Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Paying For The MFA: An New Approach

25 year-old Denis wants to attend the MFA program at Hollins in the fall, but can't afford to go. Sound familiar? Denis's solution, though, is new. He decided to do some internet fundraising. He writes on his blog:
Instead of asking people to loan me money for school, I'm now asking them to simply give me money. To that extent, I've created a fundraising page on fundable, and if you can spare $10, please pledge towards my goal. Since I can't get a loan and there is no way my parents can pay my tuition, I'll have to rely on the kindness of strangers.
You can check out his fundraising site directly here. At time of writing, Denis only had $10 in contributions. Is this because his campaign is brand new (launched 7/13/09) or because there's a recession on, or because this idea simply isn't going to work?

There's also this article, over at Publisher's Weekly, about writer and blogger Deanna Zandt, who, after signing a deal for her first book that provided no advance, decided to "crowdfund" the money she needed to write over the summer. It helps that her topic is "...writing about the power of social media to shift perceptions and cultural values." She's been pretty successful so far, it seems - you can read her thoughts and feedback on the process (plus tips for others who are considering going the the same route) here.

What do you think? Are Denis and Deanna smart to try this approach? Is their initiative laudable? Do their requests for funds seem justified to you? And is this a sign of things to come?

Cross posted from Boolah.

21 comments:

patri said...

I'm no tax-expert, but I think it's cheaper to accrue interest on a loan than what you have to pay in taxes on donated money.

Emma Jewel said...

There was also a story a few years back about a kid who put something up on ebay, asked for a donation of one penny to fund his college education - I don't remember how much money he got but it was considerable and he was able to pay for at least his first year in college.
It's possible, but I think a smaller dollar amount is more attractive, and then people are also more likely to donate more than one penny - this student had several people donate fifty or more dollars - I wouldn't say "please give me $10" which in some cities approximately an hour's pay for someone with no college education for no work - asking for a quarter or a penny isn't too much.

Amy said...

Does this mean we get to bring back the patronage system?

I do have a friend who paid for a summer course by asking everyone for ten bucks. She, however, had every intention of paying it back.

Mozelle said...

Well, I certainly would feel uncomfortable about doing it. If I can't afford to do something, and I don't want to take out a loan, it doesn't make sense to me to appeal to the masses to fund my dreams and desires. How does he intend to "repay" those who donate? By writing something really awesome that changes the world and thus all of his donors benefit from the world being a better place? With actual cash, after he writes something really awesome that changes the world? I don't like borrowing five bucks from a friend without paying it back as soon as possible, and I would never ask a stranger for the money for a purpose like this.

I applied to 14 schools. I got accepted at 5. Four of them offered no funding, and one offered a full ride, so I took that one. If I hadn't received any offers of funding at all, I wouldn't be going at all, simple as that. Is this a generational thing? I'm not geezerly or anything, but I can't think of anyone my age or older who would think begging on the internet for individual enrichment is a valid method of funding one's education.

How about he defers and applies for the Jacobs Fellowship, which is based on need? Or other grants and fellowships out there for arts and humanities. There aren't a lot, but they do exist, including local foundations that he might be able to tap for funds.

This topic has the potential to spawn some ugly arguments.

Vince said...

necessity is the mother of invention. he's upfront about the purpose of the money. good luck.

Jennifer said...

I can't imagine that he'll actually make much money this way.

allerson said...

I agree with Mozelle - I only had intentions of going for an MFA if I was fully funded. Or even partiall funded, and could afford the rest. I'd be too embarrassed to beg even my parents to pay for it. Maybe I'm naive, but why can't he get a loan? If you can't get a loan, maybe an MFA isn't the best thing to go for... It sounds fun and I'm sure workshops are helpful and all, but it's really not worth much...

John said...

If people are feeling moved to donate, then donate to something that's actually worthwhile--there are many medical, religious, disaster relief, animal, etc. causes out there that really need donations. If these people are legit, then at best, it's sheer laziness. At worst, it's a scam. OR both. There are tons of options, not the least of which is to find a school that you can afford or attend part-time while you WORK. Remember what that is? Work? Or are you also going to beg for grades? Or research papers? Or poems? Or stories? Grow up.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bsquared86 said...

I don't see what the big deal is . . . seems quite simple. Give b/c you want to give or don't give, lol.

Mr Lomez said...

It seems more than a bit odd to me that someone would begrudge this guy for trying to get a few bucks for his tuition.

Some kid approached me in San Francisco yesterday asking if I'd by a candy-bar to help fund his high-school wrestling team. I told the kid to push toes. But I hardly blame him for asking.

"If people are feeling moved to donate, then donate to something that's actually worthwhile--there are many medical, religious, disaster relief, animal, etc. causes out there that really need donations."

Good grief, man. Get off your high-horse. When did you become the arbiter of what does and does not constitute a "worthwhile" charity?

I happen to think this project will fail, and as a matter of principle, I personally won't be donating – I'm not much of a giver. All that said, more power to you, Denis.

Smoke-oi said...

Where's your sense of entitlement people? We're artists!!! Fuck yeah do I expect people to pay for me, otherwise I'd be an investment banker or something like that

tanya.debuff said...

