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NEA vs Kickstarter?

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Compared to individual giving of 13 billion dollars (2011) to the arts, both the NEA (146 million, 2012) and Kickstarter (323.6 million, 2012) are a drop in the arts bucket: 1.1% and 2.5% of total individual arts funding respectively, and NEA funding is only 3.3% of the chunk that is not funded by individuals. I haven't watched the video yet to know whether it answers the question of whether the Kickstarter money is incremental money (or significantly incremental money) from "non-traditional" donor bases, or if Kickstarter is mostly a platform to process the same money.

While there's nothing to stop individual artists from soliciting grants for projects on Kickstarter -- at indiegogo, an artist could ask for funding to take a six-month break to recharge, not a Kickstarter option -- from the article, it doesn't seem to be the way it's been used to date, while over 116 million of NEA funding has been used for artist grants (80% according to the article).

There have been well-publicized downsides, particularly the peer pressure fellow artists feel to donate to each other's projects, but the upside might be a younger and more involved donor base that won't donate to an institution, doesn't care about the tax deduction, and would rather feel like an investor in a project.

I think this ties into the discussion about the questions Marina Harss raised Suzanne Farrell's stagings of rare Balanchine works under Balanchine Preservation Initiative and whether the money is well spent, since Kickstarter is pure audience-voting-with-their credit cards, without the panel of experts/peers deciding where the money goes:


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These computer-aided solicitation tools are still quite new, and I think it will take a while before we really see how they fit into the larger fundraising world, but I am following these developments with great interest. The idea of patronage has been limited to an elite population in the past (coming from wealth or power) -- I find it interesting that, in these DIY times, that just as "anyone" can build their own furniture, "anyone" can support an artist.

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I hope all these types of funding thrive, including NEA. They have different goals and Kickstarter (and similar sites) should not be allowed to form an argument that NEA is not needed. NEA has long tried to promote diversity in the arts, arts education, arts in every state and territory, underserved audiences, etc. and we need that to continue. Kickstarter has no such impetus.

NEA also runs a very elaborate panel review process, which only a handful of foundations can match. It has always been the case that many smaller foundations and individual donors look to NEA for the "Good Housekeeping Seal" that this project is worth funding. At Kickstarter, supporters vote with their pocketbooks, but NEA has broader criteria than that, which we need. Indeed, much of the early rationale for having an NEA was that it could support projects which were not commercially viable in the beginning.

Please remember that the current NEA budget of $147 million was cut by $7.3 by sequestration, and it's still far below the high-water mark in NEA funding, which was $176 million in 1992. Here's a chart of the history of NEA appropriations. Do remember that these are actual dollars, not inflation-adjusted dollars: http://www.nea.gov/about/budget/AppropriationsHistory.html

Here is the NEA budget request for FY2014, a modest increase to $154 million, but nobody should be optimistic they will get it:


Only about 18% of the budget goes to administration, which is pretty good, considering the very elaborate review panels they run for all the grant programs. The grants go to a wide variety of arts organizations, not individual artists. Some of those grants are designed to encourage private fund-raising with various matches. So NEA has always understood the importance of stimulating private giving.

In looking at the overall funding picture, do remember that colleges, universities, and schools at all levels provide an enormous amount of money for arts education. If the percentages contributed by NEA, Kickstarter, etc. seem small, it's not because all the rest is coming from foundations and wealthy donors. Much of that is coming from state governments to their educational enterprise.

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