Makers Muse – Giving Without Strings
Tell us about the Kindle Project Makers Muse Award program.
Kindle Project’s Makers Muse Award honors artists working in all mediums and forms — traditional and experimental, classic and contemporary.
We are interested in artists who are questioning, confronting, exploring, framing or reframing the following: perceptions of identity, worldviews and the collective consciousness, individual and social conditioning, relationships between nature, culture, and technology, the consensus of what is beautiful and what is ugly, the institutionalization of who can experience art and how it is experienced, political frameworks and authority, and sensuality.
Working in traditional and experimental modes to: subvert advertisement pollution and mass media, expose inequality and injustice, make art accessible and interactive, entice whimsy and play, spread laughter, engage otherwise sleepwalking audiences, and push the envelope of existentialist inquiry.
Describe your approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.
The spirit of Kindle Project’s Makers Muse program is to honor, uplift, and empower artists in the full arc of their creative process. As artists themselves, our founders know how tedious and difficult it is to get creative projects funded firsthand. So, we wanted to create an award to support artists rather than drain their time chasing money. We knew this meant giving with big generosity — no-strings-attached, no premeditated agenda, no expectation of outcomes — offering support beyond the money, with the least possible hoop jumping for our awardees.
Here’s how the Maker’s Muse award works. Each year, seven artists are each awarded a gift of from $10k to $14k. Each recipient can use their gift at whatever stage their work is in, to do whatever they choose, giving them the ability to identify and meet their own needs in one fell swoop. There is absolutely no application, no proposal, and no reporting required to receive the award.
However, we do ask our artist awardees to participate in two ways. First, we ask the artist to collaborate with Kindle Project creatively to present a one-of-a-kind virtual presentation on our Nexus page. Second, we ask the artist to engage in a pay-it-forward exercise of nominating an artist to be considered for the award in the following year. This pay-it-forward nomination process has been instrumental in our work as funders as it touches on many of the underlying goals for Kindle Project – breaking through funder/grantee dynamics, democratizing decision-making and funding, and re-distributing power. In addition to the past awardees nominations, we invite our Kindle team and extended community to make recommendations. Through discourse and collaboration, final granting decisions are made from the Kindle Project team.
How we bring these artists to the table is more of an artform than it is a science; we are a small organization and cannot handle unsolicited proposals from the public, so we’ve had to think creatively on our toes, be willing to experiment, make mistakes, and be nimble and flexible with ourselves and our partners.
Due to our unique dual structure, we can implement the founding impulse for the Makers Muse program and support artists in flexible and uncomplicated ways not often possible in conventional philanthropy. We love this liberated funding experience, and the ease with which it delivers support on a tangible human level.
How did Kindle Project come to practice philanthropy in this way? What made you realize this funding style would be important for what you were trying to achieve?
The Founders of Kindle Project are artists first. We’ve always identified as creative makers and spontaneous yet methodical doers. Creating structure for our giving, programs, relationships, and organizational systems has never been a linear process, rather it has been a poetic experience with it’s own cadence and story. We’ve tackled problem-solving, programmatic development, and leadership from a kind of wild west artist perspective – imperfection, experimentation, renegade antics, and play. We’ve never approached philanthropy as a science. Rather, we’ve seen philanthropy as just another tool in our toolbox to work with, like our cameras, our pens, and our instruments. Kindle Project is a laboratory of sorts and we’ve often made a beautiful mess from our curious and non-linear style. Philanthropy is often a tactile and sensual experience for us. It can be auditory, kinesthetic, experiential, or visual. This is the core temperament that the Makers Muse Artist Awards program was built upon and continues to function from.
Have you ever been met with resistance or criticism when using this type of funding?
For the most part, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback and genuine inquiry about the program. Many recognize that the rigid systems put in place by foundations haven’t necessarily served the grantee, the common good, and change that we want to see in the world. While many of these systems are put in place for necessary legal due diligence, many of them were created in a top down approach that has fractured grantees from funders, yielding an us and them dance that has worked as a divisive tool that can sometimes work against the very shared goals we claim to have. I have found many funders that recognize that this conventional power dynamic framework is antiquated and desperately needs to be shaken up.
