By Park Jin-hai
Crowdfunding has emerged as a new important funding source for artists, especially for those who have been excluded from state subsidies because they are critical of the government.
Although crowdfunding may be nothing new to popular art projects, it has been expanding its reach to non-commercial arts, including theaters and exhibitions.
Last year, the industry held a five-month-long collaborative project called "Bill of Rights 2016 — Dismissal of Censorship," where 20 theaters jointly staged 21 plays between June and October on the theme of government censorship against artists.
In 2015 when director Park Geun-hyeong, whose 2013 play "Frog" which mocks President Park Geun-hye and her father Park Chung-hee, was excluded from subsidies, government suppression of artists' freedom of expression peaked to the point that a public theater closed right in the middle of a performance while the audience was watching.
The government claimed the play was reminiscent of the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014.
In protest, the "Bill of Rights 2016" openly rejected any government subsidies and instead raised funds through donation-based crowdfunding on Tumblbug, a local crowdfunding platform for the creative arts.
Unlike equity crowdfunding that shares profits with investors, those backers of donation-based crowdfunding receive token rewards in return.
Yet, 337 people anonymously supported the project over two months, raising over 45 million won, surpassing the initial target of 42 million won.
Tumblbug says two-thirds of 350 crowdfunding projects — in the category of performing arts including dance, theater, musicals and festivals — have succeeded in raising an accumulated 770 million won in funding as of Jan. 3 since it was launched in 2011.
One half of its 475 projects in the category of fine arts, including exhibitions and public art, have succeeded, raising over 124 million won during the period.
"Compared with 2015, last year has seen the amount of donations double and the number of donors, in particular, has more than tripled," said Yeom Jae-seung, co-founder of Tumblbug.
On the mobile messenger KakaoTalk's crowdfunding platform Story Funding, 173 projects were about the arts, accounting for 20 percent of all projects, as of Jan. 7. They include a "Memorial Bench" project to pay tribute to victims of the Sewol ferry tragedy.
Another Tumblbug project "Little Girl Statue," modeled after the comfort woman statue standing in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, received 266 million won from over 9,000 supporters, nearly triple the initial target amount.
This project raised a record amount of money and participants in any given time for the company.
Human rights activist Go Sang-man's ongoing project for the play "A Private's Mother," telling the truth-finding story over the suspicious death of a soldier slated to be staged in May, is receiving strong public support as well. Over 1,600 people donated to the project and accumulated 44 million won, 63 percent of the target amount, as of Jan. 7.
"Compared with 2015, last year saw the size of donations double and the number of donors, in particular, has more than tripled," Yeom said.