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Patreon’s CEO is launching a $50,000 annual grant for creators

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2019 VidCon Photo by Jerod Harris / Getty Images

Patreon CEO and co-founder Jack Conte touts his crowdfunding platform (as Patreon describes it, “membership” platform) as a place where “creators get paid” instead of being subject to the whims of advertisers or recommendation algorithms. Today, Conte is announcing a much more individual attempt to fund creators that’s not formally related to Patreon but fits squarely into its vision for how artists work today.

Conte’s project is called Super Patron. (Technically, it’s “Super Patron: a creator arts endowment fuck yeah!”) It’s an independent million-dollar endowment that funds a single $50,000-per-year grant for artists. Creators should submit an application using whatever medium they prefer, as long as the experience lasts no more than three minutes. The applications will be evaluated by a panel of judges that includes comedians Hannibal Buress and Grace Helbig, cartoonist Danielle Corsetto, YouTube star Molly Burke, and True Crime Obsessed podcast hosts Patrick Hinds and Gillian Pensavalle. Whoever wins will get a monthly stipend throughout 2020.

Applications open today, and they’ll close on November 22nd. The winner will be announced in early December, and the first funds will be distributed at the start of the year. There are no age or geographical restrictions, but applicants need at least one year of experience publicly releasing art. “We’re looking for people coming out with things frequently,” says Conte, not applicants who are working on a single big project. “We’ve talked to some partners about maybe showcasing the creator’s work at the end of the year, but I expect the work to be published all along the course of the year.”

Conte explains that the grant was inspired by author Harper Lee who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird after friends gave her a year’s wages to quit her job and write full time. “The idea behind the grant is, hey, think about all the great art that could be made if people are just given the means to do it full-time,” he says. “[We’re looking for] people who have consistent, strong creativity, a unique and clear artistic voice, and maybe have low to medium traction but have high potential. That’s the point. This isn’t for somebody who has a million Facebook likes, this is for someone who has high potential and we can see being able to make something that reaches a lot of people.”

Conte imagines someday offering grants for specific categories of creators — funding business training for artists or building a database of creative pay rates — so creators can better understand how much to charge a client or pay a fellow artist. He’s open to expanding the program with help from other nonprofits or partnering with creator-focused organizations like Casey Neistat’s YouTuber co-working program 368. But he says he doesn’t want corporate sponsorships that might make Super Patron feel like an advertising ploy, even if they could grow the endowment.

Super Patron isn’t a Patreon project. Conte says it’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization funded with his own stock, and it’s unrelated to his many future ideas for Patreon, which range from health care services to loans for artists. That said, Super Patron is definitely meant for people actively pursuing a Patreon-friendly kind of art. “We want to make sure we find a serious artist that we’re giving the money to, not someone who hopes that one day they’ll be an artist. We want somebody who’s already started doing it.” This mirrors the kind of support creators get from Patreon’s subscription-style backing system, which works best for artists with an existing following.

Ironically, the grant wouldn’t work for someone like Lee, a writer known for producing one superb novel and a much larger library of unpublished or posthumously published work. Conte acknowledges the distinction, but he argues that times are different now. “The internet wasn’t around back then,” he says.

Update 10:20AM: Added Patreon’s description as a “membership” platform.