A relatively new service called Kickstarter, which describes itself as a funding platform for artists. Writers, filmmakers, musicians, and other creators can post projects to the site with attached budgets, which visitors can fund via pledges. If the budget is met within the specified time, the project gets funded. Otherwise, all funds are returned to the patrons, like a challenge grant. Often, creators provide incentives for contributions of different levels, offering special editions, custom runs, concept art, or other exclusive materials for patrons at higher contribution levels.
A number of game projects have found their way onto Kickstarter, including Mark Essen’s successful bid to update his game Flywrench for the Independent Game Festival, and Borut Pfeifer’s active effort to fund his new game about the 2009 Iranian elections.
A website that helps turn anybody into an arts patron is a lovely idea, and I want to embrace the idea of Kickstarter. But instead, I can only muster an ambiguous sense of self-loathing over the idea of art being fundable on spec in the first place.
Projects like the record company trying to offload stock before their warehouse downsizes, or the many musicians trying to fund a recording session or a short-run of CDs, or even Essen’s revision of Flywrench are not art projects, they are mechanical ones. They are pragmatic. There’s no risk and no creativity involved. This is not a criticism: they are arguably the most compelling projects to fund, since the stakes are low and the outcome is clear.
It is tempting to view Kickstarter as just a “democratized” arts patronage system, whereby the closed system of gallery commissions are released into the equitable rainbow of populism. It sure sounds good, especially in that Silicon Valley way, whereby cultural contribution is a matter of boxed up, templated facility rather than messy, dangerous creativity.
But I wonder, can art be run like a business loan or a farmers market? Doesn’t there have to be some conceptual and personal risk involved? Is it even sensical to say “I want to plumb the black depths of human sorrow, and I can do it for $5,000, and if you contribute $200, I’ll send you a sketch of me in a deep evening funk drinking bourbon out of a Denny’s mug.”? Imagine if Brenda Brathwaite had put her game Train up on Kickstarter. It would have seemed a parody of itself. “I will make a boardgame about complicity and regret in the Holocaust. I need $2,000 to buy wooden Jews and a Nazi typewriter.”
Far from supporting the culture industry, Kickstarter goes one step further: it turns expression into public commodity speculation. Once everyone was a consumer. Now everyone can be an angel investor. How long until someone starts up Hedgestarter, a site for trading Kickstarter derivatives?