This summer, the National Endowment for the Arts fielded its updated Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). Not only has the questionnaire itself been updated, but also it’s being asked of a lot more people this time around-almost 36,000 (around double the number of people included in 2008). For anyone hungry for more and better data on arts participation- like me- this is good news!
Though I am like a kid on Christmas Eve awaiting the 2012 SPPA data, I’m disappointed that my geeky data-Christmas comes so rarely. It takes a long time to get surveys of this scale up and running, and unfortunately, the development of the 2012 SPPA sidestepped one of biggest phenomena we’ve seen emerge in how people participate in the arts: the explosion of crowd-funding.
Kickstarter has grown exponentially since its launch in April 2009, and IndieGoGo has grossly expanded since its 2008 start with the independent film industry. RocketHub, USAProjects and power2give.org, have also emerged as major players in the micro-funding sphere. Each of these platforms differs in its eligibility criteria, fee and incentive structures, and other aspects, but it seems like they have one thing in common: their focus is on the story of the “fundee”, not about the “funder.”
Then what about the funder? From what I can tell, there are more people participating as funders (aka backers, donors, supporters, etc.), than as fundees- what drives them to participate? Getting insight into the creative process? Ownership in the creative product? Low access barriers? How else do these people participate in the arts-do they create themselves? Do they attend? Donate through other means? Volunteer?
In our 2011 report for the NEA, Alan Brown and I explored three main modes of arts participation measured in the 2008 SPPA, the most recently available data from the NEA-arts creation or performance, art engagement through media, and attendance at arts activities. I assert that being a crowd funder has emerged as a fourth significant mode of arts participation that the arts field and policymakers need to study if we are to better understand how the US population engages in the arts, and it values that engagement.
I also suggest that this information would be valuable to each of the platforms currently helping crowd-funding grow and thrive. This is a shameless pitch to these platforms to engage in dialogue with me about how to get this research effort underway… ideally in a timeframe that would inform and expand the conversations that will begin in 2013 as we begin to see the results from the 2012 SPPA.