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<nettime> tribogram [x2]: importance of being frank
nettime's_spokesmodel on Mon, 27 Jan 2003 07:54:38 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> tribogram [x2]: importance of being frank


Mark Tribe <mt {AT} rhizome.org>
     Re: <nettime> Rhizome [3x]
     Re: <nettime> the importance of being rhizome digest [pocock,

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Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2003 17:53:32 -0500
From: Mark Tribe <mt {AT} rhizome.org>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Rhizome [3x]

On Sun, 26 Jan 2003, Don Cameron <donhome {AT} mudgeeab.com.au> wrote:

>In my reading of various responses the issue seems to be not so
>simplistic...
>
>1/ $5.00 is undoubtedly nothing to a New Yorker; although how does this
>amount of US currency equate to a South American or African citizen? -
>Perhaps Rhizome is designed to be "US-Centric" in which case this hardly
>matters... however if not; if Rhizome is designed to be global in reach and
>delivery; the matters of currency conversion and the available spending
>power of participants are highly pertinent to any charges applied by the NFP
>administrators.

We are very much aware that $5 may not be affordable to many, depending on 
exchange rates and economic conditions. But if we set the minimum annual 
contribution much lower, we would start to lose money on each transaction 
due to processing and administrative costs. We considered allowing members 
from certain countries (e.g. Argentina) to pay an even lower fee, or no fee 
at all, but such a system would be complicated and difficult to implement. 
In the end we decided that on a simple system in which the minimum fee is 
same for everybody and everybody can access the site for free on Fridays.

>2/ Rhizome seemingly has developed a fairly solid community-base; and
>assuming that amongst this community $5.00 doesn't matter, the community is
>likely to remain fairly constant - however is Rhizome seeking to grow and
>develop? - Charging for access to a web site is hardly likely to foster new
>visitations, for who would pay to visit something completely unknown amongst
>the myriad of competing (and free) alternatives?

New users have a 30 day introductory grace period before they are required 
to make a contribution.

>3/ Artists whose works appear on Rhizome are presumably seeking wide
>exposure (otherwise they would not place art on the 'net) - yet by charging
>a viewing fee I suggest that a great many casual visitors will now abandon
>Rhizome... artists will no longer have access to the main-stream viewing
>public... Placing  a charge on public access severely restricts the size of
>the available audience. Once again this may be something that is desired (to
>reduce bandwidth overheads etc.) however without a clear explanation of the
>reasons behind these new costs, who is to know?

Much of what is now being discussed here on nettime was discussed/explained 
in some detail on Rhizome Raw back in November, before we came to a 
decision about the new memebership policy. The short version is that due to 
shrinking grant income we were faced with a decision to either go into 
hiberation (lay off staff, close the office, discontinue most programs) or 
try to get the community to help cover the costs by paying an annual fee 
(voluntary contributions just weren't generating enough revenue).

>I'm sure there are a great many additional concerns to these... yet lacking
>a clear explanation of the underlying policies and the alternatives sought
>to achieve financial sustainability, how is anyone to know if the charge has
>any basis other than to increase the wages of the NFP administrators? (and
>of course we are all entitled to ask because this is a registered charity we
>are talking about) - IMHO we will all have to make up our own minds and
>choose to use the service (or not) depending on our own determinations.

Again, we did discuss the alternatives and underlying issues at length on 
Rhizome Raw. Below is an excerpt from my initial October 24 Rhizome Raw 
post raising the issue with the Rhizome community:

+ + +

<snip>

 > In the past, most of our revenue has come from foundations, but foundation
 > support is shrinking. We had hoped to make up the difference through earned
 > income from web hosting and online education, but those services are
 > getting off to a slow start. We have also, as you surely know, tried asking
 > for voluntary contributions. But so far this year only about 1% of our
 > 19,000 members have made gifts.
 >
 > The Rhizome Board of Directors met for its quarterly meeting last Friday.
 > The main topic was how to solve our financial problems. I proposed putting
 > the organization into hibernation mode. This would entail shutting down the
 > office, laying off the staff and discontinuing most of our programs. We
 > would keep the web site up, ask the SuperUsers to continue to publish
 > texts, and keep Raw online. But everything else would stop: no more Digest
 > or Net Art News, no more commissions, no more events. We'd stop adding new
 > projects to the ArtBase, stop improving the web site (we have a long list
 > of bugs to fix and features to add) and stop planning new programs.
 >
 > The Board felt that hibernation would be a big mistake. Once we went into
 > hibernation, they argued, it would be very hard to re-emerge and rebuild
 > momentum. Foundations would lose confidence in us (not to mention the fact
 > that we wouldn't have anyone to write the grants). Most important, our
 > ability to fulfill our mission would be compromised.
 >
 > Then someone suggested charging a membership fee. This idea has been
 > proposed before, and I have always opposed it. Rhizome is for everyone, I
 > argued, not just for those who can afford it. I argued that we'd lose
 > thousands of members and that our community would become less diverse.
 >
 > Then we looked at the numbers. The gap between our expenses and what we can
 > raise from foundations, the government, earned income and other sources is
 > about $100,000. That's about $5 per member. If every member gave $5,
 > Rhizome would be financially stable. We could continue to grow and serve
 > the community.
 >
 > The board argued that we pay to subscribe to magazines, to enter museums
 > and to see performances. We pay to attend festivals and conferences. Why
 > shouldn't we pay for Rhizome? Because it's online?

An active discussion followed (over 100 posts) in which more people seemed 
to perfer paying a small fee to seeing Rhizome go into hibernation. We then 
did an online survey, and 48% of respondants said they would pay an annual 
fee if required. The final decision to require a contribution was made by 
the board of directors.

>... or have I totally missed the plot and is Rhizome not a registered
>charity?

Rhizome is registered as a charity in New York State and is recognized by 
the US IRS as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

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Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2003 21:35:02 -0500
From: Mark Tribe <mt {AT} rhizome.org>
Subject: Re: <nettime> the importance of being rhizome digest [pocock,
  economy car]

On Sun, 26 Jan 2003, Economy Car <economycar2003 {AT} yahoo.com> wrote:

>But my point is actually much more simple: I think
>that Rhizome is elitist, has contributed to the
>creation of a hegemonic structure in what is at its
>core a non-hegemonic medium, and is not rhizomatic at
>all in its growth patterns.

It is worth pointing in this context that Rhizome is in fact among the most 
inclusive of arts organizations. Anyone can post anything to Rhizome Raw 
(yes, anyone, even those who can't afford or won't pay $5 per year, since 
we have a free 30 day grace period). Even nettime is moderated. Anyone can 
submit anything to the ArtBase. Recently, even Eryk Salvaggio complained 
that the ArtBase is too inclusive, having added 450 art works last year. 
Most art archives are by invitation only. Our commissioning program starts 
with an open call for proposals. Most commissioning programs are by 
invitation only.

>It seems that there are a
>lot of others who feel this way too. Charging a $5
>"cover" will only further these attributes. So, I'm
>not interested. If, on the other hand, I felt
>differently about Rhizome, and they were merely asking
>for $5 and not demanding it as a prerequisite for
>access, I believe I would comply.

We did try the voluntary contribution approach, but only about 3% of our 
members gave.

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