Rather than ask people to help fund a particular project, Coco Solid is asking supporters to help pay for her life. Henry Oliver asks her about crowdfunding and the changing nature of making a living as an artist.
Coco Solid (aka Jessica Hansell) is a musician, writer, and multi-disciplinary artist. She makes rap music as Coco Solid, low-key dance music as half of Parallel Dance Ensemble, is the creator/writer/director of animated online series Aroha Bridge, made a ‘music video documentary’ about the Fafswag Ball, writes things, talks about interesting things, and generally just does cool shit.
Across all platforms, genres and formats, Coco’s work is fun and funny, smart and smartass, political and staunchly independent. “I like telling stories on my terms, the alchemy of art, empowering my people, moving culture and conversations where I can,” she writes on the website for The ‘Can I Live’ Fund, the crowdfunding campaign she launched a week ago. “My jam is offering 21st century Māori & Pacific people, women, our young people, our queer people and those with very little access to resources, education and money a new way of seeing themselves.”
What makes The ‘Can I Live’ Fund different from the million other crowdfunding campaigns where someone-you’re-friends-with-on-Facebook-but-can’t-remember-why asks you for money to make a silent 35mm film adaptation of their short story collection (full disclosure: both this website and I have successfully crowdfunded and are forever grateful for the support received from our friends on Facebook), is that Coco doesn’t need to cover a list of hard costs, she mostly just needs some time to get shit done. And, in case you haven’t heard, time is money. So, rather than asking people for money for a specific project or purpose (to master an album, print a book, shoot a video), she’s asking for money to help her pay for life while she works on a disparate array of projects (a mixtape, a comic, a film, and moving cities).
“I’m not really asking for one particular project to be supported,” she writes. “It’s more living costs, that way I can stay alive so I can execute several projects this summer. I want money just to live, make and finish my sh*t.”
This strikes me as an idea worth pursuing. If you’ve got a laptop, a phone and the internet, you can make all kinds of amazing shit for either free or relatively little money. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that are worthwhile that do cost money (mastering an album, for example, is actually a good idea, as is paying people with skills that you need but don’t have), but it does mean that the biggest cost to make something amazing is time. And, when you have to work at a job, make dinner, tiredly watch TV, and get enough sleep to stay sane before starting the cycle all over again, time is probably the most valuable thing someone could give you. And the best way to give someone some time is to give them money.
I asked Coco about paying for her art, paying for her life, and whether people are cool with her just straight-up asking for money.
The Spinoff: What is The ‘Can I Live’ Fund? And how did you decide to crowdfund your life rather than a discrete project?
Coco Solid: A lot of people say ‘can I live?’ when they’re frustrated with their situation. In my crew it can be a pretty sincere plea, but usually it’s just melodramatic slang, someone expressing their futile desire to avoid bullshit. So this fund is the same awkward mixture. I’m a hustler and I do know how to work, get paid and live. However, the path I’ve chosen is both fraught and blessed, so bigger ambitions mean higher stakes. They require I play the long game more, execute better. There can be a lot of dead air fiscally when you commit to creating stuff so I’m simply addressing that without pathologising anything. Comics, writing, films and music are pretty hearty undertakings and I’m married to all four.
Also ‘difficult’ women of colour don’t exactly have the upper-hand in any of these industries lol – so someone like me can’t stand around waiting for every institutional co-sign. Either my voice would get distorted or I’d be waiting a loooong time. Living completely off funding rounds is no-one’s ideal either, although I have access to those worlds and they definitely play a key role for me. With this Boosted thing, it just felt so liberating to be explaining myself in my own codes and jokes for once. “Yo it’s either another season of precarious mental health chasing various dragons OR I dunno, about 5k?”. I’m always the first to corrupt my ‘personal brand’ because it means I can be truthful about my life experience. I like demystifying things.
By asking people to help you pay for your life, you’re drawing attention to how people who want to focus on non-commercial creative pursuits have to scratch out a living. What’s the biggest misconception about trying to make a life from making art?
