The Trivialities and Transcendence of Kickstarter
We had this idea, some friends and I, for a small public art project in New Orleans last year. The problem was, it involved some professional printing that would cost a few thousand dollars, which none of us had. Usually that’s where such conversations end: it would be cool if we could do X, but we’re not going to get a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, even if we knew how to pursue such a thing. So let’s get another round of beers.
But this time something occurred to me: What about that Kickstarter thing? Kickstarter has been around online for just over two years, and various artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers and designers have used the site to raise more than $75 million for 10,626 “creative projects,” to use Kickstarter’s preferred term. That money has come from 813,205 “backers” — individuals making mostly modest contributions (the most common is $25) to support specific efforts. The selling point of “crowd-funding,” as this phenomenon has come to be called, is that it is an alternative to the wealthy patron or the grant-giving foundation. Kickstarter has become the most talked-about example of this democratizing technology: an arts organization for the post-gatekeeper era.
So what kind of “creative projects” does Kickstarter enable? Well, a couple of artists raised $2,181 to send funny handwritten letters to every household in Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill neighborhood; someone pulled in $8,441 to help finance the creation of “a searchable ethnographic database built from the lyrics of over 40,000 hip-hop songs”; a couple of people got $30,030 to publish a version of “Huckleberry Finn” that replaces Mark Twain’s use of a notorious racial epithet with the word “robot.” At times the sums have been a good bit larger: $67,436 to build a statue of Robocop in Detroit; $161,744 to make a computer-animated adaptation of a Neil Gaiman story; and nearly $1 million in pledges to finance a band to wear iPod Nanos as wristwatches. Clearly, the crowd had some spare cash, and if it paid for all those other ideas, why not ours? (It involved artists creating signs advertising absurd hypothetical uses for neglected buildings in New Orleans.) We decided to give it a try. We’d turn to Kickstarter: the people’s N.E.A.! Read ArticleBy Rob Walker