Commentary: Which funds more art... Kickstarter or the NEA?

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR Music, 3/1/12

One of the founders of the website Kickstarter, Yancey Strickler, made a startling statement recently: His company will distribute $150 million in 2012. That's big money -- as a point of comparison, Strickler noted the National Endowment for the Arts will distribute $146 million in 2012. There's been a lot of back-and-forth over the numbers since Strickler made his original comparison between Kickstarter and the NEA, but since then he has provided some hard data about what he calls "core arts projects." (It's a distinction worth making as Kickstarter defines "creative projects" quite loosely, covering everything from new designs for iPod docking stations to sustainable yoga clothing to a taco truck in Buffalo.) And Kickstarter can't replace the NEA's mission, structure or reach. As Clay Johnson points out in his thoughtful analysis of Kickstarter's reach in the arts community, Kickstarter has dispersed $40,000 in North Dakota since 2009; by contrast, the NEA gave $764,000 in 2011 alone to the North Dakota Council on the Arts to disperse to local artists. Meanwhile, Strickler has responded to Johnson, saying "Kickstarter does not see itself as or want to be a replacement for the NEA or any other grant-making organization. The lack of support for creative projects led us to start Kickstarter in the first place, and we're committed to helping to grow the pie of available funding in whatever way that we can. We would happily be a distant second, third, fourth, or fiftieth in arts funding if it meant more of it was available." It's clear we've reached an era in which funding projects no longer necessarily relies on corporate or corporatized institutions. Artists are learning that entrepreneurship is increasingly vital to their overall career success -- and Kickstarter is a major tool in cutting one's own path. The financial gains may come in tiny, fan-by-fan amounts, but those individual supporters might well share their enthusiasm with their own friends and acquaintances via social media. The result is incrementally gained but exponentially powerful.


Commentary: The NEA weighs in on Kickstarter funding debate

Carl Franzen, Talking Points Memo's blog Idea Lab, 2/27/12

"The NEA and Kickstarter exist to fund different art of the arts ecology in this country, and in order for the sector to thrive, we need both," said Victoria Hutter, an NEA spokesperson. Indeed, some of the NEA's own research (namely a 2007 study called "How the United States Funds the Arts") bolsters the case for Kickstarter's role in supporting creative projects. "Support from individuals (both in the form of contributions and in ticket sales) is by far the most important source of revenue for arts organizations in this country," Hutter added, "Religious organizations and political campaigns have long recognized the power of creating abroad base of individuals giving relatively modest amounts of money. Kickstarter and the other platforms that crowd-source donations for arts organizations and projects are becoming increasingly important in helping the arts catch up." Furthermore, when it comes to comparing the precise dollar amount of fundraising for the arts done by both, it is critical to keep in mind that the NEA's budget amount doesn't actually go entirely to creative projects. The NEA relies on taxpayer money to support its employees, pay for the studies it conducts on the value of the arts and its own efficacy, and other associated overhead. In 2012, for example, the NEA's total budget is $146 million, with $118 million set aside for "program and program support," and the remaining $28 million used for salaries and expenses. Kickstarter, meanwhile, takes a 5% cut of successfully funded projects. As long as Kickstarter raises more than $124 million in 2012 for the seven categories of "core arts" plus videogames, which the NEA also now funds, it would seem that the website could indeed beat the NEA when it comes to arts funding.


Commentary: Need for Kickstarter began as NEA stopped individual artist grants  Tim Mikulski, Americans for the Arts blog, 2/27/12

While Kickstarter, and other sites like it, have the ability to take all types of art -- from comics to operas -- to the next level at a time when it is hard for an artist to get funding for a small project, its $150 million contribution to the arts is only one quarter of one percent of what is needed annually to fund the nonprofit arts sector's $60 billion in expenditures according to Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy here at Americans for the Arts. But, as Randy added, "This is a great illustration of how individuals are looking for a more personal connection and relationship when deciding where to donate, participate, and volunteer." The same principle applies with me as well. Prior to crowd-sourcing, if a friend from college wrote me an email out of the blue, asking for money to fund his new album I might not have given him/her any money; however, I have already done that several times via Kickstarter. At the same time, I wouldn't mind if an additional $10 per paycheck went right to the NEA. And frankly, the seeds of this movement were planted back when the NEA stopped funding individual artists in the 1990s. Had that process continued right through the culture wars, there may be less of a need for crowd-sourcing today. Americans for the Arts President & CEO Bob Lynch added to Randy's thoughts stating, "Of that $60 billion in expenditures, 9% comes from all forms of government; 31% comes from private sector donations, like the $150 million from Kickstarter; and 60% comes from individuals spending their own money to buy tickets, memberships, subscriptions, etc." That makes the growth of web-based crowd-sourcing very important in the scheme of things because that 31% could start veering closer to 35 or 40 with increased use of Kickstarter and the like, helping artists and arts organizations get away from relying so much on tickets and subscriptions.


Commentary: Kickstarter fundraising also works as an audience development tool

Jayson Greene, Symphony Magazine winter 2012 issue, pages 60-65

When violist Sam Bergman and conductor Sarah Hicks decided to commission a work for the "Inside the Classics" series they co-host for the Minnesota Orchestra, they [invited] the audience to get some skin in the game. For incremental amounts -- $25, $50, $100, more -- audience members were invited to crack open their checkbooks and pay for the piece's creation themselves. In return, they would be more than just "donors"; they would be given continuous, behind-the-scenes access to the music they were helping bring into the world. As a result of their small investment, the piece's progress would become a part of the audience's daily lives. And when the world premiere rolled around, they would be attending as eager co-commissioners instead of bewildered bystanders. The project raised $20,684 from 340 donors. For 71% of those donors, it was their first time giving money to an orchestra. "Some of the most excited donors I've seen over the past decade have been individual patrons of commissioned music," says Jay Golan, VP of development at the League of American Orchestras. "This will end up fostering adaptation in development, marketing and PR offices, and re-engineering a more personal involvement between patrons and the new music they're hearing from orchestras."


Commentary: Online services help showcase Kickstarter campaigns to support

Clyde Smith,, 3/2/12

Fundhaus, the project previously known as Kickstumbler, is a service designed to help you discover Kickstarter projects. Billed as a cross between Kickstarter and Stumble Upon, Fundhaus was created by the folks who brought us The Hype Machine, a site that aggregates mp3's from music blogs and has been in the discovery game since 2005. Given the growing importance of Kickstarter as a funder of the arts, it's nice to see folks developing ways to bring even more attention to interesting projects in need of funding.  To some degree Fundhaus turns browsing Kickstarter into a form of entertainment. One can simply dive in and be presented with a random project and then hit the NEXT button in the upper right corner to browse to the next random project. Once Fundhaus displays the first project, you then have the option to check out specific Categories from a drop down menu that also offers a short list of locations. Within categories you can browse Recommended projects including those that have already been funded. You can even browse video pitches as another way to find out who's seeking your support. Though Fundhaus won't ensure that any project in particular gets funded, one hopes it will help potential funders find new possibilities. On the other hand, Kickstarter has its own discovery options with projects as interesting as those I found via Fundhaus. But, to be perfectly honest, I found browsing other categories a bit more interesting given that almost every music project was focused on recording or completing an album by musicians with I was unfamiliar plus an occasional plea to fund a touring van.

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