The Kickstarter solution

The fast growth of crowd funding's biggest star proves the strength of new models for financing creative expression SLIDE SHOW

Topics: slideshow, Kickstarter, Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, banana piano,

The Kickstarter solutionA Kickstarter-funded project in 2012: the banana piano

Kickstarter, the creative project crowd-funding site, announced this week that in 2012, “2,241,475 people pledged a total of $319,786,629 and successfully funded 18,109 projects.” The numbers represent impressive growth for the 3-year-old company. “The money total blew away 2011 by 221 percent,” reported Wired, “and the number of backers grew a corresponding 238 percent.”

Almost half the total cash pledged fell into the categories of gaming and “film and video.” The emphasis on creativity has led some observers to call Kickstarter “the People’s NEA (National Endowment for the Arts)” or, more jargonistically, “an arts organization for the post-gatekeeper era.” Meaning: We, the people, decide whose movie or game or funky art installation gets the green light, and not some bean counter in Hollywood or New York, or government bureaucrat constrained by shifting political winds.

That’s all true, and exciting. But Kickstarter’s success signifies even more that all those millions of people around the world chipping in a dollar here or a dollar there to help get someone’s dream off the ground is the best example we have yet of the Internet providing a solution to a problem that the Internet helped cause.

The disemboweling of established business models for the production and distribution of music, journalism and, perhaps eventually, film and TV, has caused much hand-wringing on the part of both entertainment and media executives and artists looking to make a living. Kickstarter, proud flagbearer of the entire crowd-funding movement, tells us that there are new ways opening up to finance creative expression even as old ways close down.

How far can crowd funding carry us? We have no idea. But we’re only at the beginning of this story, only just now figuring out how powerful our ability is to raise and aggregate a lot of cash from a lot of people in very small individual amounts to accomplish a given task, whether that be electing a president or funding the invention of a banana piano or getting a movie to Sundance. Kickstarter’s growth should give every artist hope: Where there’s a will, there’s probably a crowd-funded way.

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    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    Detroit needs, and will get, a life-size Robocop statue:
    After Detroit's Mayor Dave Bing tweeted that, despite requests, there were no plans to erect a Robocop statue in the city, à la Philly's Rocky monument, online denizens stepped in. Nonprofit community artist group Imagination Station raised $67,436 (well above its $50,000 goal). 3-D images have been made of the proposed statue.

    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    The world's largest jockstrap:
    Artist Michael Barrett, a former Marine, athlete and cancer survivor, raised just above his Kickstarter goal of $850 to create the world's largest jockstrap (now a Guiness World Record recognized event). And why might an artist be compelled to make protective groin wear for giants? Barrett explained: "Knowing the extremes -- the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the most and the least -- offers a way of comprehending and digesting an increasingly complex world overloaded with information."

    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    Geography brought to you via the Zombie Apocalypse:
    Seattle-based public educator David Hunter raised $11,886 (well above his $5,000 goal) to create a middle school geography curriculum, with textbooks and interactive elements, all through the lens of a zombie apocalypse. "Students will be able to learn real world geographic concepts by learning and applying their knowledge to survive in a world overrun by zombies ... Imagine being in a classroom where instead of reading about maps, you’re designing them to show the spread of a zombie outbreak," explained Hunter in his winning pitch.

    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    Sunken Lady Liberty:
    Kickstarter funding permitted visitors to New York's Governors Island to act out that scene from "Planet of the Apes." Artist Zaq Landsberg raised $2,201 to construct an exact replica of the face of the Statue of Liberty, which he positions to look as if it were sinking into the ground. The sculpture, "Face of Liberty," was displayed on the Island opposite liberty last summer.

    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    Coat-assisted bear hug:
    Baffoonery Factory LLC designed the Griz Coat, a coat that looks like a grizzly bear. "Wear it proudly and remember: It's not a costume. It's a lifestyle," the Kickstarter pitch noted. The New York twins behind the project only asked for $2,000 but raised a whopping $29,015 to make the coats, the first of which have already sold out (via Grizcoat.com).

    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    Banana piano:
    Makey Makey is an ingenious invention that allows you to turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the Internet. So you can load up a piano program and turn bananas into the keys, should that be your wont. Recognizing the project's cleverness, Kickstarter users donated $568,106 to California designer Jay Silver, who had only asked for $25,000.

    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    Giant snake of impending doom:
    What better to provoke a climate change debate than a 50-foot electromechanical snake? So went the reasoning behind the Titanoba project, which successfully raised over $10,000 to build a mechanical snake named after an ancient serpent born in a sweltering earth for -- you guessed it -- Burning Man.

    Kickstarter's awesome successes

    Knitted facial hair:
    5 O'clock Shadow believes beards should not be the preserve of the naturally hirsute. The company raised just above its $3,000 goal to produce a line of wool beards

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Andrew Leonard
Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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