Friday, February 2, 2018

What I learned from the "Financing the arts" 2017 Aké panel

R to L. Tom Ilube, Dr Olaokun Soyinka and representatives of Sterling bank and Vlisco.
Ever wondered how some prestigious literary platforms get all the money they need to fund their projects? Like flying a bunch of guest/invited writers to a writing workshop or literary festival? Or paying for their lodging and feeding? Or funding living stipends of artists at a writing residency? It is a question the "Financing the arts" panel of the 2017 Aké festival attempted answering. There were four panelists, Dr Olaokun Soyinka, Tom Ilube, a gentleman representing Sterling Bank and a lady representing Vlisco whose names I have sadly forgotten.

I scribbled notes from all what I gathered from that panel. Funding comes primarily from two sources -an individual with the cash to splash or from an organisation. You should know what and when to ask, and what and when to pitch. Many organisations like Sterling Bank finance artistic projects from a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds perspective: actions that further some social good, beyond the interests of a firm, which is required and allowed by law.

Research the organisation's funding cycle well, so you can know when to ask for funding. For instance, most organisations round off their annual financial activities and balance their accounts in December, so it is generally not a good time to ask. You may need to get close to an employee of a "target organisation", in order to have access to such in house funding information. Also, use the right terminology when asking for money. Use your creative talents in your request emails to stand out from other creatives who are also pitchng. Many creatives send languid emails to funders, which do not stand out, which may lead to them not receiving any reply and no money. You will be one among a bunch of others asking for funding, so your project must be relatable and presented in a creative way.

You must have your elevator pitch or thirty seconds pitch and your extended pitch. Tom Ilube said you will only have thirty seconds with a billionaire funder. You may meet him/her at an elevator (hence the name) or during a flight check-in. Use your thirty seconds well to sum up your project. Funders are busy people who may initially give you only little time the first time they meet you, so make it count. He narrated his personal experences about meeting rich funders and failing woefully with his pitching. The most poignant was meeting someone who asked for his elevator pitch only. But Tom only had his extended pitch then. The man had told Tom to wait, he would be right back and when the man left, he was gone for good! Tom said what he learnt from that experience is that, he had to find himself a killer elevator pitch! 

Creatives should not be afraid to fail with their pitching. Tom says he has failed so many times. Nobody used to give him money at first. But he has learnt from each of those failures and improved his pitching game enormously over the years. He is now more succesful at pitching. He now funds the Nommo awards for Sci-fi and Spec fic, but he is still failing with his pitching and learning everyday. He says there will always be people who are uninterested in your project but rigorous charm will convince them. You just need to make them aware of your project by engaging and making them interested.

How to avoid abuse from companies: Set yourself targets. For instance, you can start by working for free. When you have made a considerable impact at what you do, then you can decide to start getting paid. If someone asks you to work for them for free, you can say something like, "My schedule is kind of busy right now, so I can't really do it gor free." There should be a time in your career when you have to go, "At this point, I'm not doing it for free anymore, I should get paid."

Tom said we are entering an age for lots of creative content, especially digital content. Netflix has a nine billion dollar budget for content. These tech companies are fighting each other for high quality content. But you have to be world class first, in order to get in. Nnedi Okorafor comes to my mind. Pay attention to hone your craft, then pitch and pitch and pitch. After a bunch of initial failures, you will eventually obtain the funds your need for your art project.

Tom Ilube and I