Opinion

Art Basel and Kickstarter Team Up to Make Each Other Feel Good

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Here’s a URL that launched this morning: artbasel.com/crowdfunding. Yes, indeed, friends! Art Basel, the art fair behemoth that rakes in millions of dollars annually, is now investing in crowdfunding. Happy day?

Sort of. If Art Basel really were investing in crowdfunding small creative projects, that would be neat. Generous, maybe. Helpful. Alas, Art Basel is merely bringing its brand to bear on crowdfunding, recruiting some curators and other art world types to curate projects for a special page on Kickstarter. That’s it. Just setting up a portal of sorts, theoretically, to connect their moneyed clientele with crowdfunding artists and arts organizations in need. Which is all fine — even generous, in a certain, very specific light. Maybe.

(screenshot via artbasel.com/crowdfunding/)
(screenshot via artbasel.com/crowdfunding/)

That it’s couched in the language of “catalyz[ing] much-needed support for outstanding non-commercial art projects” and “support[ing] non-profit visual arts organizations, at a time when public funding for the arts has been dwindling” is what actually rankles me. That Art Basel would have the temerity to say it’s doing those things — without any commercial gain! — when really it’s not. Supporting nonprofit visual arts organizations means, you know, supporting them. With resources and stuff. The only resource being offered here is publicity. Of a certain, very specific (and not yet entirely clear) nature.

(screenshot via kickstarter.com/pages/artbasel)
(screenshot via kickstarter.com/pages/artbasel)

What the Art Basel/Kickstarter partnership basically does is give a high-end imprimatur to the rat race that is crowdfunding. Which, from where I sit, doesn’t look much like support. It could even be the opposite. Consider this passage from the best piece I’ve read about Kickstarter, by Josh MacPhee in The Baffler (read the whole thing if you haven’t):

As celebrities begin using Kickstarter, hailed by the company as a “new model” of fundraising for recording artists, we get a glimpse of the long-term vision. Kickstarter will become just another tool for the parasitic extraction of wealth from fans, and celebrities will become the only ones with enough real and cultural capital to launch significant and successful fundraising campaigns.

… And how do these celebrity campaigns affect everyone else’s chances at raising money? For a long time there has been a cottage industry of experts consulting on how to run a successful Kickstarter (a quick web search finds more than two dozen articles promising help in mounting a strong campaign, such as “Kicking Ass & Taking Donations: 9 Tips on Funding Your Kickstarter Project” and “9 Essential Steps for a Kickstarter Campaign”), and some of these tips expose just how far Kickstarter has strayed from most people’s conception of community. In particular, it is now common for people running campaigns to send out press releases to drum up media exposure. Earlier this year, well-organized and well-capitalized project hopefuls began hiring consulting firms for their campaigns. When a project’s funding depends on bending the ear of the mainstream media, Kickstarter will no longer be a tool for the aspiring artist or amateur filmmaker, but just another way for those already laden with cultural or actual capital to attract more of it.

Think about the last part of that last line. Think about an Art Basel–sponsored curated Kickstarter page. Now tell me who’s accruing all the capital.

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