The Consortium isn’t a new idea — it’s a revival of some of the major principles that spurred the Renaissance. It’s a new patronage, encouraging interdisciplinary study and a quest for mastery above the commercialization of individual works.

The Mission

To swim against the current of cultural waters that insist a work of art is only successful if it makes a lot of money.

To see an artist slaving away on a work as something other than the purchase of a lottery ticket.

To enable an artist to make a living while honing her craft to a razor’s edge of quality.

The Consortium is a nonprofit organization based out of Oklahoma City, OK, which supports the arts, encourages the development of local artists, and generates high-quality works of art that directly benefit the local community.

How it Works

Many artists will tell you that they were forced at some point to make the vicious decision between pursuing their art or getting a “real” job. The most honest of them will tell you that this was akin to being give the choice of which limb to amputate. The Consortium sees the whole question as a decision of a bygone era and seeks to answer it with a model from an even more bygone era.

We’re trying to establish a new patronage model. The Consortium hires serious, talented artists to work full-time developing their craft and producing great works. In other words, the Consortium serves as a traditional employer, providing standard full-time benefits (health insurance, retirement accounts, vacation time and sick leave…) as well as competitive salaries. Working on art becomes the artist’s “real” job.

While the Consortium reserves a small portion of its artists’ time for “Consortium projects” — interdisciplinary projects under the creative direction of Consortium master artists — the majority of our artists’ time is spent in self-directed pursuit of skills and projects that interest them. Their salaries are based on the quality of the work and how much the work is improving rather than the fickle demands of mass appeal or financial return. Consortium artists are free to focus on their true vision and pure expression with disregard for corporate interests.

In that model, obviously the artists win with the Consortium. Even better, the community wins. And the culture wins as well.

Every work of art funded by the Consortium exists immediately in the public domain. No copyright lawsuits. No usage restrictions. Consortium e-Books and mp3s can be traded freely without legal repercussion. Consortium photographs can be used in flyers, as illustrations for blog articles, or as promotional art in major national ad campaigns. Our work freely and openly enriches the culture and the community, be that our local city or the global neighborhood created by the internet.

This is why the Consortium depends on community support to pay its artists. We hope to enrich our community by giving away high-quality artwork that’s so much more than entertainment. Unfettered with the complicated and crippling restrictions of copyright law, Consortium art becomes the raw material, the fertile land, the basic building blocks for creating the culture of tomorrow.

Why Public Domain Works

Sounds revolutionary, right? Surprise, the Consortium is not a new idea. For thousands of years this is how art worked. Communities demanded access to public works and wealthy patrons within the community met that need by funding artists. Instead of trying to commercialize individual products, talented artists were paid to be artists. Certainly they were expected to produce new works, but even more importantly they were expected to train and experiment, to pursue new paths, and even create new schools of art.

Copyright changed all that by turning artworks into fiscal commodities — and, in the process, taking them out of the hands of the public. The intrinsic value of art is in its ability to be seen, to communicate a message, and to inspire new art. Copyright seeks to increase the value of art by limiting its visibility, forcing the message to conform to profitable models, and making it impossible for today’s art to directly impact and advance the art of tomorrow.

Copyright is bad for artists and, even worse, it’s bad for Capital-A Art. Sure, there are superstars made fabulously wealthy by the copyright system, but for every writer or musician who scores a million-dollar advance, there are thousands of successful writers and musicians working under contract and making less money from their artwork than from their day jobs. And those same day jobs make it significantly more difficult for them to perfect their craft, although they end up not caring because better art does not necessarily impact commercial success. Perfection can equal poverty just as easily as fortune.

It gets worse. In order to profit from a work of art even that much, the artist has to sell not only the public’s right to access and be inspired by that work, but also his or her own. In exchange for a paycheck, the artist must transfer his or her copyright to the publisher or label or other corporation. And why? Because copyright is, for all practical purposes, totally unenforceable on an individual level. Copyright does nothing to benefit artists, even if they manage to hold on to the ownership of it.

Why Copyright Doesn’t Work

There’s a perception in America that artists are flaky, unreliable people, incapable of understanding practical aspects of the real world. And there’s a perception that goes with it that works of art are frivolous things. Do either of those descriptions sound like Rembrandt? Van Gogh? The Bronte sisters? Shakespeare? Of course not, but these perceptions stem from the way we, as a nation, have pursued the funding of the arts.

In our current system, only a tiny fraction of artists ever make a living wage from their art. Remember that “which limb to amputate” question above? Every artist has to face that question at some point, and make the decision between pursuing his or her art, or getting a real job. The most stable, reliable people — the ones capable of understanding practical aspects of the real world — are the ones most likely to make a sound decision and abandon their talent (or put it to menial use, or reduce it to a hobby) in favor of things like eating and living under a sound roof.

Some of the best artists in the world today are spending all their time and energy editing poorly-translated instruction manuals or working retail jobs at the mall instead of writing outstanding new novels or capturing breathtaking photos. They’re handling insurance claims or babysitting to pay the bills instead of composing soulful music or painting picturesque dreamscapes. This is a cataclysmic waste of natural resources. We mine the coal of working artists today rather than being astounded by the diamonds of their artwork tomorrow.

The Consortium doesn’t promise fame and fabulous wealth. It provides an opportunity for serious, talented artists to pursue their craft without sacrificing the comforts of normal life. And at the same time, it provides the public with free access to the sort of quality, non-commercial art that it’s been starved of for three hundred years.

Why It’s Time for the Consortium

The publishers and music labels and mega-corporations that commercialized art for so long were necessary for a while. It used to be difficult and expensive to get art from a creator to an audience. It’s not anymore.

Whether it’s a JPEG of the Mona Lisa or an mp3 of the latest Harry Potter as an audiobook, digital art and the internet make artwork easier and cheaper to package, produce, and distribute than it has been at any point in human history. Contemplate that for a moment. Access to art, to culture, to the things that make us human and better than human, is easier now than at any other point in the grand sweep of humanity’s past.

Naturally, this is a crisis for the big distribution companies, but as both artists and audience, we see it as an incredible opportunity. We don’t need mega-corporations or multimillionaire Medicis to fund our artists or our art. In addition to access, art has become incredibly egalitarian. We can not only create art but finance the creation of art entirely on our own. Buy Consortium-branded products! Spread the word about our mission and our message! Donate a few bucks!

Support the arts by supporting the artists. That’s a world-changing concept right there, and it’s the everyday mission of the Consortium. Let’s change the world together.