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    Posted January 24, 2013 by
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
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    Could Kickstarter replace the National Endowment for the Arts?


    By Cindy Moy: A guy at my church needed to raise funds to present a play at a local theater festival. He set up a page on Kickstarter, and people donated money toward his cause. Kickstarter is a website used for crowdfunding, defined as the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.
    Kickstarter expected to raise $150 million for users' artistic projects in 2012. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has a fiscal budget of $146 million. About 20% of those funds ($29 million) are spent on administrative costs.This brings up an interesting question. Could Kickstarter replace the NEA as the source of arts funding in America?
    My Republicans friends are cheering 'heck, yeah!' My Democratic friends are gasping in horror.

    The Kickstarter founders are explicitly stating that they do not want to replace the NEA, and to be sure, the two organizations have very different goals. Kickstarter funds individual projects, and the artists seeking funds must attract donors according to Kickstarter rules. The NEA seeks to build state and regional partnerships to encourage the arts. (I'm not sure what that means in practice, but it sounds like a good idea.)
    This is what I propose: Let's keep the NEA budget at $146 million, but let the taxpayers vote on how to allocate the funds (ala Kickstarter), just for two years. After the initial conversion to the Kickstarter format, perhaps we could cut those administrative costs in half. The money saved could go into funding more partnerships.
    Granted, it may be dicey, letting the same people who made Honey Boo-Boo the number one show in America--on The Learning Channel no less--make those decisions, but someone is making those decisions at the NEA, and my guess is that those are human beings prone to subjectivity, just like the rest of us.
    It's an experiment in direct democracy, and one that carries little long-term risk. If we decide to allocate $500,000 to the North Dakota partnership, rather than the current $750,000, how much damage will really be done? Will there be a sudden dearth of art in North Dakota?
    If it works, we can use the same process in other areas of government, such as that pesky pork barrel spending. The Alaskan governor wants $223 million to build the Bridge to Nowhere? Set up a page, Gov, and let the taxpayers decide.
    The local sports team wants a new stadium? Build a crowdfunding page.
    Okay, enough of my politically active friends (on both sides of the aisle) are hyperventilating by now, so I'll give you the short answer as to why the NEA will never be run like Kickstarter. America is a republic, in which the people elect representatives to make governmental decisions for them. Our elected leaders get to decide how to allocate NEA funds, if any.
    If would be interesting, though, to see how you and I and our neighbors would divvy up those funds, wouldn't?
    Cindy Moy is the editor of The Socratic Project (www.thesocraticproject.com), a modern, philosophical conversation about American culture.
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