I believe everyone has innate aptitudes and attraction to some type of work, and that with persistence and equal opportunity we should be able to advance in our chosen field. I believe everyone would be happier in careers that aligned with their interests and talents and put their unique package of human traits to best use. Happier people are more thoughtful, and make better workers, friends, parents, partners, and lovers – which yields stronger support networks and healthier relationships. These conditions tend to produce well adjusted children, emotionally intelligent adults, and less of that urge to escape life’s disappointments that often leads to addiction, denial, stagnation, or abuse.
Since the Industrial Revolution education has become a homogenized process where creativity and individuality are discouraged in favor of college preparation and teaching a limited set of job skills. The old world systems of patronage and apprenticeship once used to foster the talents of students, artists, and artisans of the trades were riddled with abuse, but I think we threw the baby out with the bathwater when they were dismantled. Currently too many people with an innate attraction to the arts and other creative or hands on endeavors are told to ignore that magnetic pull and instead focus on the practical. They choose a job from some list of degrees that (theoretically) lead to high salaries later. Or at the very least pick a fallback degree! Many trudge through 6 to 12 years of education studying things they don’t care about, become entrenched in debt, and then can’t find a job that pays enough to repay that debt – or can’t get a job in their field of study at all. I look around and see a massive epidemic of unhappiness – apathy, depression, addiction – and I think it’s closely related to the bitterness of that no-win path.
We may have decades of work ahead of us reforming our education system and restoring some workable socially conscious version of the apprentice system, but for now at least – at last – we have Patreon, where creators can promote their ongoing work and projects to the public at large, and folks who enjoy original work and fun new things can easily funnel a bit of cash toward projects they like. There’s no getting around the need for education reform and shifts in these long held cultural beliefs about what work means and what makes a worthwhile career, but Patreon doesn’t require changes from any of those massive institutions. It starts here and now, offering a channel for anyone with regular creative output and some internet savvy to promote their work and garner financial support. Patreon is a genius idea, because it takes the staggering power of instant connectivity and worldwide exposure and distribution and puts it directly in the hands of creative folks so they can build an audience of patrons to support them in their day to day creative work. It rewards creators for producing, but doesn’t penalize anyone for off days or weird works. Some project may turn off some patrons and prompt them to pull their support, but the impact is buffered when there are many small dollar patrons rather than one big sponsor.
I love that patronage can be set and controlled easily. When a fan finds their favorite blogger, podcaster, or YouTuber on Patreon, they can choose to become a patron. Most creators have different tiers that act a bit like subscription levels, each with perks for patrons at that level. In many cases there’s a tier set as low as one dollar per month or per creation. The monthly fee gets automatically deducted from the patron’s account and paid to the creator each month (minus fees), allowing independent and niche creators to make a steady living and even out the ups and downs of the creative market. The barrier to patronage is so low and management is so easy and low risk that just about anyone can participate as a patron, which in itself is an empowering experience that gives me, and I imagine many supporters, a sense of pride and even participation in the creative process. Another exciting aspect of Patreon is its suitability to quirky niche creators and small audiences. Mainstream media venerates established beauty standards, celebrity, visibility, and shock value, but I feel the diversity of our culture is better represented, enriched, and recreated by a full spectrum of diverse output. Our need for representation and a much higher number of people creating new things doing what they love with passion, rather than a few monolithic mega-celebrities supported and controlled by corporate interests, recycling the same old ideas.
This is where I would normally make some kind of caveat regarding any weaknesses, failings, or points for future improvement of a thing I’m evaluating, but honestly I don’t see any yet. I’ve never had a single issue with payments or communication with Patreon since I joined the site in July of 2015. Even in the early days when they heard of the threat of a possible security issue their timing, handling and communication was impeccable, and my data was never exposed to any actual risk. I haven’t regretted supporting any of the Creators on my list. I’ve already recommended it to several of my creative friends and promised to back them if they ever create a profile on the site, and I’m considering creating a creator profile myself to support my writing, if I can free up enough time and sustain my courage and persistence. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: I did it!