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I first started to think about the democratic potential of Kickstarter’s funding model in February 2013 at FutureEverything, Manchester’s annual festival of ideas.

The crowdfunding website was established in 2009 to connect people looking for project funding to people looking to invest, launching in the UK in November 2012 (using £ not $). It is not the only one, but I’ll use it as a generic model just for now. The rewards for investing are negotiated into a number of different options (from a free poster to advance access to products to exclusive one off experiences) and the model appears to work well for the creative industries: films are currently the 2nd most popular category of project funding after music.

(Source: stats – open ‘categories’ under ‘successfully funded projects’)

Stephanie Pereira represented Kickstarter at the Manchester conference, speaking in the ‘Platforms’ session which you can see on Vimeo here (her talk starts at 16.00). She suggests that the company provides a “creative ecosystem” for creators and that the 60 or so Kickstarter staff are themselves a community of “artists, designers… philosophers”. However, it was her suggestion that when creatives like games designers use Kickstarter, they are effectively working directly for their fans, that got me thinking about how ‘pay it ahead’ models have a role in connecting communities in the creative cultural economy. This was something to be explored further – and what better way than to have a go? (This is my usual response to most things!)

I’ve been following campaigns around factory farming issues for some time, so when news of a low budget UK film about an organic dairy farmer in Sussex started appearing in tweets by Compassion in World Farming and WSPA I backed it on Kickstarter to help the film maker fund a professional UK cinema launch.

The distribution system for new and specialist films in the UK is currently one of the sub-themes in my PhD. The US movie industry has had a terrific monopoly for many years over what UK audiences get to see in cinemas, historically this has been a problem almost all European countries and affects the circulation of non-American films and their domestic film industries (for some jaw-dropping history on the US cultural mission in the 20th Century, check out this book). Independent film distribution in the UK is supported through film policy in a number of ways, but cinemas still need people to buy tickets if the screenings are to be viable. If a UK film gets distribution, even if it has done well at festivals – as this one had – being able to provide posters, a press campaign and extras such as special guests to support a booking makes a cinema manager happy. The Moo Man film was trying to raise £5000 for such things, including the travel costs of the guests. When the campaign ended, I was pleased to see that they had exceeded their target!

This is where for me, the sense of community can be found in crowd-funding. It comes from knowing that my small pledge and those of hundreds of anonymous, like-minded people had made something tangible happen. Very tangible, actually, as the film was then booked by my local independent cinema and I was able to host the Q&A with film maker Andy Heathcote and farmer Stephen Hook (sadly no cows were available for the date).

This offered another perspective on the community outcomes of the campaign as on a sunny Bank Holiday afternoon in Leeds, about 50 people came to the cinema to see the single screening of this very specialist film and we had a milk tasting and chat afterwards. Puts a new spin on ‘taste communities’, too, doesn’t it?

I’ll be blogging about these sorts of events and screenings regularly on my own blog now and will be hosting more Q&As at Leeds International Film Festival in November.