The Playgoer: Kickstarter: Better than NEA?

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Kickstarter: Better than NEA?

Are you sitting down? The crowd-funding site, Kickstarter, will soon be able to boast a bigger arts-funding treasure-chest than the National Endowment for the Arts.

Or, at least, so boasts its boss:

Kickstarter is having an amazing year, even by the standards of other white hot Web startup companies, and more is yet to come. One of the company’s three co-founders, Yancey Strickler, said that Kickstarter is on track to distribute over $150 million dollars to its users’ projects in 2012, or more than entire fiscal year 2012 budget for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), which was $146 million. “It is probable Kickstarter will distribute more money this year than the NEA,” said Stricker in an exclusive phone interview with TPM. 
Of course Kickstarter works very differently from a federal granting agency, and basically relies on how well you can bully (I mean, encourage) thousands of friends into coughing up a few bucks each. Sullivan rounds up the debate over the claim's merits here.

And to be fair, Strickler himself is far from suggesting his company supplant the Endowment:
“We view that number and our relationship to it in both a good and bad way.”
As Strickler explained, the milestone is “good” in the sense that it means that Kickstarter may now reach a point where it will funnel as much money to the arts as the federal agency primarily responsible for supporting them, effectively doubling the amount of art that can get funded in the country. “But maybe it shouldn’t be that way,” Strickler said, “Maybe there’s a reason for the state to strongly support the arts.”

Free-marketers would probably be happy to suggest a Kickstarter-like solution for "privatizing" public sector arts funding. Which is why I think the right lesson to draw from this is not that the NEA is unnecessary but that--in its current atrophied and deliberately starved state--it's so small!  At a time when anyone from political campaigns to Kickstarter projects can raise millions online in small contributions, $150 mil ain't much.

Just a reminder that-- No, Republicans, cutting the NEA won't do bupkis for the deficit.

So I'm all for Kickstarter shaming the congress by showing up how pathetically small their arts funding is. Unfortunately it won't be taken that way by many. long till you think some major nonprofit starts taking to Kickstarter when subscriptions decline?


Mike Mariano said...

For theatre in particular, Kickstarter doesn't seem to be a terrific solution. This is mostly because of the "rewards" of funding a project.

What benefits can a theatre offer their backers?

If someone gives $20 to help fund an album or novel, offering an ebook or mp3 version of the completed work as a reward has little additional cost. But getting backers into a theatre production would eat up ticket sales, making it not worth it to offer to the lower-level backers. So what do you do to entice low-level backers?

Anonymous said...

Based on my own giving history and the experience of three friends who have used KS to fund their various dance and theatre productions, low-level backers don't require anything in return apart from knowing their money is helping a project they feel like supporting. Maybe the 99% have less need to have their egos stroked than the big donors?

Reesa Graham said...

I have several of my friend's companies that use KS and solve that problem by offering to put their names in the program, have a private only blog with video content to watch/read about the rehearsal process, and or attend an opening night party that was already going to happen anyway (that one is esp good because that means that the contributor will likely buy a ticket to opening night AND donate to the original fund).

It's not that it's not possible, you just have to get creative about how to do it. :)

Just my two cents.