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Kickstarter Beats Out the Government in Funding the Arts

Yasha Wallin

Since its inception, crowd-funding site Kickstarter has funded more than $600 million in arts projects, and $323.6 million in 2012 alone. The National Endowment for the Arts only has an annual budget of $146 million, of which only 80 percent are grants. Individual donors have long been the backbone of the art world (arts nonprofits spent $60 billion last year), the disparity in collective action supporting the arts on Kickstarter versus the government is cause for concern—and reflection.

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  • hanleybrand

    To be fair to the government, let's get a little clarification on the numbers and the processes.

    First, the money:

    "Kickstarter funded roughly $323.6 million of art-related projects if you include all design and video-related projects, which make up $200 million of the total." (WP)

    What's not clear to me is if Kickstarter distributed $323.6 million to "the arts" or collected $323.6 million. Regardless, "Kickstarter applies a 5% fee to the funds collected." Now you might think "that's better than the NEA, which is only distributing 80% of the funds they collect from the gub'mint" -- but hold on a moment.

    We need to come to the second problematic bit which is this part: "if you include all design and video-related projects which make up $200 million of the total."

    Ok, stop. Under "popular this week" and "recently funded" in the design section of kickstarter you will find "Bicycle Haunted Playing Cards," "EiMIM X, Y, and Z Pens," "Handcrafted Recycled Notebooks :: #reNote," "A custom bigfoot reward sticker for your accomplishments!," "Gift Couture Steak Wrapping Paper," etc. I realize it's somewhat up to judgement, but mine is that, frankly, I see 0 projects that would qualify for NEA funding looking around for a few minutes.

    I realize that I'm not looking at everything, but it was enough to make me comfortable when I call including "all design and video-related projects ... $200 million of the total" complete bullshit.

    So in my mind we're down to kickstarter supplying either $123.6 million or $117.42 million to the arts, either way they're only on equal footing more or less with the NEA.

    So now let's look at what Kickstarter does for the arts.

    1) An artist can start a Kickstarter thing and try to raise money. All marketing for the kickstarter is up to the artist -- they'll only get on the "featured project" list when it's already successful, unless someone on the staff is really impressed by their project.

    2) If successful, Kickstarter cuts them a check for 90-93% of the money they collected. By the way, if they don't have a tax-exempt non-profit set up that is legally collecting that money, it's income according to the government. So an individual artist only ends up seeing maybe 66%-75% of the money they get from Kickstarter, which is already down up to 10%. (so if you raise $1,000 you get around $900 after kickstarter & amazon processing fees

    3) Kickstarter does nothing else for you. The artist does everything but the payment processing, basically.

    To contrast, go have a look at http://www.nea.gov ... I'll wait.

    Oh snap, it looks like the NEA is doing a little more for the arts than handing out grants. They do all that other stuff with the other 20% of their money.

    So let's be honest: The NEA actually wins this contest.

    Also, the NEA isn't really how the arts get funded in the US:

    http://createquity.com/2012/04/art-and-democracy-the-nea-kickstarter-and-creativity-in-america.html

    Disclosures: No, I do not work for the NEA, nor have I ever applied for or received a grant from them. I have met Alyce Myatt (Director of Media Arts, NEA) at a conference, and she was a perfectly lovely human being who was clearly committed to and engaged with the NEA's mission. I've never met anyone from kickstarter, but I don't hold that against them and I assume that they at least appreciate art -- I'm just not handing them a medal for doing anything particularly special for the arts just because some art projects got funded through them.

    • Yasha Wallin

      Thanks for the insight. I definitely see your point, on the financial side, however I actually think Kickstarter does a lot for artists in terms of exposure. For instance at GOOD we have an entire series dedicated to highlighting interesting crowdfunding projects: http://www.good.is/push-for-good And I also disagree that there are no interesting art projects on the site. I've personally funded dozens that I truly believe in. Here's one great example: http://www.good.is/posts/why-borders-disfigure-landscapes-as-well-as-thoughts

    • Andrew Volk

      I see your point with the wide range of what is considered "art" on Kickstarter. However, I think you're overlooking the power of the platform that Kickstarter offers to artists. Getting your proposal for funding in front of thousands of people on Kickstarter can be highly successful if done correctly and with great determination.