That Time Crowdfunding Failed The Opera, Or Not

on Tuesday, Oct. 1st

Look, I'm in Camp "Don't Read The Comments" as much as the next guy, but this article by Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic about the New York City Opera's demise, and a last ditch effort to save their season via Kickstarter just has far too great of a discussion.

Meyer sets up the issue like so:

Early in September, City Opera saw an upcoming financial cliff. $20 million was required, it said, for it to be able to fund itself through the year; $7 million was required for the company to survive September. It turned to private donors for much of that amount, but, to raise $1 million, it opened a Kickstarter.

Then lays the blame for the failure of the campaign mostly at the feet of Kickstarter.

The comments section, filled with (admittedly self-professed) non-profit fundraisers, is a clinic in what's wrong with the framing of the piece.

Not to throw Meyer under the bus: his logic is valid, but his premise is unsound. You can see it in the underpinning of his language throughout the piece and in the comments.

I make a point of this because so many people view crowdfunding the same way. As if the platform was the major attractor. The numbers Kickstarter itself provides show that's just not the case. Not yet, anyway. Meyer is reflecting the logic of many looking in on the crowdfunding space. Hell, I used to think this way too.

Each campaign has to build its own community, tap into existing communities, and then can benefit from maybe "going viral" of attracting some of the currently 147,000 people who are serial Kickstarter backers.

There is work to be done around organizing meta-communities for arts–film, dance, etc.–but at this point and time that isn't something that Kickstarter seems interested in. Other crowdfunding platforms are–hello, Seed & Spark–but this is a slow change. It will only seem like an overnight success about six years from now.

For some more thoughts about how arts communities can band together for mutual aid, read this post at Truly Free Film. Before that, read the comments on the City Opera piece.

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)


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