Culture Coin

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'A concept incubated by Howlround, a Center for Theater Commons, Culture Coin aims to transform the sweat equity that greases the wheels of the cultural commons into a driver of shared abundance. Culture Coin is an alternative currency that confers value to the borrowed or bartered resources working artists use, as well as the hours of labor devoted to underfunded passion projects. In the words of Vijay Mathew, Associate Director at Howlround, the goal of the project is to create “an intentional system that would transform volunteerism and sweat equity into a renewable resource.”

The concept echoes numerous sharing economy and P2P projects in recent years. While artists have reaped the benefits of crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter campaigns and the like favor one-off projects. They're not a model for long-term economic sustainability within the arts. Culture Coin tightens the focus, but expands the scope of intent. “Culture Coin is an intentional system for people to look at what are the latent, untapped resources that could be made to benefit artists,” says Mathew, “and compensate artists for their sweat equity by providing them with resources that can sustain them even longer.


Culture Coin is one out of seven finalists in the Business Unusual National Challenge, a funding and crowdsourcing initiative by non-profit ArtsFwd. Until July 25th, 2012, Howlround has issued a call for feedback on its two research questions.

While the concept is sound, Mathew acknowledges that the details will require much more discussion to produce an alternative currency that delivers real value to working artists. He asks, “What are the latent resources in the arts sector and community and what does the arts community need apart from cash to support their work and lives?” In addition, there are big questions about how an alternative currency for artists would work, on an economic and P2P basis.

“The mechanics of it all is a huge piece to figure out,” he says. During the crowdsourcing phase of the Challenge, he says, “We’re hoping to get all kinds of people — scholars, economists, people who have been working with alternative economies — to come in and help us with this.”

The Culture Coin proposal is focused on the needs of theater artists at this time, but on a broader scale the concept illuminates the need for a sustainable economic model to support the larger cultural commons. To make artists of all stripes less reliant on the noblesse oblige of non-profit and academic institutions, and instead thrive, thanks to the wealth of shared skills and resources available.

“We want to get away from the idea that institutions define our culture,” says Mathew. “Instead, artists can look to each other to support each other’s art. We don’t always have to be looking to the institutions for support.” (