Geez, you guys! Go Denis!! Good luck to you, I hope you get it all paid for! Donations aren't supposed to be paid back, that's the point. If you don't like the idea, don't do it and don't donate to Denis, but don't fault him for it! Lighten up people!

Tree said...

I wish Denis all the best.

As a response to those who think that people should donate to more "worthwhile causes:" Why do you think this country/political climate is so art-starved? Because it isn't considered "worthwhile."

Nathalie said...

But I think the point someone else made above is a valid one - no one needs an MFA to write. The lack of an MFA (a very recent invention) has never stopped anyone writing a novel or a screenplay or a collection of poetry. It's not a matter of being reluctant to fund art or artists, but a reluctance to fund something that increasing numbers of writers believe, entirely erroneously, that they need - and the reason they believe they need it is because universities under financial pressure (especially the continually underfunded humanities) are marketing MFA/MAs in Creative Writing as necessary for a career as a writer.

Good luck to Denis, obviously, but I do find the increasingly widespread assumption that Writers Need Writing Qualifications from a University both completely ridiculous and rather alarming. (The extremely successful writer-in-residence at a university where I used to teach once said to me half-seriously that he was beginning to feel weird about not being a writing MA graduate!)

I'm doing it the old-fashioned way and have taken a year off from my job, to write a novel while living very frugally on savings...

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Natalie,

I don't agree with your observations, though of course you're entitled to them. I follow MFA advertising quite closely--it's one of the areas I've attempted to become expert in--and frankly only a small number of MFA programs actively advertise themselves at all (apart from having a website on their university's server and appearing at the occasional conference). Of those that do advertise--for instance, in Poets & Writers and The Writer's Chronicle--perhaps 75% or more are not among the nation's 140 full-res programs, but rather the nation's 50 or so low-res programs. Consequently, their "pitch" is not that anyone "needs" an MFA to write; in fact, their ads are geared toward writers who a) have the money to afford an unfunded low-res program, because b) they're currently slaving away full-time in a lucrative job, and therefore c) often wonder what it would be like to "indulge" their dream of being a writer by taking some actual classes in creative writing. The students low-res programs that advertise are gearing their ads to are non-traditional students; these are not wide-eyed teens trying to figure out "what makes a writer" (so to speak). If you spend much time in online MFA communities--and I've spent 3+ years now--you'll almost never hear anyone say that a writer "needs" an MFA, but rather that a writer can benefit from the funded time to write that a full-res MFA program will sometimes offer. Everyone realizes you can write without an MFA (even if you can't teach at the college level without one, which is a whole separate reason some people might feel an MFA is critical for them personally); the thing is, though, writing while working a 60-hour-a-week job--as I did when I was an attorney for six years--is not the same as attending, say, the four-year, fully-funded art school program at University of Alabama. That's an entirely different animal, and to imply (not that I'm saying you are) that one can't improve one's writing much more under those conditions than (for instance) while appearing in court five days a week would be very naive indeed.

Don't confuse the evident and ever-expanding popularity of the MFA with any sort of widespread belief that the MFA has become a prerequisite for being a talented and productive poet or writer. It's true, though, that those who find time and space in their lives to improve themselves as artists--and that time and space is hard to find indeed--are more likely to blossom.

Best,
Seth
Co-author, The Creative Writing MFA Handbook

SisterRay73 said...

Why should strangers pay for someone's education - particularly a MASTER'S degree? Come on. It's one thing for people to help fund those who can't even afford to attend regular college, particularly those in disadvantaged situations, but asking people to pay for your Master's is absurd and offensive. This is like how a relative of mine is asking for donations so he can make his expensive movie project for his BFA. It's ridiculous.

There ARE much worthier causes to donate to out there - I think people who need help to LIVE and need money for food and shelter take MAJOR precedence over extraneous college degrees. I would be ashamed to do something like this. It's a disgusting, slippery slope - saying "my life and artistic work is much more important than you holding onto your hard-earned money". If you can't get a loan, and you can't afford it - you don't go. That's it.

And this is not about "not supporting the arts". If you want to support the arts, donate to one of the many programs that promotes music and art and writing in public schools, or a museum, not some random-ass college student.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

Hmmm - heated opinions on both sides. Interesting. I'm more on the "I don't see why anyone else should pay for that" side of the fence, myself, in case anyone was wondering, but it's all moot anyway: I just checked Denis's fundraising page and he only has $70. He won't be getting too far with that.

tanya.debuff said...

If I had money, Denis, I'd totally give you some.

Kelly said...

This is kind of a side note, but many years ago when I was in drama school (in Australia), one of my classmates put an advertisement in the financial times in Sydney, asking for a "patron of the arts" to support her acting dream and pay her tuition for three years. A very wealthy businessman actually responded and PAID!!! -for two years. In the third year, no money was forthcoming, so she called his secretary to ask what had happened. And the secretary said, "Oh, he decided to chuck the rate race in and become an Angora sheep farmer in South Australia!" So you never know what happens if you simply ask...

Brian Clarvis said...

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