Greg Beato at Reason magazine (the July edition) has this nice item, “The Internet vs the NEA”, about how innovative ways to fund creative projects in the arts have become such a hit that they are annoying the advocates for the publicly subsidised (ie, from taxes) sector. He is talking about a crowd-funding project in the US known as Kickstarter:
Current NEA funding amounts to about $1 per U.S. taxpayer each year. Yet the program is controversial and likely will remain so because those who contribute to it have no say in how their dollar is applied. Kickstarter, by contrast, gives people that control. It turns arts patronage from an abstract, opaque, disconnected, possibly involuntary act into one of dynamic engagement, where creators get to pitch supporters instead of faceless institutions and supporters feel as if they have a personal stake in helping creators realize their visions.
Kickstarter increases the pool and variety of funding sources for creators and allows people who are not wealthy to act as patrons. Artists can seek levels of financing that the NEA isn’t designed to accommodate on either end of the spectrum, from a few hundred dollars to a few million. And the chances of success are greater for Kickstarter applicants: In Fiscal Year 2011, 5,574 individuals and organizations applied for NEA grants across six program categories, and 2,350, or 42 percent, obtained them.
It is certainly too early to say that Kickstarter has made the NEA superfluous. At the same time, it may also turn out that Yancey Strickler’s reservations about rivaling the U.S. government are far too modest. Last year Kickstarter funded more than three times as many projects as the YEA did, in a wider range of disciplines. So far, at least, Kickstarter works just as well for hot dog cart entrepreneurs and 3D printer manufacturers as it does for documentary filmmakers and oddball literary magazines. Perhaps Strickler should start preparing himself for the burden of making, say, the Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP) unnecessary too.
Such a business model for funding artists and so forth might also demonstrate how people can get certain creative ideas off the ground without the largesse of a single patron, be it a state or person. And because contributions to ventures such as Kickstarter are voluntary, it also means that the donors – many thousands of them – are far more likely to be engaged and interested in what gets created. By contrast, if you were to ask a person on the street about what they thought their tax pounds were used for in funding the arts, some might have a general idea, but many would not have a clue, and certainly not down the level of fine detail. For example, how many of any readers of this blog could quickly come up with ideas on what new sculptors got funding this year?