“Arts and Creatives, in crisis”. This is how the pandemic kicked-off, and the first solution was: hackathons. As we were used to organise hackathons and mentor teams, we offered to help artists. From the very start, few things become clear.
Firstly, Art people began to work side by side with Tech people. Sometimes, for the first time, having difficulties in finding a common language (but optimism, patience, and humour can get you through difficult times 😀 – about those experience we wrote here, here, and here).
Secondly, what in the beginning seemed to be the universal panacea “going-online-is-a-must”, soon, proved with flaws. Digitalisations means more than playing theater on zoom, and solutions were more complex than “get the tech-guy and let’s build overnight a website or marketplace to sell our services”.
Thirdly, it became more and more obvious that ‘arty’ people needed desperately… cash. Any cash. Most artists had no idea how and where to look for grants.
Some were organised for years in legal structures – usually non-profit- relying heavily on primarily EU funds, but also private donors, and knowing the language and mechanism to ‘Write&Win’. But musicians, actors, animators, directors, dancers, etc rely on temporary contracts from companies/institutions that were… closed. And those were the ones asking:
how to survive?
We started looking for grants and communities to help out artists, but most offers were not for individual artists. Except extremely few.
And this is how we discovered Kaleidoscope. And there, we discovered not only Grants, but an entire Community – producers, artists, companies, storytellers, directors, animators, so on – from different corners of the world working in VR. And we got to know the “guilty” one that gathered these wonderful people on one platform.
René comes from a family of artists, going back about five generations at least, and besides his deep appreciation and love for arts, he clearly understands the difficult part of being an artist. As he would say,
“I have a firsthand experience of what it’s like growing up a struggling poor artist, it’s a challenge. It’s been something that’s stuck with me, since I was a little kid”.
These struggles did not stop him to become a filmmaker for 10 years. But it gave him a motivation to try to find new ways to finance artists in an ‘up-and-coming’ industry: VR.
So, we talked with him about the communities he has build, financing for artists, but also about what film he would love to see made in VR (just some ideas in case you consider applying 😀 ), his advice to Lumiere brothers, but also to understand… “Why Virtual Reality”?
TVA: Why did you choose to be involved and help artists within the XR community?
René Pinnell: When I saw XR come around, it seemed like a really interesting opportunity to address some of the structural issues and how artists support themselves because VR and AR is a new industry. Long term, it is likely to become the dominant form of media that most people will consume. That means there’s going to be a whole new industry built up around that new medium and that is an opportunity to change the power structure.
So, outside the creative reasons, this was what excited me about VR, it seemed like an opportunity to change how business is done in Art and Entertainment. It is taking longer than a lot of people had hoped, but I still think that bet is the right bet.
We wanted to see if there was some other way that we could address the mission of helping artists become financially secure. And when the pandemic hit with its devastating effect, we wanted to do something that was more immediate and direct in terms of trying to get cash into the hands of artists.
We had been noodling around with this idea of grants for a while thinking about how we could do something in this space, and we decided that the time was NOW.
We spent three months building a prototype, where the community would fund the grant and select which project gets it.
We said to harness the goodwill of our community, to redistribute some cash to artists that are particularly in need and the community is most excited about.
And we launched that in May 2020 as just a basic prototype. And it did really well, we raised last year, over $100,000 for artists in the XR industry
TVA: And, indeed, that was really a great idea for a lot of artists, helping them to ‘survive-covid”…
René Pinnell: And…after, we decided to build a separate product that can take the idea of community funded and curated grants not just XR artists, but any artist.
So we built Artizen, and we launched it in February 2021.
We already closed the first grant; it was the Black Reality’s Grant that raised $18,371 and the winner was MINE project: a short narrative web-series that poignantly explores the timely theme of community versus individual survival. The Rise-Home Stories Project brings together multimedia storytellers and housing, land, and racial justice advocates to reimagine the past, present, and future of our communities by transforming the stories we tell about them.
Most of that was coming from small donations, and the project that one is going to premiere at Tribeca Film Festival.
Most funds are still VR and AR, because that’s the core of our audience, but we are actively opening New Grants in disciplines such as theatre, dance, sculpture, traditional Fine Arts.
I think there’s a really great opportunity to dramatically scale up how much funding is awarded via grants. Because grant funding is significant.
Globally, around $50 billion is invested in Art through grants, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total amount of money invested in art and entertainment, probably around 1% of the total funding.
If we can make grants very easy to create, submit and support, we can have grants become a really significant portion of artists’ funding. It would be great if we can build a marketplace around grants and bring the different parties together in a more efficient way.
TVA: I started to know you and the community you’ve built as Kaleidoscope and now, you transformed it into Artizen, so what will be the difference between Kaleidoscope and Artizen?
René Pinnell: Kaleidoscope started in 2015, and we’ve definitely dabbled in a lot of different things, but the mainstay of our business has always been hosting mostly private marketplace events where we curate a selection of work on a topic.
