Can Kickstarter Fund Art Better than the NEA?


Friday, March 02, 2012

Last week 14,952 strangers raised more than $1 million for a cause they believed in: not disaster relief or a cure for cancer, but a web-only comic book. Just another day at the office for Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform that collects donations for creative projects of all kinds — from handmade furniture to videogames to sock puppets. One of Kickstarter's founders bragged that he expected the three-year-old site to give more money to the arts this year than the National Endowment for the Arts.

That caught Clay Johnson's eye. The author of The Information Diet examined the numbers and found them dubious. Kickstarter gave about $67 million to core arts in 2011; the NEA's budget is $146 million dollars for 2012, of which $118 million will be distributed as direct funding.

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 get government funding in the first place.

But Johnson says that comparing Kickstarter to the NEA is like "comparing apples to spaceships." The site treats funders like investors, generally promising products and incentives for contributions. "In some ways Kickstarter is a lot more like shopping than supporting art," Johnson says. "The NEA is not necessarily worried about giving the taxpayer back art directly for their investments."

Johnson worries that Kickstarter’s success will encourage calls to abolish government funding of artists. Neither he, nor Kickstarter’s founders, think it should replace the NEA. "If we only make art that's popular,” he says, “then the guy who made the dogs playing poker and smoking cigars print is going to be the most successful artist of all time."

Should Kickstarter or something like it replace the NEA? Tell us in a comment below.

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Clay Johnson

Produced by:

Derek John

Comments [5]

Chris from Seattle, WA

I heard this interview on NPR not one hour after my Kickstarter project received the donation that will make my short film a reality. For those of us trying to break into the film industry - it's a long, arduous, almost impossible project. Kickstarter helps filmmakers like me be proactive and create our visions, not wait around for chance to favor us. Sure they take a portion, but in return I gained far greater exposure than I would on my own. So no, no replacement for NEA, but that was never Kickstarter's purpose. I have other projects lined up, and they all will be featured on Kickstarter.

Mar. 04 2012 10:18 PM
Beck Lane from East Providence, RI

I still can't get over Mr. Johnson's argument(s) against Kickstarter which appears to be: artists, designers and their Kickvestors shouldn't have a platform to interact, raise funding and invest because the general public is too stupid to know what real art is - that's what the NEA is for. The message being "art is not for everyone".

His elitist and condescending comments help to support the conservative stance against the NEA.

Mar. 03 2012 10:55 AM
Beck Lane from East Providence, RI

I just heard Clay Johnson's interview on 360 - Kickstarter cannot replace the NEA but it does provide the possibility for funding to more artists than the NEA or any other arts organization does. Any artist who's applied to art orgs for funding is familiar with the amount of red tape, and how, often times, funding is based on poilitcal and personal relationships. Biased agenda can rule out a brilliant project because the artist or designer isn't the right kind of person. Like every other art org, Mr. Johnson seems to believe that the NEA's tastes should be responsible for dictating what projects receive funding. I'm happy to say - Kickstarter is a venue that's permitted the rest of us to decide what and who is of value and what our creative culture will be.

I have a project posted on Kick, I may not receive my funding but, whether I make it or not, I'm glad Kickstarter exhists. It's leveled the playing field.

Mar. 03 2012 10:28 AM

I've enjoyed watching projects on KickStarter over the past year or so, but I'd hate to see it replace the NEA or NEH. I love the local feel to it and the ability for people to both find and give support to projects, but I believe in the importance and value of a national organization devoted to the arts and/or humanities. I fear a society without such.

Mar. 03 2012 10:16 AM
Loralee Cooley from Cordell Oklahoma

I came across KickStarter a few weeks ago, and was impressed enough for a project I'm working on that I went through all the hoops to get listed....except one. I've not yet posted a YouTube video of me telling about my project, which is a children's book, "Island Child," telling of Barack Obama's childhood. So of course nothing's happened as yet for me to get funding. I do know that another project a friend of mine is working on with INDIGO-GO, similar to KickStarter, received a total of $225 out of a request for $9000. Not encouraging. As for these organizations taking the place of NEA or NEH, I doubt it. But that's something to be on the alert for with those legislators (sic!) who are against NEA, NEH or CPB. We'll simply need to develop more ammunition to defeat those negative attitudes.

Mar. 02 2012 07:18 PM

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