Click through the link to read a rant about music-related Kickstarter projects from April 6. Someone posted this on Twitter today, and reading it left me with mixed feelings (full disclosure: I’ve run two successful vinyl Kickstarters and at least two KS employees follow this Tumblr).
The author brings up some points worthy of discussion. It is absolutely true (and tragic) that community-based “high” art funding is in crisis right now. As a society we should be ashamed for not valuing the arts more. Secondly, there are indeed many differences in the way people consume, interact with, and perceive art produced by bands, and that produced by those doing installations, one-off dance performances, etc. This can create a problematic juxtaposition when these two somewhat-similar worlds are lumped together in a context such as Kickstarter. Thirdly, while I tentatively agree with the author’s “pay your dues” argument to bands, I think it’s a separate issue that he/she incorrectly conflates with the community-art crisis.
A rising tide should lift all boats. Herein is my main problem with the author’s rant - he/she assumes a zero-sum game. I believe that excitement about the arts is infectious, with the ability to cross-pollinate and expand across artistic scenes. Last year, Kickstarter raised as much money as the NEA gave out in grants. Was this extra $150M diverted directly from peoples’ pre-existing arts budgets? Of course not. I believe the typical Kickstarter arts pledger probably spent more on arts-related items in 2011 than they would have anticipated. In the same vein, I highly doubt the author’s assertion that Philly band Kickstarters are cannibalizing community-arts funding. Certainly, not every band should launch a Kickstarter, and many who do so have poorly-conceived projects (Again, Kickstarter’s quality control is a subject for another time), and the same could be said about community-arts Kickstarters. But looking at this in a more positive way, there is an opportunity here. Excitement about the arts is infectious. If a community has a vibrant scene in one area, be it music or visual arts or dance or sculpture or anything, that excitement can spill over and fuel growth in any other artistic area. And it should! Some folks will have to pick and choose which projects and events to support, to be sure. But excitement and cross-pollination will bring more people into the arts and grow a city’s scene, benefiting everyone. There are a number of easy ways to start doing this - bands could message to their fans about worthy local community arts projects, and vice versa, for starters.
Art funding is not a zero-sum game. But perhaps more importantly, negativity and division within a region’s artistic community is insidious and destructive. Maybe not every band should be on Kickstarter. But the way to improve a local scene is to highlight the best projects that are being produced at that moment - not to nitpick the bad ones. Focus on the exciting, new things happening, and break down barriers between different artistic scenes! This will further the quality and vibrancy of your local arts scene. Harping on the “unworthy” will only set you back.