One of my friends thoughtfully shared a link with me about Kickstarter’s impact on indie artists: “Kickstarter Expects To Provide More Funding To The Arts Than NEA.” To which I squealed, “NEA funding is a pretty low bar!” Not to disdain the valuable work of the National Endowment for the Arts, but their impact on individual artists is negligible, and on individual artists of color…minimal. To assume otherwise is to misunderstand the role of the NEA.The NEA funds organizations, not artists. People create art, teach kids, and perform. Institutions showcase these artists, give them space to grow, and a platform to share their vision of the world. But institutions are gatekeepers and serve the interests of structural inequity.
fTo get funding, artists of color had to form organizations and partner with [older, whiter] nonprofits. Spellman pinpointed the detrimental effect: “a part of the trap is that you aspire to institutionalize yourself.”And shockingly, artists of color weren’t as good at institutionalizing themselves. As funding guidelines required that grants be readministered through white-majority institutions, culturally specific organizations did not have the support to build stable infrastructures of their own. Which led us tothe “only one Ailey” phenomenon: while people of color make most of the art in this country, we only have a handful of powerhouse, internationally recognized arts organizations. There are a ton of brilliant artists and arts organizations of color scraping by, but our cultures deserve much more.
Which brings us back to the crowdsourcing explosion. Things we can be sure of: the funding model for the arts privileges older, larger arts institutions, which have historically excluded artists of color…[c]rowdsourcing platforms such as Kickstarter cut through all this mess. As cultural consumers, we can vote with our wallets. And cultural entrepreneurs that look and act like us can finally move their projects forward.