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August 24, 2013

Commons-Based Ideas to Support Artists

New ways to pay the piper (and the painter and the performer and the poet )

Excerpted from OTC’s book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons (The New Press), the first chapter of which can be downloaded “here”:http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5475/signup_page/downloadsignup

Every civilization needs art—statues and paintings, myths and stories, music and dance, which should be available to everyone. But artists and cultural workers need to eat, and if they share their work freely or cheaply, how will they make a living?

In many countries, national governments proudly support the arts. But in the U.S., public funding has never been strong, and declined a lot over recent years. Here are some commons-based methods for supporting the artists we depend upon, which ideally would augment more generous public funding.

-The Music Performance Trust Fund is one model. In the 1930s when radio stations started playing pre-recorded music on the air, musicians had reason to worry. Not only were their individual livelihoods threatened, so was the entire future of live performance. After a strike in which many artists refused to record, the musicians’ union and the record industry created the Musical Performance Trust Fund. For every recording sold, record companies pay a small royalty into the trust, which uses the money to sponsor free performances. The fund pays musicians to perform as many as10,000 free concerts in parks, schools and hospitals across the country.

-The San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund is a similar idea that since 1961 has underwritten hundreds of community arts institutions from the symphony orchestra to the politically-charged San Francisco Mime Troupe.

-Harvard law professor William Fisher has proposed a system that compensates artists with public funds based on how frequently their works are downloaded.

-Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has proposed a tax-credit-funded voucher system that pays artists who put their
work in the public domain for everyone to use.

- Writer Lewis Hyde has proposed that a small percentage of royalties for big-selling artists in various genres go into a fund that would help support the coming generation of performers, writers and other talents.