We invite industry people who are funding that type of work, and hope that some connections are made and projects are financed. That’s been fairly successful: we directly helped raise a little over $6 million, and the artists in our overall ecosystem raised a little more than $35 million.
So that works, and so we’re gonna keep doing that with Kaleidoscope where it’s going to be focused on VR and AR artists.
And right in the last year since the pandemic we’ve been doing exclusive events in virtual reality at the Museum of Other Realities which is the best venue to hold any kind of event in VR.
I think Kaleidoscope’s future is going to be a very close partnership with the Museum of Other Realities hosting events there that bring together virtual reality creators with people who can fund their work.
TVA: So, Kaleidoscope will remain a community for XR creators and focus on collaboration within industry, and Artizen is a tool/platform to scale up grants for all artists and creative, right?
RENÉ PINNELL: Yeah, exactly, Artizen is going to be within a couple of months, the largest marketplace for artists grants.
Grants are interesting, if you win a grant, it’s fantastic! But the process of applying for grants, it’s not very good, it is complicated and that’s why there’s an opportunity to make it more elegant. We’re trying to make the application process something that takes seconds, not weeks!
If you centralise the grant makers and the creators -that have a project profile – the only thing you’re doing is submitting your project. And you can submit to one of our grants in 30 seconds.
You just click the grants, hit the submit button and select one of the project profiles you’ve already created.
It should be that simple as opposed to having to fill out 30 pages of detailed bullshit to convince somebody.
TVA: And because we discussed grants, in art and creative industries, you can find a variety of business models – more or less sustainable.
XR is in the beginning and has the power to create its own way, so where do you see the artists in this “industry in the making”, relying on grants or a mix of funds, sales, etc or something completely new…?
RENÉ PINNELL: I’ll take it from the perspective of an individual artist – and this advice I would give to any artist working in any discipline.
The goal is to make your money from your work, and to have your creative work you want to do, and pay for your bills. And the biggest dream is to produce work that generates passive income for you such as royalties, paid downloads, streaming fee or basically any kind of income that can come into your bank account, while you sleep. That’s kind of the end goal.
For artists, that are just starting out, they will have to figure out the followings:
1. The first step to getting to financial freedom as an artist is to figure out how you sell your skills for money. And it would be good to figure out an area to specialise in (in case of VR, it would getting good at Unity or Unreal, 3D modelling, do basic programming, or 360 capture, etc) Then it’s a matter of doing contract work or gigs for other people that’s kind of the easiest way to get paid. There is a VR, AR industry that is using this technology for things outside of art and entertainment.
2. And while you are doing that, you need to be producing your own personal creative work on the side, and developing your voice as an artist. And, it’s really really important that you don’t get trapped in the loop of just selling your skills for money because that will be a treadmill, you can never get off. You have to force yourself to do the contract gigs to pay your bills, but make sure that on nights and weekends, you’re working on your own personal creative projects because that’s the only way that you’ll get to the next step.
3. And that next step will be: how do you get people to pay for your creative projects? Probably the easiest step is to try to raise money from grants, get into a festival – festivals have small cash that they’ll give you to complete your work, even if not you get exposure.
4. This is how you build a reputation as an artist. And if you build up your reputation, it gets easier and easier to convince other people to finance your work, whether that is through grants, companies, crowdfunding campaigns. Building up that reputation as an artist makes all of that process of raising money easier. And, eventually you can figure out how to quit your contract work all together and just focus on your personal projects. Also, reputation is based on a track record of producing work that makes an impact. And I think a good way to measure impact is the number of people who absolutely love or absolutely hate your work. So, just try to increase either of those. And, and you do that over the long run, and eventually you’ll get to a place where people are willing to pay for your creative work.
5. And one more thing, this is sort of just broad advice, doesn’t matter what industry you’re in: minimise your expenses. Really keep an eye on your expenses, especially when you start getting bigger and have paid contracts for stuff that you don’t really care about such as ads or whatever.
…Just pretend that you’re still a struggling artist that doesn’t have any money and you’ll get closer and closer to that goal of not having to do that kind of contract work anymore.
TVA: And that would be shortly about money. But, besides money – even though it is super-necessary – I think an important work you do at Kaleidoscope is the connections between different industry players.
I mean the winner of the Black Reality Grant did not only win $18.000, but also a place at Tribeca, which sometimes might be more important than cash.
So, it is those collaborations, partnerships possibilities which makes you unique in the ecosystem.
René Pinnell: Yeah, I think so too. With Kaleidoscope that was the main thing that we’re offering, those connections.
The value of getting featured in one of our events was to form new industry connections, and maybe meet some new artists that you collaborate with down the road. And so we want to keep all of that with artists and all that good value that you can generate by connecting those parties. A lot of the people that have won grants have also raised additional money, just from connections that happen on the platform.
TVA: Correct me if I am wrong, but I know that you are present on both sides of the world: US and Europe.
So, what are the advantages or disadvantages and how do you want to leverage these kinds of two continental connections?
