There’s a point in the year that certain high school art-kids dread: school budget analysis. It is the time that many of their beloved programs are predictably brought to the chopping block. Art classes, film programs, writing workshops and music ensembles inevitably have their own individual budgets hacked away year by year, each annual meeting leaving them in a financial state more serious than the year before.
As a proud band-kid myself, I have been subjected to this same fear. I’ve attended my fair share of school board meetings, awaiting the fate of the programs that my peers and I held very dear. As the years go on, it doesn’t get easier to see meaningful programs have their budgets marginally reduced or whole activities get eliminated. The experience is scarring, leaving feelings of emptiness, inappreciation and anger that never truly go away.
At a time when local, state and federal arts funding are at an all-time low, it seems like individual supporters are just now beginning to work to fill in the gaps that the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) cannot. The truth is, individuals have always been the largest source of funding for the arts. The NEA reports that nearly 75 percent of private contributions are made by individual donors. In 2011, $13 billion was given to arts charities by individuals. Now, with the help of new technology, becoming an individual donor is easier than ever.
A website called Kickstarter is acting as the newest platform for individual support of the arts. A “crowdfunding” operation, it is modeled after the way artists from decades ago, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Whitman or Twain, would fund their projects, but with a twenty-first century twist. Launched in 2009, Kickstarter allows artists to propose their creative projects or goals like music albums, art pieces, video games and so forth on its website. Project creators set a goal for how much they want to raise and a deadline for when they need it; anyone who views the idea on Kickstarter’s website can pledge to fund money in any amount. The project creator will then only receive the money that was pledged to their project if he or she meets the set goal and deadline.
Since its inception, Kickstarter has raised over $724 million from more than 4.5 million individual donors. Nearly 44 percent of the projects proposed through Kickstarter have reached their goals and been funded. That makes a total of 45,000 creative projects that have been funded solely through individual supporters.
The arts have been in danger for some time due to lack of funding, but with the continued support of individual benefactors and the newest support from ordinary people from all reaches, they don’t have to be. Organizations like Kickstarter make it easy to be supportive of the things you care about and help out other people who care about it, too.
Did You Know? Although a lack of funding for school arts programs is not a new problem, it seems pro-arts initiatives are finally being given the attention they deserve. Individual states and districts are doing their best to revitalize their programs, arts being a main priority. Thanks to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at least “some arts instruction and cultural programming” is available in almost all city schools—a stark contrast to the low 45 and 33 percent of schools that provided arts education in elementary and middle schools, respectively. Dallas is another up-and-coming pro-arts community. For the first time in over 30 years, every single elementary student within the Dallas Independent School District is required to participate in 45 minutes of art and music instruction each week. Communities in Minneapolis, Chicago and Arizona follow Dallas and New York City as making the most notable changes to their programs in an effort to infuse the arts back into their curricula.