Eyebrows raised as Kickstarter touts its increased funding of the arts

Studio 360

Yancey Strickler, one of Kickstarter’s founders, says this will be a watershed year for the crowd-funding organization.

Kickstarter is poised to generate more funding for the arts than the National Endwoment for the Arts distributed. The NEA’s budget is $146 million dollars for 2012, of which $118 million will be distributed as direct funding.

That statistic caught Clay Johnson’s eye.

Johnson, the author of The Information Diet, examined the numbers and found them dubious. Kickstarter gave about $67 million to core arts in 2011. That would mean a more than $50 million increase in 2012.

Nevertheless, Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms are clearly on the rise.

While government support for the arts is buffeted by funding crises and politics. Kickstarter opens an avenue for creators who don’t have the resumes and grant-writing skills to receive government funding in the first place.

“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 in an email to Talking Points Memo.

But Johnson said comparing Kickstarter to the NEA is like “comparing apples to spaceships.” The site treats funders like investors, promising incentives for contributions.

“In some ways Kickstarter is a lot more like shopping than supporting art,” Johnson said. “The NEA is not necessarily worried about giving the taxpayer back art directly for their investments.”

Johnson is worried that in this election year, Kickstarter’s success will encourage calls to diminish government funding of artists. 

“The important thing about art is that art can’t be determined about what’s popular,” said Johnson. “If we only make art that’s popular, then the guy who made the dogs playing poker and smoking cigars print is going to be the most successful artist of all time.”

In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Strickler said that the potential for Kickstarter to out-fund the NEA has raised questions.  If Kickstarter manages to raise $150 million for the arts in 2012, it will in effect double the amount of funding available for the arts, which is a positive.

“But maybe it shouldn’t be that way,” Strickler said, “Maybe there’s a reason for the state to strongly support the arts.”

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