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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Column: The state of the arts

The fine arts and the digital age don’t exactly look to each other with doting eyes.

The arts allege that the new era moves much too fast, with no pause for deep reading and reflection. The digital age retorts that fine art is an ancient, outdated practice in a mechanical time. They fundamentally undermine each another — one champions tangibility and sensory experience, while the other is based completely in a virtual reality.

Modern artists, of course, have embraced cyberspace as a platform for self-promotion and a vehicle for a new kind of creativity. But these two disciplines – science and the humanities – are frequently at odds for funding. A recent development, however, convinced me that this is no longer the case.
Kickstarter is a website that helps artists and entrepreneurs fund not only the fine arts, but all kinds of creative projects by soliciting the largest collective of people in the world — internet users. Commoners like you and me can become venture capitalists with a few bucks and a click of a button.

Carl Franzen of Talking Points Memo recently reported that Kickstarter is slated to contribute more funding to creative endeavors than the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) this year. It’s a huge revelation, considering that the NEA is the federal agency responsible for supporting artistic excellence, not to mention the most prominent funding source for arts organizations in the nation.

Our dire economic and political situation could be the reason why NEA’s budget is so limited. Cash-strapped Americans and small government advocates haven’t been kind to the humanities, which is why music and arts education have dwindled to a trickle. But the crux of the matter is that Kickstarter could serve to fill that void. Then, perhaps, the arts will see the digital age as friend, not foe.
The site has funded a number of projects right here on our campus. Studio 301’s production of RENT, for example, is just a few donations shy of $1,000. It has 42 days left to triple that amount and reach its goal.

AggieTV’s LipDub music video met its target, then raised $56 beyond it. If you haven’t seen the video yet, YouTube it — now. The charming six-minute cover of Queen’s “Bicycle” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” was an impressive, collaborative effort between the university and the Davis community, produced by students, for students. And Kickstarter made it possible.

Rachel Agana, who graduated from UC Davis last year, was AggieTV’s online producer for the event.

“I chose Kickstarter for LipDub because it does two things at once. You get to market the project, and you can earn some money,” Agana said.
The downside, she told me, is the risk. If you don’t reach your funding goal in time, no money changes hands. This policy encourages project coordinators to set their sights on the low end, lest they receive no funding at all. On top of that, Kickstarter takes 5 percent of the money raised, and Amazon takes an additional 3 to 5 percent for providing the infrastructure to donate. The company must, after all, sustain itself financially.
Generally speaking, art is abused on the web — thrown around and copied with little respect to attribution or copyright — but it’s also cultivated by sites like Kickstarter and, before that, Etsy, and even before that, eBay. Etsy and eBay provided a marketplace for artists to sell their work. Kickstarter now provides a means to create it.
It appears as though youth culture is beginning to value artisanship and ingenuity over mass-manufactured cheap goods made by cheap labor. In the Kickstarter network, the projects that people believe in are the projects that get funded. It’s a simple model, really, but a model that keeps up with changing times, one for a modern world that can hopefully save time-honored traditions.

Support the arts at the UC Davis Downtown Store this Friday where NICOLE NGUYEN and fellow printmakers will be selling their work. More shameless promotion at niknguyen@ucdavis.edu.

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