I firmly believe that the future of funding for artists exists in a micro-patronage model. This is a model whereby potential arts buyers contribute funding to an artist's or group of artists' career and receive a special relationship to the artist(s), credit towards artwork, access to the artist(s)'s studio(s), and the beginnings of an education in the arts - from those on the inside. The artist(s) get to escape from the painful business cycle of spending lots of time and money (on art, arts supplies, gallery exhibitions) on the eventual maybe sale of work. Instead, they work knowing that some of the art will be sold, that they have a guaranteed income, and that they are building relationships that will support them in the future. It is a much more tenable position.
Shameless plug: In the spirit of this posting, I've added a link to my menu that goes into a little more depth as to what someone (a potential art buyer) might stand to gain by supporting me as one of my micro-patrons.
It is hardly a new model, but rather an older model re-imagined for a world where cash-flow is tight, where arts education is on the wane, and where more artists can subsist without giving in to the 'starving artist' stereotype.
The way it goes, in my mind is that in the old world, a successful artist might have had an aristocrat or the church as a patron. Later, some of the emerging mercantile class could support the artists - and there was an arts renaissance in Europe. But the number of artists and the number of businesses that supported the arts were few. Now, we live in a society with a prosperous middle class filled with professionals and small business owners. Many of these would like to support the arts (and may be patrons inasmuch as attending theatre and live music), but they don't really know where to start. They haven't been taught to appreciate art (at least not beyond the self-refferential I know what I like and If it looks like something I can relate to) and they certainly don't want to look stupid. This is where micro-patronage works. It spreads out the cost of supporting an artist to a small group of 20-40 patrons. Those patrons develop a meaningful relation with a fledgling or established artist (and by extension, with the arts community). Those patrons learn about art - theory, history, appreciation - from the artist and his/her colleagues. And those patrons have access to fresh, real art to put in their houses and places of business to bring more life and vibrancy into their worlds.