Fashion workshops are organised in North Tilburg to explore identity

Cultural productions have received public funding as part of the welfare state. However in recent decades publicly funded arts institutions became under pressure to quantify the social benefit they bring to the society. Questioning the established canon and redefining the purpose of art and artistic expressions led to reevaluate traditional funding processes also at local level. This is how the municipality of Tilburg within its UIA project ForwArt has started on its journey to experiment with quadratic funding mechanism for art production. But what is quadratic funding and what is it good for?

A strong public debate unfolded in the late 1990s when the Royal Opera House in London was under redevelopment supported largly by the lottery fund whether it can be justified to spend public money (money from the man in the street) to be channeled into such a specialist area, into an exquisite form of art which will reach only a very small fraction of the society. Do the masses have to support the entertainment of the few?

Arguments were many on both sides. That the purpose of the art is enobling and elevating and that public funding should go to institutions which maintain European cultural art forms and thus opera; while public efforts should be given to maintain the established artistic canons. In this viewpoint opera was one of the cornerstones of culture to elevate the spirit of the citizens and if people are not receptive enough and not attending opera than education shoud step in to fill the gap. On the other hand other people saw it as an interference with market operations. This more populist theory of artistic value argued that the purpose of art is to entertain the masses and the realm of art should be the marketplace and should be organised as any other business area. They wrote about elitist control and the lack of opportunity for ordinary people to go to these performances. The debate was really fierce since the genre of opera divides even the upper middle class, which otherwise has a high cultural consumption level.

Debates also fuelled traditional art institutions to make real attempts to open up their doors to more people with varied programmes and lower ticket prices. The tide also made national museums to provide free entry, while traveling pedagogical and art educational programmes were to pull down accessibility issues both in terms of geography and art consumption.

It is not only institutions but whole sectors which cry for re-evaluation of public funding. The Arts Council England has been heavily criticised over the imbalances between the different art forms, jazz and pop music receiving disproportionately less support than more classical music forms while equally contributing to the national economy. As a response to growing criticism over the distribution of funds between art forms arts councils accross Europe started to include the social objectives and wider access to arts as a requisite for funding. Democratisation of art forms is discernible in this statement of Arts Council England from 2019 “we do not consider that certain types or scales of artistic activity are inherently of higher quality or value than others”. This process also led to a higher level of uncertainty on what is worth for public funding.

So what should be the theory behind public financing art if any? Which type of art is worth financing? The one which provokes established roles? The one which brings in common good or the one which entertaines most people?

ForwArt project brings a new definition of art and culture into the picture which might be able to serve as a starting point also to redefine and re-evaluate public art financing practices - at least at municipal level. ForwArt project re-define the notion of culture as an identity-building process in which at-risk youth from North Tilburg construct, through rt, new identities about who they are. Understanding, nourishing and expressing identity. This requires a radical turn-around from art institutions, art activities should not be found within institutions, but institutions and art groups might support the self-expression of young individuals. Obviously this re-definition questions traditional art-financing mechanisms as well.

How can we build up a financial scheme which can equally take in the genuine preferences of the local inhabitants without being patronising and at the same time not being pushed towards the tastes of the wealthy? The ForwArt project found a new opportunity with the Qaudratic Funding mechanism promoted by Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Bitcoin magazin and E Glen Weyl and pledged to experiment locally this radically innovative funding sheme within the project.

Quadratic Funding mechanism provides a methodology for public co-financing public goods, such as cultural activities not only according to the total amount of money donated but also taking into account the number of people donating, thus taking into account the general interest in that public good. The theory published in 2018 within the paper ‘Liberal Radicalism: A Flexible Design For Philanthropic Matching Funds’ argues that the model allows to choose the projects/public goods/art performances/etc most valued by the community by magnifying individual contributions. It incentivizes individuals to voluntarily contribute amounts that together signal to a government how much society as a whole values a public good.

This more egalitarian crowdfunding mechanisms is using a simple and elegant mathematical calculus: it takes the square root of individual contributions, calculate the average of all square root of contributions, takes it back to its square and uses it as the ratio for dividing the available public match funding between the different projects. Maybe sounds a bit technical, but in facts flattens out individual hights of contributions. This mechanism is half way between the 1 person-1 vote principle and the 1 dollar- 1 vote principle. This funding mechanism is superior to the 1 person-1 vote principle since it requires individual effort/contribution and thus also generate private matchfunding. However it cannot be ruled by a few wealthy individuals who, through their large donations could rule the participatory process and could get the most public funds allocated to their preferred outcome. A very straightforward example is a choir. Choirs usually are not the winners of public funds, they are regarded as voluntary organisations and usually are at the end of the funding lists. However if quadratic match-funding would be introduced, high number of choir members' smaller contributions would trigger a higher level of public match-funding.

A simple explanation about the mathematical model can be found here 


How will quandratic funding come into picture in North Tilburg? Residents in North Tilburg area has a lower participation level in art and cultural activities than city average. This also means that public support provided for art performances in the city does not reach these residents equally. ForwArt artistic partners (Het Zodelijk Toneel, Corpo Maquina and Fashion Clash) have been working in the last 1,5 years to explore the area, engage with local youth, develop artistic talents and support their self expression as a way towards social transformation. This work has triggered many interests in the area: individuals, smaller groups, artists, dancers, singers and other formations started to ask for higher visibility and some form of support. It shows that the project evolves in a very positive way, since these enhanced artistic activities and desires to perform are a sign of strengthened identity, which is the main goal of the project. The municipality will develop a funding mechanism, register art performances and allocate cc. 30-40 000 EUR to performances and groups according to the quadratic funding mechanism and at the same time crowdfund some extra support for artistic activities. In this way the residents will be able to express what art forms and performances are most valuable for them which will definitely influence the city's art policy. If this experiment will be successful the city might revise its entire art funding mechanism and thus Tilburg could be the first city to fully introduce this more egalitarian and more democratic way of art funding in Europe and experiment with a funding scheme which puts social benefit and social acceptance to its core.

About this resource

KRAVALIK, Zsuzsanna UIA Expert
Tilburg, The Netherlands Small sized cities (50k > 250k)
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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