Kickstarter and the NEA

by on July 9, 2013 at 7:26 am in The Arts, Web/Tech | Permalink

Indeed, people have been saying since last year that Kickstarter funds more art-related projects than the NEA. And it’s true! For 2012, the NEA had a total federal appropriation of $146 million, of which 80 percent went toward grants. 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.

That is from Katherine Boyle.  Note that the actual comparison has less weight on the NEA side than this portrait might suggest.  The NEA itself notes: “Forty percent of the NEA’s funds go to the 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies and the six regional arts organizations in support of arts projects in thousands of communities across the country…”  To be sure, these are “grants,” but there is still room in the process for overhead — that ogre of non-profit work — to intervene as yet another grant has to be made.

Matt July 9, 2013 at 7:53 am

Kickstarter takes its cut too — it is not just the NEA that has overhead. From their website, it looks like their take is 5%, plus another 3-5% to Amazon for processing (if I am reading that right). So if you are going for the “actual comparison,” you should probably take that into account.

Still interesting, though.

Rahul July 9, 2013 at 7:57 am

It’s an interesting response to all those artists whining that people don’t care about funding art any more.

Apparently they do. All they needed was an efficient channel & the right kind of art.

Backer July 9, 2013 at 8:38 am

Considering Kickstarter in light of Cowen and Tabarrok’s work on artist’s motivations is interesting. Much closer alignment of incentives than artists using investor funding – even if it’s indirect investor funding.

JWatts July 9, 2013 at 9:19 am

…the right kind of art.

I think you’ll see a great many complaints from Artists on the NEA dole that Kickstarter doesn’t fund the “right kind of art” i.e. the art they want to produce.

Rahul July 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

Absolutely. I’m undecided though: historically a lot of “good” art came out of the single rich (often eccentric) patron model. Not sure how well a democratically funded art model will do.

Could end up looking like design by committee…..

Urso July 9, 2013 at 9:25 am

See the recent posts about Hollywood having to cater to the “average global viewer.” Expect more explosions, less dialog; or whatever the art parallel to that is.

JWatts July 9, 2013 at 9:32 am

I don’t think that’s the right example. Hollywood has always had to produce its product for general sale. I’d say that Rahul’s remark about patron art is closer to the reality. However, a patron generally wasn’t an ‘artist’ and was signalling to other patrons, so the art in such cases had to have some kind of obvious value to non-artists.

I suspect some of the NEA funded art has no intrinsic value outside of the artist and maybe a similar minded funding committee. It’s a recipe for a very insular community and product. The kind of product that should not be funded with tax dollars.

Rahul July 9, 2013 at 9:38 am

To put this empirically: What’s the track record of NEA funded art? Much good work come out of it? I don’t know but would like to.

For stuff like art, I’m not sure we know what funding approach works best exactly. So I’d rather have NEA co-exist with Kickstarter and other stuff, so long as it’s not costing us too much. Spread the eggs around in multiple baskets.

JWatts July 9, 2013 at 9:49 am

I like board gaming. Why doesn’t the Federal government fund board gaming development? It certainly has far more fans than a lot of what the NEA produces. I want my “free” goodies too. NEA art is an upper class signalling racket that has no market value of its own.

What is intrinsically more valuable about some art that’s hanging in a room somewhere that 99% of the population is never going to see vs a good board game design that’s Federally funded and therefore free to reproduce and would be enjoyed by thousands if not millions of people around the world?

dead serious July 9, 2013 at 7:03 pm

“NEA art is an upper class signalling racket that has no market value of its own.”

US military spending is a signalling racket that has no market value of its own, but costs orders of magnitude more than NEA funding. I’m not a fan of either, but given the choice I’m happy to pitch in my portion of the annual NEA spending if I can withhold what I’m currently forced to contribute for “national defense” (a misnomer if ever there was one.)

Tim July 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Except this is backwards. The NEA is beholden to every single US taxpayer. So you only get the most boring art funded by it. The NEA is still the Hollywood blockbuster model.
Kickstarter makes raising $2,000 for your tiny little idea pretty simple. Kickstarter is definitely the long tail model. What you do lose are the gate keepers who tell people what “great art” is.

Mark Thorson July 9, 2013 at 9:53 am

I am convinced that the “dogs playing poker” genre has not been fully explored.

Chad R. July 9, 2013 at 11:54 am

Just a quick consideration: Kickstarter gives the ability for crowd-sourcing funding, but it in no way eliminates the “eccentric wealthy patron” model. They might be said to be competing models since any particular artist can only do so much work at once, but I don’t think many artists would refuse a wealthy patron who offered to single-handedly fund their work even if they had other projects on Kickstarter.

J July 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

Plus there’s overhead on the artist side for both grants and kickstarter. Let’s not pretend that administration, fundraising and marketing is useless to art, since it has to be done by single artists just the same as large organizations.

Sam July 9, 2013 at 8:33 am

Is it fair Kickstarter.com could be renamed “CoasianBargainer.com”? Someone should demonstrate this by kick-starting a lighthouse.

JWatts July 9, 2013 at 9:20 am
Rahul July 9, 2013 at 8:52 am

One thing I wonder about Kickstarter is how much of this is a novelty effect? Will the funding wane as time passes by and people become familiar with the concept?

Backer July 10, 2013 at 5:32 am

Hasn’t waned in four years, I don’t see why it would start now.

C July 9, 2013 at 9:52 am

I have supported one project on Kickstarter: the global release of a small-budget anime film (The Time of Eve) that had a Japanese release some years ago, but would not otherwise have been released any time soon in the US. For me, that particular project was easy to agree to support since (a) I had a real interest from an anime-appreciation perspective in seeing it released and (b) my $55 funding level assured me that I would receive a copy of the resulting blu ray delivered to my door. Blu ray prices in Japan for anime are notoriously expensive (compared to US prices) so $55 was about right and at the same time I got to feel good about myself for supporting what I consider to be a good cause.

DW July 9, 2013 at 11:54 am

No question Kickstarter provides more funding to art projects than the NEA but $77 MM in funding for “Design” is primarily for product design. $10 MM of that went to the Pebble watch alone. While Design also includes graphic design, most of the funding in that category is also for products, such as playing card decks. I don’t think the “Design” category should be included in the Kickstarter number at all when comparing with the NEA.

Shane M July 10, 2013 at 2:53 am

Another outlet is ebay – although I don’t know the scale. I’ve purchased several canvases on ebay – work I’d never have seen if it wasn’t there.

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