By David Seals
Some thoughts in response to Kickstarter co-founder Yancy Strickler’s statement that the crowd-funding company will distribute more money this year than the National Endowment for the Arts.
- Kickstarter often doesn’t fund the same types of projects as the NEA. The two entities aren’t even close, a case made well by blogger Clay Johnson (e.g. designing iPhone accessories isn’t an art project.) That said, Kickstarter (and other programs such as IndieGoGo) are funding a lot of amazing art, and the sheer volume of projects demonstrate that there is a much greater need for arts funding than the NEA has ever been able to provide. NEA grants are extremely competitive, and the advent of these quick, accessible tools is a great supplement to NEA funding.
- Though crowd-funding tools are a great supplement to government funding, they are not a substitution for it. There are many reasons to fund the arts outside of the private sector. At least theoretically, the NEA can do two things that crowd-funding can’t:
One of these is to provide access—there is no profit motive for bringing art to people who can’t pay for it. Kickstarter is about voting with your dollars. Poorer people, by nature, can’t vote with their dollars to bring a project to their communities, and their social networks aren’t as strong as wealthier communities. In many cases, these communities might not even have internet access. Part of the NEA mission to bring art to those who don’t normally have access to it.
Another is to keep artistic integrity separate from market demand—there is no profit motive to produce/present art that critiques our own society, challenges our presuppositions, makes us uncomfortable, explores ideas and concepts that lead us to a deeper understanding of our lives, etc. The private sector is about market demand, and consumers (even charitable ones) almost always gravitate toward projects that support instead of challenge their current framework about the world. In theory, government funding could provide a safe place for this type of challenging freedom of speech, though after the culture wars, you might say that the NEA leans more toward access than avant garde.
What do you think about this, Pittsburgh?