WE HAVE A NEW STRETCH GOAL OF 23,000!
Fusebox is a 501(c)3 non-profit arts organization based in Austin, TX. We champion adventurous works of art across a variety of different mediums. Our primary focus is an annual hybrid art festival that takes place in Austin each spring. The 2014 dates are April 16-27.
WHAT IS FREE RANGE ART?
The idea behind Free Range Art is a playful, but also concise distillation of who we are as a festival. We have actually been piloting this initiative for the past several years. It begins with the notion that exciting things happen when you collide different ideas from a bunch of different perspectives and backgrounds. So Fusebox programs fresh, forward-thinking artists working in a wide range of different fields--theater, dance, film, visual art, music, food, technology, and everything in between.
We also believe in using the festival to explore and investigate our city, rambling through back alleys, small theaters, fields, rooftops, neighborhoods, etc. So Free Range Art captures something absolutely essential about Fusebox, both in terms of the diverse art forms we present and the physical terrain of the city that we explore. AND we want it all to be 100% free to attend. With fewer barriers from the outset, the festival truly becomes a free range experience.
This April will mark our 10th Anniversary as a festival. Accordingly, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why it is we do what we do. What is it we love about festivals and what is it we don’t love about them? What are the things that we as an organization try and hold onto and champion as we’re building Fusebox? What can festivals do that other platforms cannot? Why do we continue to work in a festival format as opposed to a season of programming? The answers to these questions pushed us closer and closer to “Free Range Art”.
Below are some key thoughts that arose during this exploration process. We think Free Range Art amplifies each of these three key ideas:
Everyone should have access to the art we’re presenting. Period.
- We want to encourage people to take a chance on artists and projects that they’ve never heard of. For us this is central to the whole festival experience. It’s about discovery. Switching to a free model removes a layer of risk associated with seeing something new or unfamiliar.
- Festivals are great (or can be great) at positioning you in the middle of a bunch of different ideas and perspectives. Festivals are not about seeing one artist--they’re about seeing multiple artists with multiple points of view. We think there’s something really powerful about this. It sparks new thinking, new possibilities, and the unexpected. So ideally, we want to encourage people to see multiple projects, otherwise they’re not really experiencing what is unique about the festival format. Going free encourages seeing multiple events and projects.
- We want to create a different sort of relationship between audience and artist. We want to rewire the typical transaction. In fact, we don’t really want it to be a transaction at all. We’re much more interested in creating an ongoing conversation and investigation of contemporary life and culture. We're interested in holding up various lenses to explore issues, ideas, and communities. We're interested in creating a space for artists and audiences to take risks and ask big questions together. In a nutshell, we want to shift from consuming art to engaging with it.
- We also wanted to have a conversation about the real cost of making this work. Almost every artist we know is heavily subsidizing his or her own work. The reality is that ticket sales cover only a tiny fraction of the cost of making this work, but it’s hard to have this discussion when we’re charging admission because it often feels like you’re paying for it as an audience member. So we wanted to separate these things out and say, “Here’s this amazing artist. We think their work is important and everyone should have access to it. But at the same time, let’s have a conversation about the actual cost of making this work. It’s not free to create. In fact, it actually costs a lot more than the usual $10-20 we’re typically charging for tickets”.
- Last, we wanted to have a larger, national dialogue about the role that art and performance plays in our culture--a conversation about how we value art. How is it situated? Are there other strategies for making art more vital, more integrated into our daily lives? We wanted to have an open, transparent discussion about all of this. We’ve looked at a lot of different models and scenarios. We’ve talked to a lot of people about this idea. A lot of people are really floored by it, really excited. Other people are apprehensive. We think this is a great conversation.
Risks and challenges
WILL I STILL BE ABLE TO MAKE RESERVATIONS?
A giant question for us is how to handle reservations in a free festival model. We want to make sure that people can still make reservations and plan their festival experience if they want to—this is essential. The challenge becomes (at least this has been our own experience with our own free programming) about getting people to follow through when they make a free reservation. We found that free shows would “sell out” very quickly on paper but then a portion of these reservation holders wouldn’t show up. And then other people that wanted to attend the show don’t bother because they have heard that it’s sold out.
We are proposing two ways to address this phenomenon. First, a certain percentage of the house each night will be available for advance reservation. But a percentage of seats will only be available at the door each night as well. This way, even when a show “sells out” ahead of time, people know that there are still seats available at the door.
The second strategy pulls something from a local cinema’s playbook. The Alamo Drafthouse is a wildly popular and successful, Austin-based movie theater. One of the things they’ve been most successful at is creating a real culture of respect around not talking during the movies. They’ve created a very funny, but also serious campaign about it. Basically, if someone complains about you talking during a movie you’re given a warning. If it happens again, you’re kicked out without a refund. We believe there is a similar strategy we can employ in creating a culture of respect around making reservations. For example, our main ask is that if you make a reservation and then realize you can’t make the show, then simply let us know. The real issue is when we continue to hold the seat. So we are contemplating a policy where if you abuse the reservation system, you will be unable to use our reservation system. You can still show up at venues and attend shows, just won't be able to make reservations ahead of time.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE ARTISTS?
Free Range Art does not change how much we pay artists. In fact, artist fees are our single biggest line item in our festival budget. We do see Free Range Art as an opportunity to have a broader dialogue about the actual costs of making work.
IS FREE ART LESS VALUABLE?
We think this is a great question—a question that has already led to some dynamite discussions and will hopefully lead to more. As a festival, we have had considerable experience with free programming--about 1/3 of the festival has always been free to attend. As we mentioned before, we’ve been piloting Free Range Art for several years now and in fact, some of our all-time favorite Fusebox projects have been part of our Free Range Art pilot program. Which raises an interesting question: how do we accurately place a value on an experience? Why is this one project free and this other project $20 when I got something equally (if not more) profound from the free performance?
Part of our research to develop FREE RANGE ART included surveys and conversations with audiences and artists around this very topic. But we have only scratched the surface. The question of value and art is a question we want to explore throughout the festival - this IS exactly the conversation we want to have in April 2014.
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