The Makers Muse program addresses this innate challenge of grantee/funder dynamics. By giving a free and clear gift, from a place of initial trust and with the premise of good-ol-fashioned kindness and generosity, we have been able to breakthrough some of the antiquated funding models. Entrusting each awardee to spend their award in whatever way they choose further breaks through the charity box. We listen to the needs of the awardee and offer support beyond the money. When we give this award, without fail, our awardees can hardly believe that there isn’t the usual required ‘funder dog’ and ‘pony show’. This also serves to equalize what can too often be a monetary exchange.
Describe the challenges and lessons you feel can help other funders understand what it means to support individuals.
The nature of the Makers Muse program has inspired organizational creativity, evolutionary thinking, and deeper self-inquiry for us as funders and as an off-the-cuff organization. Pivotal to this learning process has been the challenges that we’ve encountered along the way. Here are a few lessons that have stayed with me and have shaped much of what I bring to my grantmaking work overall.
- No-strings-attached means no-strings-attached. Getting clear with your intentions, with your team, before you give a no-strings-attached gift, is essential. It’s easy to say in principle that you may have no expectations for outcomes or the way a relationship will evolve. For instance, while you may not require a specific deliverable, you may still have a hidden expectation to be connected to your awardee in some precious way because you’ve supported them financially without the excess baggage. I encourage my team to flush out all the complexities together internally as an organization before walking into cultivating new relationships with our awardees. This has helped us show up at the table with our awardees from an authentic place and without the nuanced power dynamics.
- Artists don’t think, operate, or work in the same way as groups or collectives do. Working with artists is an entirely distinct experience. Be open, flexible, and enjoy the ride. While there are some parallels, the needs of artists are very often different than those of start-up’s or collectives. While collectives and start-up’s often need help with capacity building and infrastructure, artists often need support in the form of the nuts and bolts of articulating and implementing their vision. At Kindle Project, we offer technical assistance to many of our grantees, but especially to our artists. Our relationships have blossomed when we give beyond the money. If you have the capacity to give beyond the money, consider offering it as part of your support.
- Success is dynamic and ever-changing. At Kindle Project we are always pushing back on the conversation of what success looks like and who defines those terms. We’ve learned a lot from our Makers Muse program about redefining success. While this has been an extremely exciting aspect to our work, it has presented an ongoing challenge. Be ready to be in the ever-challenging conversation around tracking success, metrics, and impact. For us, success is fluid and dynamic – but articulating this to more traditional institutional perspectives has been at times difficult.
How does your funding practice affect the overall impact you are able to achieve?
The no-strings-attached gift is rare in the philanthropic sector. In terms of impact, it means that the recipient feels so honored and bolstered in their work because somebody takes notice of them and is supporting them just where they are at, not asking questions or requiring anything of them. As one recipient said, “I can’t believe it, I didn’t know that anybody was noticing me.” Artists can experience such isolation sometimes. By offering this award, you are witnessing them. A lot of the artists we support are working on deep and relevant issues in their work, environment, gender, social justice, etc. In supporting them, we support the community impacted by their message and efforts as well.
What is the most important insight you gained specifically through funding in this way? What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to a funder curious about doing something similar?
Everybody needs somebody to believe in and acknowledge them. The human benefit of this type of funding is invaluable. Giving no-strings-attached gifts to artists is taking a pressure off of them, infusing their lives with freedom, and giving them flexibility in their work. In turn, you will learn and grow in the most unexpected ways through this experience. You will build alliances that will inspire, break through funder isolation, and free you up in ways that you didn’t even know you needed. Bring your wisdom to the table, but never let that get in the way of curiosity.
Find a system that allows for the possibility to give in the freest way. Build a diverse, dynamic aligned team to be in dialog with and to share decision-making responsibility. Collaboration on all sides supports larger overarching goals, and it’s just much more fun.
Why does Funding Individuals matter to you? What gift has it given you personally or organizationally?
Funding artists is such incredibly meaningful work to everyone at Kindle as individuals and for our organization as a whole. Funding individuals to continue to create their work, no matter what stage they are at, what their level of public recognition, or what the final goals or outcomes of their projects are, is essential to us. Indie Philanthropy is about sharing resources to those who need it to make the world a better place. For us, artistic practice and individual artists are a key part in transforming our world.