000 to $250,000. It was pretty corny. It was very obviously a branding thing. But it also attracted some pretty incredible organizations who needed the money, including the All-Ages Movement Project (which, after connecting with them and getting inspired, set me on the path to Grasstronaut. Is Grasstronaut founded by Pepsi? Holy…oh god. All I wanted was a Pepsi.) Though similar, LA 2050 is definitely a different beast and is exciting for grassroots organizations of all kinds in LA. Here’s why:
–Transparency. Grants are usually boring, but the transparency of posting exactly what these organizations wrote in their application (start with LA Fort’s example here, and click around) reads almost in the Seventeen Magazine, “DIY Venue Tells All” interview you always wanted to read (jokes). But seriously, the lack of formatting of this application is wild. The checkboxes kinda make it look like you can still click on unclickable options. The actual text about what these organizations do is buried under social media handles and demographic questions. Even so, this is an interesting alternative to the super-polished campaign videos you’re used to seeing. If you’re willing to dig, these profiles become a raw tale not only of what these organizations are about, but what the grantwriting process entails.
–Tying to a larger social, but hyper-local goal. Aside from the fact that a city cannot be a bubbly drink (Prove me wrong! PROVE IT!), LA 2050’s Grant Challenge differs from Pepsi Refresh in that they are tying it to a larger social good connected to a real, living place and its people. Not a brand. Candidates like LA Fort are already boosting this to their networks– primarily for the cash, but also simultaneously pushing the mission of LA 2050: a hope for a healthier, educated, more connected Los Angeles. Geographically, LA all at once possesses an incredible international reach, nicely paired with LA 2050’s hyper-local focus. (Devil’s Advocate: You could potentially run into people voting for organizations in a city they don’t/won’t live in, but still…) This tie-in also leads to a less possible end of sore losership. Even if you don’t win, there’s a solid chance you found out about some incredible organizations working in a similar area as you. This might just be every fable about the power being within you all along.
–Mix of crowdsourcing and jury-dom. To offset the potential for outside LA (or inside LA) voter bias, LA 2050 is also choosing five recipients via a jury. The jury enables curation and deliberation from the grantmakers while also giving people the platform to get stoked about organizations they love. This sets the stage for a pretty cool end result where those who voted for winners will feel stoked, while also feeling solidarity with the remainder of the 10 organizations chosen through a mix of crowdsourcing and LA 2050 handpicking. Ultimately: a lot of people stoked about the stewards of the future of LA. Ultimately #2: a lot of people stoked about grassroots organizations.
Projects like this are exciting for grassroots arts for a big reason: they simplify how you can get funding while tying you to larger social issues. They are absolutely not perfect. What are some other ways of getting money for your space, project or cause that you’ve explored?
P.S. Vote for the LA Fort. Vote for the LA Fort? Vote for the LA Fort. (Interview with them coming soon.)