Apart from autonomy, I’m not actually very romantic or staunch about my entitlements as an artist. Maybe that’s my problem. I’m not from an artistic or academic family so creativity can still feel like the ultimate cheat-code to me (but y’know, inside a faulty pressure cooker). I’m an undercover punk and I critique systems a lot, so let’s just say I’ve yet to experience being an industry darling. If you ask me about misconceptions surrounding how artists live, there are way too many to name, they’re either rose-tinted (you are a sacred bard) or derogatory (get a real job druggy). But with this initiative, I’m talking to people who already see my social purpose, who already get why I’m out here. If someone thinks I’m an audacious waste of space, just don’t give me anything, apathy and opposition are not new concepts to me bro. But on the off-chance they want to support my livelihood, at least they’d see where their money goes.
Outside of my own projects, I happily do TV work, club nights and mentoring with rangatahi. So I’m not claiming to be a Van Gogh toiling thanklessly. I just want to improve my work, my circumstances and honour the trust my community puts in me. I’m face-value about that. One of the donor comments was along the lines of ‘here’s $50, I need you to keep being tough’. Another was ‘I just got WINZ back-pay so I briefly feel wealthy’. The donations and people are so diverse and their perceptions of me are all totally different. But I have a new understanding of who my true stockholders are.
Things are rapidly changing in what artists need money for. The cost of production – whether in music or video or whatever – have become incrementally cheaper, while the cost of living – rent and food and whatever – has become exponentially more expensive. How has that changed your approach to trying to make a life, rather than an after-work hobby, out of your art?
I don’t see art as a hobby or a job anymore. I just say things that I think need to be said, and the mode in which I make my point changes. I could analyse the fluctuating economics I’m at the mercy of, but some conditions for me aren’t going anywhere. I’ll always be living under a capitalist government that colonised my people, in industries that historically under-pay and under-represent women. I see children getting robbed of the clean land they were promised and queer people getting deadass informed that they cause natural disasters. This shit is only going to intensify. Shelter and food is expensive but I’m also bracing myself for dystopian hilarity while navigating aftershocks and what the fuck that’s gonna mean for me as a storyteller. I guess what I’m trying to say is…. what a time to be alive!
There can be a cynicism towards arts philanthropy – a worry about whether the money is actually going to be spent on equipment hire or are you just going to use your laptop and spend the rest on rent and beer. You’ve cut through that by saying, ‘This money isn’t for anything in particular, it’s just to help me live while I try and make cool shit’. Is there still cynicism around the project despite your transparency? Have you received any criticism? What are your thoughts around crowdfunding as a way to fund art?
I saw one person comment “well my dream is to work in an office all day so I can fund your vanity projects” which I actually thought was fucking funny and a sick burn. I think I’m going to use it as a line for Dad Hook in Aroha Bridge because I’m an existential troll and it’s too good to waste. My friend called my approach “abrasive and charming” and my sister called it a “telethon for militants”. But I’ve had some loaded comments for sure. People saying why don’t I ask for more money like a real artist, others saying it’s so brave to openly ‘be in need’. I understand not everyone will get it.
In terms of the fundraising I feel like I was so upfront with my audience, that them being cynical would almost be too sophisticated a response. I feel secure knowing I’m not going to let people down or rip anyone off, because me these works give me a sense of mental health and purpose. I’m just relieved I won’t have to keep annoying receipts, but maybe I’ll do shit like snapchat cynics from the stationary shop when I buy new pens.
Why leave the Cultural Capital of Wellington for the High-Rent-Gridlock-Neocon-Paradise of Auckland? (And welcome back!)
Karlo Mila in her poem ‘8 Suburbs’ addresses it as ‘Auckland you feke’. For better or for worse, and despite various adopted cities and absences, I know that feke is where I’m supposed to be. Call it a cosmic hunch!
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