In the spirit of the Aspen Institute Arts Program’s Year of the Citizen Artist, Director Damian Woetzel recently invited crowdsourcing experts DonorsChoose.org CEO Charles Best and Kickstarter Co-Founder Yancey Strickler to the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. Following a program with Hunter College students, Ford Foundation Vice President Darren Walker moderated the discussion Democratizing the Arts: Cultural Entrepreneurship, Funding and Sustainability for the 21st Century.
Both 30-something innovators come from backgrounds that were more “in the trenches” than tech-related. Best, a former teacher, saw that educators weren’t able to bring practical lessons—including arts projects—into their curricula because they lacked funding. Strickler, a former rock journalist, felt he and his contemporaries were left wanting when looking for inspiring projects. “The art we loved was hard to find,” said Strickler, “because it was not making money.”
The companies they founded allow individuals to support projects that align with the donors’ own values and tastes, offering the contributor a producer role. Walker, who himself helps choose which grant requests to fulfill through the Ford Foundation, posed the philosophical question of whether or not allowing the masses to choose art, rather than traditional experts, was a good idea. Strickler noted that while Kickstarter and the National Endowment for the Arts—the largest grant-making institution for the arts in the U.S.—were “bros,” his website generated “twice as much money as the NEA” in 2012 and will likely triple the amount in 2013.
Watch the conversation here to also learn why the 501c3 tax status held by most traditional arts organizations may not carry the same weight with donors as it once did.