Rather than selling art pieces and event tickets, or relying on a small number of large donors, crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other sites, allow individuals to create profiles, promote their ideas, and collect smaller donations from a larger number of people, right across the world, in order to meet their funding requirements.
Art lovers can browse through thousands of projects and donate to those they like the look of, usually in return for a cheaper price for the product once it’s completed, or for bonus content, like DVDs, early access to a game, or personalized messages from the artists.
Historically, outside of a few high profile artists and organisations, it wasn’t possible to find enough people with similar interests in a particular geographical area or region, to fund projects in an economical way.
Therefore, in order to provide these kinds of niche art projects as a “public good,” governments had to collect money from everyone through taxes in order to fund these art projects that wouldn’t have been viable on their own.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned grants to niche artists only end up antagonizing taxpayers, forced to fund art in styles they don’t appreciate or huge public art displays commissioned by city councils while core services suffer.
But now, the Internet allows people with highly specific interests to find each other regardless of geography and to connect and work together to create art and culture that they like. Software provides a mechanism to enable economies of scale based on a worldwide population of potential supporters, regardless of your unique tastes.
A giant model of a human brain, to be displayed and then burnt, at Burning Man; a stage production of Terminator 2, composed entirely from the words of William Shakespeare; or a life-sized dinosaur puppet — all examples of some of the stranger Kickstarter projects that have been successfully funded recently.
In fact, despite being only one of many such websites, Kickstarter alone distributed more than $480 million to artists in 2013.
To put that in to context, the National Endowment for the Arts, in the United States, gave away only $158 million last year.
In just a few short years, relatively simple technology that enables people to find like-minded individuals with similar tastes in artwork, has eclipsed and then surpassed a 50 year old institution of government.
Indiegogo call crowd-funding the democratization of finance.
Hopefully, governments will learn the lessons of other industries and choose to embrace this technological advancement for what it is — the democratization of art — a remarkable step forward towards greater diversity of art and freedom for artists.