As Sarah mentioned in her recent post, a cornerstone of our research and inspiration for ArtsPool is linked to the sharing economy. At its heart, the sharing economy and its dramatic rise has exposed a shift from, “…a world where we’re organized around ownership to one organized around access to assets…”
In the world of the arts, ownership, or more broadly institutionalization, has often translated into increased infrastructure, which the field then struggles to sustain. Part of the challenge is that traditional notions of ownership and institutionalization place a premium on having your own space, your own staff, etc. But, that infrastructure quickly loses its value if we’re spending a disproportionate amount of our time trying to maintain and pay for that infrastructure and spending less and less time, money, and other resources delivering on our core purpose.
We’re not alone. The entire economy has shifted and many are turning to sharing as a potential solution.
“Almost everyone recognises that drastic change is needed in the wake of a collapsed economy and an overstretched planet…more and more people are rejecting the materialistic attitudes that defined recent decades, and are gradually shifting towards a different way of living that is based on connectedness and sharing rather than ownership and conspicuous consumption.”
Zipcar is an interesting case study in how the sharing economy has evolved. What their business model pushed against was the notion that people, in particular in major cities, needed to own a car. Instead, use one of Zipcar’s fleet at the times when you actually need one. Others, like RelayRides and GetAround, ultimately leapfrogged Zipcar and “out-shared” them by creating web-based platforms that allow people to share their own cars. In these instances, the profits from the transaction are being shared and they’re exclusively using existing assets.
“These marketplaces don’t need to carry inventory. Their business model advantages are clear — the ‘fleet’ renews itself naturally, there are no parking or logistics issues, geographic expansion and scaling is more seamless.”
Ultimately, the reveal here was simple: to optimize savings, efficiency, and profit create structures where people can share assets that already exist.
The sharing economy has also brought up some interesting questions around its actual impact on the economy and employment. If I’m not buying a car and I’m instead sharing someone else’s, aren’t folks in the car-selling business losing money and jobs? Are hotels going out of business because of Airbnb?
“It’s classic creative destruction. There may be a short-term negative for the economy because a person isn’t buying a car. (A UC Berkeley study shows that for every vehicle used by companies like Zipcar, 9 to 13 cars are being ditched by car owners.) But long-term economic efficiencies result, and that’s ultimately good for everyone. Airbnb commissioned a study of its economic impact on San Francisco last year and found a “spillover effect.” Because an Airbnb rental tends to be cheaper than a hotel, people stay longer and spent $1,100 in the city, compared with $840 for hotel guests; 14% of their customers said they would not have visited the city at all without Airbnb.”
The macro numbers paint an even more dramatic picture.
“Forbes estimates the revenue flowing through the share economy directly into people’s wallets will surpass $3.5 billion this year , with growth exceeding 25%. At that rate peer-to-peer sharing is moving from an income boost in a stagnant wage market into a disruptive economic force.”
With that level of activity and growth comes challenges. Cooptation by big business, litigation, and regulation are all on the rise. But, what’s clear is that the sharing economy has quickly rooted itself and is changing the nature of how people work and live.
So, how does the arts sector want to leverage the opportunities in this space?
The good news is, we’re not starting from scratch. There are myriad examples of formal and informal sharing of resources that have happened in the arts for decades. The bigger question is how far can we go? Can we create robust enough structures and buy-in to achieve economies of scale and resulting efficiencies that will in fact be game changing? And, right along with that, can we make the necessary changes to our patterns of behavior and ways of working to fully embody a shared approach?
 Tomio Geron, “Airbnb And The Unstoppable Rise Of The Share Economy,” Forbes, February 11, 2013.
 Adam Parsons, “The sharing economy: a short introduction to its political evolution,” Resilience.org, January 24, 2014.