Kickstarter is projected to distribute this year over $150 million for its users’ projects, according to one of its co-founders, Yancey Strickler. That is a remarkable achievement, particularly when you consider that the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) entire budget for fiscal year 2012 is $146 million, and Kickstarter is only three years old.
Stacking up Kickstarter against the NEA is not entirely fair because Kickstarter has a much broader compass. Kickstarter will consider projects for its website as long as they have “a creative purpose.” A young Seattle entrepreneur, Justin K, recently raised $15,000 for a new type of carbon fiber sunglasses. Somehow I don’t think Justin’s grant application would have gotten very far at the NEA.
Nevertheless most of Kickstarter’s $150 million will go to projects that would be considered legitimate art. Of the NEA’s 2012 budget, $28 million goes to salaries and expenses, leaving $118 million for “programs and program support.” So it is indeed possible that Kickstarter will provide more arts funding than the NEA this year.
I have been following Kickstarter closely (I first wrote about it last December) because it has approved a production of my new play Rousseau and Hobbes for inclusion on its website. You won’t find it there just yet because I’m still doing rewrites on the script.
Film is the biggest category on Kickstarter; more than $50 million has been raised so far for film projects. Consider that 31 films shown at this year’s South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas were funded by Kickstarter; that’s over ten percent of the total films screened there.
Theatre is a prominent Kickstarter category (it’s one of 13 categories listed on the landing page), as are the performing arts in general. A perusal of theatre projects today found a new musical, One For My Baby, that successfully raised $68,000 for a workshop/showcase production in New York. Another musical, The Manga Flute, raised the $12,000 it was seeking. Projects can also be modest: $1,500 was raised for a new musical out of Chicago, We Are Wyld Stalyns.
Kickstarter is not a slam dunk for artists. According to Strickler, only 46% of projects pitched on the website actually reach their goal and get their funding. A core principle of Kickstarter is that art projects only get their money if they reach their funding goal, otherwise funds are fully returned to donors. Many donations are small, in the five to twenty dollar range.
Prospective funders can search for projects by city. Seattle is one of ten cities listed by name and Kickstarter appears to be popular with Seattle artists. The Classic Crime, a Seattle indie rock band, recently raised $52,000 for a new album. That is a startling $22,000 over its $30,000 funding target.
Another Kickstarter principle is that every funder receives a reward from the project, the perk varying by amount contributed. For The Classic Crime album a $1,500 donor earned dinner at the Space Needle with the entire band. $1,500 out of your price range? For $55 you got a five-minute, one-on-one Skype chat with one of the band members, described as “a dreamy man . . . cute and plays guitar.”
Clearly I won’t be offering that reward for my theatre project. While the author of Rousseau and Hobbes might be considered “dreamy” in an absentminded sort of way, he is not cute and the guitar is a foreign object. On the other hand I think that a Space Needle dinner with a $1,500 donor is a clever, not to mention tasty, idea.