image from a kickstarter "anniversary edition" ad

The Kickstarter Conundrum

image from a kickstarter "anniversary edition" ad

YOUR WALLET, 13 March — Last month Kickstarter’s co-founder Yancey Strickler famously, or now infamously, told Carl Franzen of Talking Points Memo that “it is probable that Kickstarter will distribute more money this year than the NEA.” (National Endowments for the Arts) Kickstarter will distribute over $150 Million to user’s projects. NEA’s FY 2012 budget is $146 Million. There’s been lots of good discussion of what this does and doesn’t mean and how Kickstarter and the NEA are apples and oranges.

None-the-less, I Personally love, love, love Kickstarter!


I love this new media platform, but… I wonder if it doesn’t, paradoxically, privilege old media… the world of objects… commodity culture…

Is it in Kickstarter’s DNA, in Kickstarter’s waffle-iron that we pour our project batter into, that it favors old media objects? Even if they’re shiny new toys, it’s still oldschool object culture.

I wrote from CAA about shifting from art about Scarce Objects, to art about Participatory Experiences:

This shift, while it feel like a true shift, rippling far beyond my own personal purview, is of course, a choice, a perspective, the art festivals and art auctions are still overflowing with commodity culture at its finest and probably always will be.

detail of Allison Weiss kickstarter image with text "get cool stuff in return"

While you can fund a really wide range of projects on Kickstarter, and while the rewards I’ve seen on Kickstarter have been wildly different, and while I do believe “backers” go there mostly for love and support and to build a better, deeper, richer, more vibrant culture… there’s no denying the trinketfulness of the “rewards” structure. Kickstarter doesn’t have to be, but feels so much like it wants to be, manufacturing, like giving you special object X for special donation Y.


I can’t deny that I like objects. It’s true that shiny baubles are fun. Yet for me, art in the 21st century wants to be an ephemeral, enveloping, participatory current that buoys us up and weaves community, that needs money, yet can’t be bought with money, that at it’s best, is about participatory experiences, not about scarce objects. Public Art. Free Culture. Virtual Space. New Media Experiences. But when you look at Kickstarter rewards structures, and at how many peeps pledge at what level, it’s clear that in addition to all that “good stuff” peeps are indeed pledging at specific object levels.

So that’s the Kickstarter conundrum in a nutshell, that we leverage the exciting new media global brain… in pursuit of creating more oldschool objects. I’ve commented in the past that all the cybersex in a world like Second Life is ironic in that it’s employing post-human technology to satisfy proto-human impulses. Perhaps Kickstarter too is revealing and bumpily riding the inconsistencies in who we were and whoever it is that we are in the process of becoming.

image of Kickstarter page for The Annual Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival
I made a small Kickstarter contribution to a hugely cool project yesterday: The Annual Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival. I love this project because it showcases women artists. I love this project because it takes the voice of this enormously important artform back from the misogynist tones we sometimes hear there. I love this project because it doesn’t produce objects, it produces experiences. But to be honest, I especially love this project because the rewards structure doesn’t offer physical objects, it offers ephemeral experiences… a video stream… a skype chat.

It may be in Kickstarter’s nature to favor object production, but projects like The Annual Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival show that the batter we pour into this new media waffle-iron can itself be new media culture. Bravo Ladies!

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

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