The Hong Kong artists hoping to pick up new backers via crowdfunding

The internet not only offers cultural organisations an opportunity to build an audience, it is also giving Hong Kong artists another source of funding for projects via websites such as Kickstarter

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 11:44am

Non-profit art organisations in Hong Kong, long dependent on public funds and the largesse of a limited pool of wealthy patrons, are starting to look at online crowdfunding as a way to diversify their sources of income.

The internet has transformed business models in every sector of the economy, and should offer cultural organisations new opportunities beyond audience building, says Isaac Leung, chairman of Videotage, the artists’ collective that focuses on video and new media art projects.

Leung is putting theory into practice by launching a Kickstarter project to raise 18,000 (HK$159,000).

The money will be used for an artist exchange between Hong Kong and Berlin, where two men – Morgan Wong and Amir Fattal – will examine the experiences of immigrants in the cities. The Berlin host will be Momentum, a local non-profit art space.

The programme is backed by Art Basel’s Crowdfunding Initiative, which launched in 2014 and has raised a total of US$1 million for 37 projects. The organiser of the world’s biggest modern and contemporary art fair lends its name, marketing and administrative help to the fund-raisers, but does not put up any money itself.

Those things make a difference, Art Basel says. Nearly 90 per cent of projects picked by its Crowdfunding Initiative meet their target on Kickstarter, while the average success rate for all art projects on Kickstarter is only half.

So far, the Art Basel advantage has yet to play out on the Videotage/Momentum Kickstarter page. They need to raise 18,000 to make Strangers in a Strange Place happen, but with just 16 days to go as of April 5, they are 17,457 short.

“I’m not too worried, as we have just sent out newsletters to our supporters with a link to the page. We don’t have a plan B if this fails but we can perhaps try other ways to raise the money. This is an experiment, really,” says Leung.

It’s not the first time Videotage has taken a crowdfunding approach. Last year, Videotage and videoclub, a UK-based platform for films and videos made by artists, presented works from the UK, Hong Kong and China over a five-month period in the UK and Hong Kong. Initial funding came from a HK$40,000 grant from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

“The project was divided into many small parts, so that we could invite our partners to share their financial and human resources in different sub-programmes,” Leung explains.

“Instead of presenting a one-off exhibition, we aimed to build a platform for sustainable collaborations and create projects with new ways of sharing resources and contents.”

They ended up raising enough money to realise four residency programmes, three exhibitions and more than 10 screenings in 2015.

Elsewhere, artist Simon Birch is also using Kickstarter to raise the final US$25,000 required for The 14th Factory, a group exhibition opening on April 29.

Birch and a group of Hong Kong and Chinese artists will present a multimedia exhibition in a seven-storey space at 23 Wall Street, New York. The project has nine more days to raise US14,394 on Kickstarter to meet its goal of US$25,000.

Leung says Videotage is planning to explore alternative crowdfunding platforms that do not require fundraising.

“We may just ask people to donate towards specific projects online as one of a number of ways we raise money for those projects. Under that model, we can take whatever amount people pledge,” he says.