Some Additional Thoughts on Kickstarter and Arts Funding

Last Friday we had the pleasure of welcoming Stephanie Pereira, Art Program Director for Kickstarter, a site that we have profiled, examined and analyzed a number of times here on the blog, to Carnegie Mellon for a speaker series event for our Master of Arts Management program. Her presentation and Q&A session talked about how projects are started, the rules for the site, and a look at some of the more interesting projects the site has seen as of late. As a policy student, I am always fascinated by numbers and what trends are driving the dynamic changes we are seeing in the arts community. Before I go back to my usual beat of looking at how the worlds of art, technology and policy intersect, I wanted to pause this week and examine some of the statistics that were presented at Friday’s event, and what they say about the nature of giving in the art world.

As anyone who is familiar with Kickstarter can tell you, their growth in recent years has been nothing short of astounding. I recently looked at how their estimated funding level for 2012 is set to eclipse the entire annual funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federally funded arts program. That kind of grassroots energy, passion and dollar commitment is a testament to a real market for substantive funding for art projects at the national level.

Why has it taken this long for large scale arts funding to reach the national stage? Technology would certainly be one answer, as the world of social media has opened up other industries to new funding mechanisms and audience participation. And while there are other excellent crowdfunding resources on the web, Kickstarter remains the most visible, offering artists the best potential opportunity to ultimately create their projects.

Anytime you have a site like Kickstarter that changes the way the arts are funded here in the U.S., a look behind the curtain at some of the statistics is a welcome way of analyzing what exactly is responsible for its success.

One important stat to point out about Kickstarter: while the recent projects that eclipsed the $1 million mark receive most of the attention, the vast majority of successful projects fall in the $1,000-$5,000 range. The rewards offered for these projects pale in comparison to those of the more ambitious projects, but having such a low threshold naturally entices more people to commit dollars in the hope that a project they admire and want to see is successful.

Another important stat to point out: the average pledge amount is not, as I would have expected, in the $10-20 range. According to Kickstarter, it is actually $71, which shows people who are pledging money to these projects are donating more than a couple cups of coffee: these are real dollars being committed here, and it is of little surprise that with the thousands of projects being featured on the main page of the site over any given week, that so much money is being pledged to the wide variety of projects on display.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic, however, is what Kickstarter refers to as the “tipping point” for project success: once a project reaches pledges totaling 30 percent of its funding goal, it has about a 90 percent chance of reaching its target. This puts a lot of pressure on artists and project leaders to get their main support system at the outset (i.e., their friends and family) to commit funds in an effort to pass that threshold. While not a guarantee, it is fascinating to see how often projects reach their end goals when they pass a common threshold.

Finally, it may surprise you to learn that the three categories that receive the most pledges do not include paintings, or public art pieces, or video games: the top three categories consist of film, music, and design (with film being the winner by a large margin; dozens of films are now being released each year that were funded through Kickstarter, with many of them debuting at SXSW a few weeks ago).

These are just a few of the hundreds of statistics that Kickstarter has provided over the years. Their blog is a great resource for a look at the trends and figures that help explain the quantitative success behind the site, and is definitely worth bookmarking.

We love writing about Kickstarter here at Tech in the Arts, and as the site continues to grow in future years and brings to life thousands of art projects, we can’t wait to see what kind of ideas and projects come our way.