Awen is an organization dedicated to the cause of a living wage for artists. Its initial focus is the performing arts - music, theater, and dance, with a goal of expanding to other disciplines.
It proposes to make this a reality by advocating a new type of relationship that will rebalance the place of art from a commodity to a natural, completely essential part of human society that is a birthright to everyone.
Awen believes that the way to do this is to focus on a common foundation: the human joy of the arts. People who love, witness, and appreciate the raw power of what an arts experience can be.
Awen intends to focus on artists and audience as two sides of one whole. It will provide an interface to create shifting communities - pliable, evolving ‘villages’ consisting of creators, their work, and patrons.
I will never forget my first contact with a composer whose work had changed my life. I had assumed that there was a wall between content creators and me. Seeking to buy some of composer Daniel Lentz’s scores, I found myself in contact with the composer himself. This was someone whose music had opened up my perception and taken me to a new inner world I hadn’t experienced before. Daniel sent me many of his beautifully designed, giant scores rendered in calligraphy, and a conversation began that eventually evolved into a professional relationship and an ongoing friendship. I met and worked with some of the people who commissioned pieces from him. Suddenly the world of the arts wasn’t a scary, unapproachable thing anymore. Suddenly I realized that creators are people with families and personalities.
This is the type of relationship that has changed my life again and again, convinced me that I could be a creator myself, and that I believe can change the way the arts are understood and funded in society. I believe that if creators both established and emerging are able to have access to an empowered and economically emboldened community of patrons, and that this relationship becomes the economic basis for earning a living wage, both sides will be changed for the better, and the culture around the arts can evolve.
Patrons are people who collect or used to collect CD’s and Blu Rays. People who attend concerts. People who know what the arts - popular or otherwise - mean to them. People who gave their money to content before the proliferation of streaming services. More importantly, these patrons are people who want to step up their engagement with the arts and are open to a deeper, more personal, more thrilling experience. People who believe in the possibility of looking past the divide of ‘artist’ and ‘audience’ and instead standing up as equal partners in the creation of an arts happening. Who are open to commissioning new works.
Awen will also focus on artists themselves, providing a toolkit to build families of patrons, beginning with the people they know personally. Artists can start by inviting everyone who knows them as people to become a new kind of collector - a collector of unique, original work that is funded in the way a new piece of visual art is. A family of commissioners. As more work is created and distributed, the artist’s family will grow, and there can be a positive feedback loop between their emerging career in the physical world and their communication, networking, and relationships carried out online.
The long-term vision for Awen is an online social network where artists and patrons can interact. A place separated from the turmoil of Facebook. Artists display as much as they want on the site, but the real place of distribution will be their own websites, where they can curate the experience and business model personally. Patrons will be able to join and view a news feed that is literally a catalog of new work that has either been released or is available for commissioning.
Patrons in exchange for their commissions will receive merchandise offered by the artists - physical CD’s, scores - documents of the new work they have enabled to be created. Each artist’s economic family will grow and shift as more people encounter their work through the network and in the physical world. Artists would have access to tools like timekeeping, bookkeeping, portfolio management, and contract negotiation.
Eventually this network will scale so that larger scale collaborative projects, as well as shifting collectives of artists based around different styles or content themes can be deployed. A writer with their commissioning family pairs with a director, actors, crew, and a venue organized on Awen to deploy a large scale piece. Each new account chooses their ‘character’ or role - a gamified arts economy that takes place both online and in the real world. The effect of this is to take take pressure away from the arts establishment and create a more equal playing field that will be more decentralized, innovative, communicative, localized, and resilient while allowing an additive, organic approach to creating work both large and small. Awen’s purpose is not to ‘destroy the establishment’ but rather collaborate with the industry to give new tools to artists and audience members.
The prime result of this will be a living wage for creators that comes out of reversing the channel of career aspiration from feeling the economic need to chase fame and appease gatekeepers to organically building an economically sustainable community around their work beginning with those who actually know them personally, and building that family as their work develops and their audience builds.
The first step is this document - an open source framework that can be used by artists and patrons to begin building this infrastructure in their lives. All artists have to do is say that, yes, I am dedicated to earning a basic living wage for my work, and begin to build their arts families through traditional means like letters, email, Facebook, and phone calls. They can experiment with business models on their site. They can point their patrons to this manifesto and invite them to be a part of it.
What is being advocated is looking to the idea of the visceral power of the arts - the inspiration that the Celts called Awen - and use this idea to rebalance how art interfaces with the community and how it - and the people who make it - are sustained economically.
Awen is merely an idea and a list of names and email addresses. It is not a business, a broker, or service of any kind. It assumes no liability of any kind for relationships that develop from this site. It is recommended that a legal contract be drawn up between all parties involved in a commissioning relationship. For more information about this, visit newmusicusa.org.