Kickstarting the online Renaissance

Kickstarter: medieval-meets-modern and a return to patronage

Image: Renaissance Fair by CC-BY-2.0 Flickr: battcreekcvb

“We are the media”. This is the catch phrase of Amanda Palmer's massively successful Kickstarter campaign to fund her new album. Cutting out the middleman and sourcing the artists directly: Kickstarter is creating a new generation of art funded through the crowd-sourcing method. It offers a sense of hope that we can take up the slack and hit back at the recession with medieval-meets-modern patronage.

Kings, Popes and nobility providing money to the penniless author is an image we are all familiar with. The old patron dictated what was created, using the artist for prestige and propaganda. Snatching Michelangelo from his sculpting studio and suggesting he paint your ceiling instead wasn't an option for everyone. This system dropped out of favour when capitalism let us all participate in mass consumption of art and artists wanted more independence and new subject matters. Our return to patronage is a democratic flip-side to the autocratic control of the Renaissance

The process involved in taking a creative project from idea to completion via Kickstarter is all about direct funding by individuals. The artist first works out how much a project is going to cost. For example a goal of $10,000 is needed in order to successfully produce, promote and distribute a stop motion short. People can then 'pledge' any given amount towards this budget. There is frequently a system of rewards associated with the pledges. Creators offer hand-made packages at different levels of giving to spur us on. These rewards are specific to the project and the fans: digital downloads, painted ukuleles and comical Christmas decorations. Although credit and payment details are entered at 'point of pledge' no money is removed from your bank account. It is only if the goal is reached in an allotted period of time that the cards and account are charged. This system protects the artist from being left with half their goal and a bunch of expectant folk waiting for your half-made project.

And it is working. Since their launch in April 2009 they have reached $100 million in pledges and in October 2011 they achieved their millionth backer.

However, I do not believe that crowd funding is the future for all artists. The massive successes of Amanda Palmer and Rich Burlew were dependant on their already strong and dedicated fan-base and it will not work for everyone. We can't all be successful artists, but we can all be supportive patrons. I am therefore less excited about what this mean for the artist (much has already been written on this subject), but what this means for the individual backers and for society.

We are accustomed to giving to charity for many motivations: a desire to do good or belief in the cause, a spontaneous reaction to a specific event, a sense of guilt or a sense of pride, prestige or pity, self-worth or personal meaning. However, as a rule monetary giving is a reaction to a need.

Kickstarter giving is active.

It is not about solutions. It is not about the survival of humanity. It's just making life a little bit better. This is exciting because people are willing to take an action, not based on a need, but out of a simple appreciation of creativity. As an English literature graduate I find this particularly exciting. My degree is disparaged by mainstream media and the government with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects often perceived as the only academic study worth funding.

In the face of all that, the success of Kickstarter means that art is valued by non-artists. The engineer backing $1 to a new comic book Kickstarter fund is not just saying 'I want to read this' but 'I believe that it is worth funding the Arts.'

This is big.

Let me put this in the perspective of a period of recession. People are not waving goodbye to wads of cash they were otherwise using to make origami wallets. The million plus backers have their own economic struggles, but we should be proud that in a time of difficulties, with the Arts particularly suffering (Arts Council England funding was cut by 30% in 2010), everyone has an opportunity to take up that gap -and are doing so.

The future of creativity is being decided on the internet. Is this the e-Renaissance?


Shame that for all my enthusiasm it is only the democratic process in America that we participating in! My hope is that with enough attention Kickstarter will open its doors and process to creative projects across the world.

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By Ruth Coustick on May 11, 2012

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