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Artists can make money online – if they benefit from race and class privilege

Tiara_artselloutWriter and performer Creatrix Tiara, who has tried using the internet to earn money out of her art, wonders if it's really possible if you're lacking in the privilege department.

15 May 2011

Every so often there will be an article about how artists don’t need to go through traditional gatekeepers anymore. Bugger record labels or publishers - people are making money through direct distro! Look at Amanda Palmer or Seth Godin! And so on.

But there is another gatekeeper that’s harder to knock down & that no one talks about: PRIVILEGE.

Notice how every example is White, Western, middle class. People who probably won’t find it too difficult to find resources to support them while they create. But not everyone is able to find grants, loans, supportive flexible jobs, be connected to the right networks - mostly for external reasons like race or class.

Success online largely relies on marketing. That’s assuming you don’t have anything else cutting into your art time, like a job or a person to care for. Marketing takes skills and temperaments that not everyone has or cares for. Some people suggest that you teach or create workshops or coach. But again, teaching and coaching take skill that not everyone has. People like Kevin Kelly talk about finding your 1000 True Fans – but then assume that that number is achievable for everyone if they all did the same thing.

The work you need to do to be able to survive online can be draining and out-of-reach for those that ironically need the most effort. Why? Because the system could already be against you from the beginning.

Take the saga of Feminism FOR REAL, a collection of essays discussing academia's inabilities to connect with grassroots and marginalised feminist movements. Despite their best efforts at marketing, the book did not get picked up by as many mainstream feminist bloggers as expected – which led to rousing discussions online about how some bloggers and writers have an advantage in getting promoted over others simply because they are in the 'right' social circles, mostly out of class and race privilege, how it's hard enough for a book written and edited mostly by minorities to be picked up by a publisher with a bigger PR budget, and how the rules for marketing and publicity seem to be written to exclude people who don't come from the 'right' background.

This was especially poignant in the light of other discussions and exposes in the past of White feminist bloggers plagiarising the work of non-White bloggers, without credit or recognition – when said non-White bloggers have spent years developing bodies of work for very little credit.

And when they do get recognised, it's often to fill in a tokenistic spot in a panel or to be a superficial gesture to diversity – but how often do the more mainstream and popular blogs make an honest effort to feature their not-as-well-known colleagues?

Why is it easier for Jessica Valenti to get book deals out of her blogging experiences and be recognised as a symbol of online feminism than Jessica Yee and her co-writers – when they have both contributed tons to contemporary feminist thought?

And a personal account: by all accounts I thought did everything right to get the name out about San Fran Plan, my three-month arts residency and creative sexytimes adventure in the Clitoris of the World . I guest-posted on related blogs, reached out to queer press and organisations everywhere, and even got plugged on the websites of key names such as Jiz Lee and the Australian Sex Party. I've spent plenty of time talking about the Plan on my various social media networks – even now as I am about a month away from my trip. I’m not sure what else I could have done that didn’t cost me more money than it’ll earn, especially since traditional avenues of grants and jobs were closed to me (due to my bridging visa).

I didn’t even break $1000.

Look at the people profiled on the blogs of crowdfunding sites Kickstarter (which is USA-only by design due to how Amazon Payments work), IndieGoGo, RocketHub. How many go beyond White Western middle-class hipster? How many go out of their way to profile projects that wouldn't be picked up by other similar media outlets, that didn't look like something out of Frankie or Dazed and Confused?

When people commented that queer women's media website Autostraddle’s first calendar project was lacking diversity, the editors said “make your own”. Yes and reach the same large following how exactly?

As many of the posts on the 508-comments-and-growing thread on Feministe's post (related to Feminism FOR REAL) point out, the idea of “fill in the gap” or “make your own” isn't always feasible for everyone because not everyone is given the same tools, level playing field, or audience to make it worth their while.

People talk about no gatekeepers, but what about the ones that will never be torn down as long as humans exist?

Creatrix Tiara (formerly Tiara the Merch Girl) is an associate editor with The Scavenger, and would spend all her time on creative sexytimes adventures if she could find a way to fund it in perpetuity.


-1 #3 Harvey Rabbit 2012-05-24 08:08
First, some information about who I am. My skin color is white. I am American, Jewish, female, queer, disabled and have recently relocated to Berlin, Germany where I do not speak the language but feel I have a better chance of gaining independent financial success than I did in the US.
I found your article offensive and whiny. Life is hard. Life as an artist is even harder, and yes, privilege exists, but the amount of time one spends bitching about privilege and "it's not fair" is valuable time you could be spending getting important and productive things done. Your target, Amanda Palmer, is a woman. No matter what your skin color or nationality, it's hard for women to get ahead in this world. A little bit of "You go, girl!" Would be nice. Secondly, Amanda Palmer hasn't just sat around and waited for this shit to happen. She has probably failed a lot! She has probably had things fall through and had things not work out many times. And then she has gotten back up and tried again. And again. And again.
My own projects don't always work out. I am really, really poor. There are people out there who have it easier than I do, who have privileges that I don't have that makes it easier for them to succeed. YOU probably have privileges that make you a more likely candidate for success then me. But will I have a tantrum on the internet when a more able-bodied person works hard (but maybe not as hard as me) makes it big and I am still using my bedroom as a rehearsal/sewin g studio and getting paid in drink tickets? No! I will say, "You go, girl! I hope it's my turn next!"
I had a small but successful Kickstarter campaign last year and do you know, it was a lot of work! But I made it. And when I have another one, maybe it will be for more money, and hopefully I will make it again. I'm really tired of people bitching about privilege. After a while, it all just sounds like a big pity party. "Waa, life's not fair!" No, it's not. It's not fair at all! Life is hard, especially for any type of minority. So, you know what you do? You deal with it! You quit bitching and you figure out constructive, practical solutions.
At least, that's how this minority girl is trying to handle it.
+1 #2 RVCBard 2012-04-17 14:35
Here via Racialicious. I'm glad I'm not the only one who notices that the success doesn't necessarily come to the most interesting or most crucial projects. But there is a lot to be said that the lack of official gatekeepers is a tremendous equalizing force.

I'm one of those people who does not fit the White Western middle-class hipster mold. I'm a queer Black women from the South who's barely scraping by in Brooklyn. The $1 Play Project ( was meant to gain the attention of more people like me who want to see more stories told from this perspective. Despite people saying they want and need more of these sorts of projects, I don't see many of them really taking off.

I'm of many minds about this. All in all, I'd like for the enthusiasm people show for my and my work (and for those in a similar situation) to translate into enough funding to make that happen. Yet I do notice that not fitting the mold is a serious impediment to that. How do we change this? How do we transform this?
0 #1 Creatrix Tiara 2012-04-17 00:39
Just a note to update the link to the discussion on Autostraddle/in clusive vs exclusive:

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