Culture Coin: A Commons-Based, Complementary Currency for the Arts and Its Impact on Scarcity, Virtue, Ethics, and the Imagination


  • Vijay Mathew HowlRound Theatre Commons
  • Polly Carl Emerson College


This article argues that the current economic design of the US not-for-profit arts sector, specifically theatre, fails to support the long-term wellness of the cultural worker and the cultural commons. As a solution, we propose a global, commons-based alternative economy and complementary currency called Culture Coin that creates new wealth, abundance, and virtuous social behaviors by matching unmet needs with underutilized resources that our current economy fails to circulate. The current design of our arts economy results in generative artists being disproportionately poorer, unjust disparities in how resources are distributed, and social behaviors in the nonprofit sector that mimic for-profit, commercial enterprises. The arts sector has an over-dependence on uncompensated or undercompensated “sweat equity” and volatile philanthropic funding. We detail the value and characteristics of a commons framework for entrepreneurial activity and describe internet-enabled peer production as a way to build cultural commons as well as the most effective way to collectively co-create and deploy the Culture Coin project.

Author Biographies

Vijay Mathew, HowlRound Theatre Commons

Vijay Mathew is the Cultural Strategist and a co-founder of HowlRound Theatre Commons, based at Emerson College, Boston, USA and is privileged to assist a talented team by leading HowlRound's development of commons-based online knowledge sharing platforms and the organization's notions of cultural innovation. Prior to his current position, he was the Coordinator for the National Endowment for the Arts (USA) New Play Development Program, as well as a Theater Communication Group (USA) New Generations Future Leader grant recipient in new work at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Vijay has a MFA from New School University, New York, a BA from University of Chicago, and an artistic background as an ensemble-based filmmaker and theatremaker. He is a board member of Double Edge Theatre located in rural Ashfield, Massachusetts, USA.

Polly Carl, Emerson College

P. Carl is a nonfiction writer and a Distinguished Artist in Residence at Emerson College in Boston. He is also a writer and lecturer on theater, gender, inclusive practices, and innovative models for building community and organizations. He is an accomplished theater artist, most recently the dramaturg and producer on a range of diverse projects including Claudia Rankine's new play, The White Card, Melinda Lopez's, Mala (2017 Elliot Norton Award Winner for Outstanding New Script) Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's How to Be a Rock Critic, and Deborah Stein and Suli Holum's, The Wholehearted. Carl is the founder of the online journal HowlRound.

In 2018, Carl was awarded the Berlin Prize for his forthcoming memoir (Simon and Schuster), Becoming a White Man, and a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in creative nonfiction. In 2017, he was given a prestigious Art of Change Fellowship from the Ford Foundation, named Theater Person of the Year in 2015 (National Theater Conference), as well as an Alumni of Notable Distinction (University of Minnesota). His former positions include: Director of HowlRound Theatre Commons, Co-artistic Director ArtsEmerson (Emerson College), Director of Artistic Development, Steppenwolf Theater, and Producing Artistic Director, The Playwrights' Center, Minneapolis. Carl holds a PhD in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society from the University of Minnesota. He was born in Elkhart, Indiana, and now lives in Boston with his spouse, the writer Lynette D'Amico, and their dogs Lenny Obama and Sonny. 




How to Cite

Mathew, V., & Carl, P. (2013). Culture Coin: A Commons-Based, Complementary Currency for the Arts and Its Impact on Scarcity, Virtue, Ethics, and the Imagination. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, 2(1), 14–29. Retrieved from