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Slipped Disc editorial: Next on Kickstarter, the Minnesota Orchestra?

The attempt by New York City Opera to raise $1 million on the popular crowdfunding site has aroused much disquiet, both among arts specialists and in new media circles. Kickstarter exists to raise cash for new ideas. It is a online lifeline for those who cannot raise cash elsewhere.

There’s nothing new or innovative about ever-struggling City Opera. City Opera exists – perhaps not for much longer – to entertain and elevate the people of New York. It is threatening to shut up shop next season – or possibly sooner, after staging Mark Anthony Turange’s Anna Nicole (pictured) – if it cannot raise a million bucks.

anna nicole


Wrong, all wrong.

Putting a standard arts funding campaign on Kickstarter, especially an emergency fundraiser like this, makes City Opera look like a horse that has lost its paddock. A long-established, supposedly popular opera house does not belong with the online newbies. City Opera offers nothing new, nothing more than more of the same. And it does so when all else has failed. The dysfunction of ways and means could hardly be more apparent. This is Kickstarter for losers.

So far, the City Opera bid has raised $12,262. Face may yet be saved, but Kickstarter looks  a lot less user-friendly for letting itself be used in this way.

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  1. Well, yes and no. There are pros and cons. Kickstarter is recognisable and is becoming a trusted way to give money to a cause – although yes it was originally intended as a way to crowdfund new products/inventions/companies. But, but, but:

    But #1: it’s not free. Of that $1m, if they raise it, $50,000 will go straight into Kickstarter’s bottom line, and $30,000 to $50,000 will line the pockets of Amazon (who I think is the company that processes Kickstarter’s payments). These are the percentages Kickstarter shows on its own site (5% fee plus 3-5% payment charges).

    Thus, around $100,000 of that $1m fundraising total will not go towards any opera. At that level, you could definitely afford to employ 2 or 3 members of staff to do your fundraising admin, and have a little left over to top up the marketing you’ll have to do in any case (people don’t just stumble across your Kickstarter page do they …)

    But #2: if they don’t meet the $1m target then they get nothing, and all that effort and goodwill of hundreds of donors is just lost: pointless!

    I don’t even like Kickstarter, really, for the “newbie” arts projects you mention. Too much is taken in fees. For the same effort you could set up a web page and a Paypal button, and you’d only lose your 3.5% to them rather than 10%. I have recently donated to Size Zero Opera’s crowdfunding effort – they exceeded their £5000 target but it’s still annoying that roughly the price of a ticket to see them perform was taken from my donation in fees (AND they gave me a couple of free tickets as a “reward”, so 3 tickets “lost” in total!) I’d rather have given my money by bank transfer, cheque, cash-in-a-brown-envelope etc.

    There’s clearly something about the brand of Kickstarter that people seem to think makes donating to the arts more acceptable than it otherwise would be. I find that quite mystifying.

    (Perhaps it’s Kickstarter’s requirement to clearly state what the money will go towards? That’s something most arts places could be a LOT clearer about)

    • If “2 or 3 members of staff” could raise a million dollars (how… calling donors who have already been called a hundred times?) I suspect that would have been done.

      That 10% cut is probably very low compared to what professional fundraisers end up with.

      As far as Kickstarter being for online newbies… a number of experienced (i.e. not currently trendy) artists have turned to Kickstarter to fund new projects. Animator Ralph Bakshi would be one.

      If it can work for film maybe it can work for opera.

  2. gomez de riquet says:

    then again, it could work and if so it would be a game changer for arts fundraisers in new york.

  3. David Boxwell says:

    I would contribute to something called Kickupthebackside for what has become a profligate and aimless and desperate NYCO.

  4. This is symptomatic of the dysfunctional American arts funding system as a whole. We need comprehensive public funding systems like every other developed country in the world has long had. Funding the arts by donations alone will never work.