René Pinnell: Actually, we are global. My co-founder is in London, we’ve got a producer in France who’s part of the company, I am in Portland. So, we take a very global perspective, and our members are similarly very global.
I think only 30% of our members are in the United States or Canada. The rest are in every country around the world, Europe is probably the second largest, but we have artists from Africa, South Central and South America.
Asia is probably the smallest area that we have right now. And, in the Middle East we need to do a better job of reaching out to artists there. But, we have some partnerships with VeeR, and started also with Korea, we just hired someone from Bangkok.
So we want to do a better job of reaching artists everywhere.
VeeR, a leading global VR content planform, invites artists worldwide to submit works for competition at VeeR VR Cinema at Cannes XR this year. DEADLINE April 23, 2021 at 7:00pm PST (FOR MORE INFO CLICK PHOTO)
TVA: We also feel more global trends for collaborations between artists. But, in terms of financing – as companies usually sponsor where their headquarters are – do you think financing will follow?
René Pinnell: I think everything is going to be less tied to geography, moving forward, including funding.
TVA: Running a business is with “ups and down”, and we all inevitably make mistakes. And it is the mistakes, and learning from mistakes that makes us stronger. As you have been in this field for several years, I’d like to ask you…
What was your biggest mistake that you made and the takeaway?
René Pinnell: My goodness :)), I’ve made so many mistakes! Because we’ve also produced a lot of content at Kaleidoscope, we would often sign on as an executive producer and help raise money in a more direct way. And that model worked well. But we ended up investing $200,000 of our own money into it, and then the project never took off. Well, it’s finally found a home and if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to raise a little bit more money and do a full version in 2022.
But the big takeaway that I had from that is to avoid putting your own money into your art projects. I think it’s a very seductive and slippery slope. “Well if no one else is gonna fund it, I’m gonna fund it”. And a lot of great stuff has come from that.
But it’s just very risky financially. And for me I think a better way to say: “I will invest my own time into my own work, but I will not invest my own money”.
And the process of having to convince others to give you money will sharpen skills you need because you do need to get good at sales and marketing as an artist, you have to know how to talk about your work to other people, to get them excited enough to invest in it, whether they’re investing their time or actual money.
TVA: A good books recommendation for artists?
René Pinnell: Since I have a two-years old kid, I am lucky if I get some sleep :))) Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harare, is the most influential book.
And then The Sovereign Individual, Davidson and Rees-Mogg, it was written in the late 90s, but it has so much relevance about where we are now.
TVA: A classical movie or theatre play that you would really want to see in VR?
René Pinnell: I think the interesting thing about VR is the promise of getting to live in a story world. One of my favourite films is The Third Man which is an old film noir. It is about a man’s investigation of a friend’s death that uncovers corruption in post-World War II Vienna.
TVA recommendation :D. Well, if you do decide that you would adapt this, consider also to apply for the grants… Chances can be higher. Or not! 😀
TVA: If you meet the Lumiere brothers, what would you ask them or what advice would you give them?
René Pinnell: Interesting question…I’m not really sure…. what advice would I give them?
I guess the advice I would have given them is to make stuff that an audience will pay for, figure out how to build a business around that.
Yeah, they were mostly like…discovering the technology.
So… maybe that would be the other route to figure out how to scale up your camera and projection system.
TVA: : If you would go to the Moon – just visiting – what would you take with you? ( 3 objects)
René Pinnell: Beside the picture of my kids and wife, I’d probably bring something to write – a little journal, – and then I’d bring some weed… 🙂
TVA: Could you name one or two persons with whom you would really like to sit down and chat? (from the broader art community)
René Pinnell: It is so hard, because in the XR world I feel like I am friends with all the people that made all my favourite works. And I get to talk to them which I’m really grateful for. TV is actually how I spend most of my time, these days, and music…
So, I’d love to hang out with the creators of The Wire, they’ve done so many amazing TV shows.
and … I’d love to chat with somebody like Willie Nelson. I interviewed him once for a film.
And in case you are looking for grants, we recommend to check regularly ARTIZEN platform
All visual materials were integrated with ARTIZEN consent ©ARTIZEN
links and info used for publication
Link for ARTIZEN GRANTS – https://www.artizen.fund/grants
Link for ARTIZEN Community: https://www.artizen.fund/
Link for KALEIDOSCOPE https://www.kaleidovr.com/
Link for Black Realities Grant https://www.artizen.fund/grant/black-realities-grant
Link for Grant Winner https://www.artizen.fund/project/mine–1615483404725/overview
Link for Tribeca Film Festival; https://tribecafilm.com/festival
Link for VeeR Presentation https://veer.tv/
Link for Cannes XR VeeR Future Award: Best Story https://www.artizen.fund/grant/cannes-xr-veer-future-award-best-story
Link for Cannes XR VeeR Future Award: Best Interactive; https://www.artizen.fund/grant/cannes-xr-veer-future-award-best-interactive