    • Sorry, William, public money is the least reliable, most highly politicized funding source the arts could ask for. In Germany, where arts so far are highly respected, it works out. But the cuts will come sooner or later when some green party comes in to power and wants to do something “for the people” and cuts the orchestras overnight to much applause from the soccer hooligans. Arts institutions need autonomy and self determination. Charity is the most efficient way of funding and it’s the same as the trendy “crowd funding”that is looked on so favorably. Also, with public money comes strings attached, and given what we know about politicians and bureaucrats, it would be better if they weren’t part of programming issues.
      The orchestra I play in gets the highest amount of public money from our state and is the lowest paid full time group in the US. Also, look at what happened to Montreal Symphony 10 years ago.

      • harold braun says:

        Right,Andrew!The green party minister for culture has just started an assault on the Hochschule fuer Musik Mannheim,to do away with the classical music department in favour of a so called”Pop Academy”.Meanwhile,even members of her own party are so horrified by this ideas they withdraw her support for her,as does the coalition party,and after a storm of protests she may have to skip this bullshit.Anyway,anything can happen anywhere these days..

      • Your information is false. Arts funding has been very stable in the vast majority of European countries, and in most the funding has increased. For documentation see:

        Name one European orchestra the stature of Philadelphia that declared bankruptcy. Name one major European orchestra that has faced a year long lock out like Minnesota. Name one major European opera houses that has had its budget cut by two thirds like the NYCO and is now planning on completely cancelling its next season. Ha! An opera company trying to fund itself with Kickstarter. An American joke.

        If is unfortunate that so many Americans have been brainwashed by right wing think speak.

  5. Come to We’d love to help you raise the cash, although $1million is a big ask if you haven’t much experience in this form of fund raising.

    Crowdfunding is democratised fundraising, that’s why we’re open for anyone anywhere :)

  6. Alan Penner says:

    The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra on Kickstarter would be the greatest mess I’d pay to see.

  7. This is also a bad idea because they are sure to be humiliated when the campaign ends and they have what, $150K in the bank? You need to raise the entire amount or else everybody gets their money back, so any income they might have gotten from the kickstarter donors just evaporates. Let City Opera go. This idea is emblematic of the entire way the company has been run for more than a decade.

  8. Capt_Spaulding says:

    Kickstarter? For an ex-Lincoln Center organization? Is that the best you can come up with? Time to go George, and don’t let the door hit you (or the rest of the Board) on the way out…I would love to know the League of American Orchestras’ take on the miserable state of arts (mis-) management. They endorse it by not adapting, and that is criminal. A deficit for a non-profit at the end of the year traditionally had been eradicated by their biggest patrons writing checks at the end of the season. There were quick influxes of cash (pop concerts at first, then video gimmickry later) but the long game was always about presenting Western art music and being a force to make a community thrive and be given the power to love the arts by being educated about them, not just to be merely entertained. At one time, the arts and humanities were not viewed as elitist because many had the language and involvement that follows with that fluency as easy as talking about some sports team. (Bernstein and the YPCs for instance) Somewhere along the line, management became seduced by quick and easy, and by resting on their laurels (the reputation of the organization) and stopped educating and working to develop the long-term patron. Management failed to educate the next generation of management and what is in place across the country is a set of suits who can’t even take the successful models from the past and make them relevant for the current generation of subscribers. George says the NYCO can’t go on unless there is a “substantial influx of capital.” Spoken like a true drone, not a leader. The chickens have come home to roost by not investing in your biggest shareholders: the community. Thankfully, as is being demonstrated in Minnesota, there is a grassroots movements to wake the community up and realize that a public asset is being destroyed and plundered. I wish I could say the same for the Detroit Institute of Art.

  9. Sanford Rothenberg says:

    It would seem that history is repeating itself with NYCO and its continuing financial version of the “Perils of Pauline”.Obviously,the combination of fiscal mismanagement,squandered endowment funds,and “soft” pledges which were not paid to the company have brought NYCO once again to the precipice.

  10. No, it is a very particular case and symptomatic only of the string of bad decisions by the NYCO Board and Mr. Steel. Mismanagement personified.

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