WHO WANTS to come into space with me? Thanks to Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform, that is not a rhetorical question. I’m backing the Arkyd project, which is seeking $1m to launch a small space telescope into orbit. It has already raised more than $890,000, putting it on course to be fully-funded by its deadline on 30 June. If it hits its target, some time in August 2015 I will upload a digital photo to the Arkyd’s screen, where my image will hang against the backdrop of space as the moment is photographed for posterity.
I will of course be sending myself, holding a copy of City A.M., into space. But anyone else who sees the magic in a spacefaring selfie can visit Kickstarter before the end of the month and join in for just $25.
I love this project, and not simply because of its openness, its low price or its technological cleverness, all of which characterise the best of the free market. What is so significant about the visionary ideas being brought to life in Kickstarter and similar platforms, like Indiegogo, is the way business and art have begun to intermingle, to the benefit of both.
For too long, the art world has seen its mission as standing in opposition to commercial culture. What started as bold countercultural originality has decayed, inevitably, into a lazy cliche.
In the process, art has cut itself off from the many positive values of the business world: its ambition, its recognition of the heroic potential of human action, its capacity to enter into relationships with large numbers of people and reflect their longings. The American critic Camille Paglia has written that the applied arts, including industrial design, have begun to surpass the fine arts precisely because only they are engaged with commercial realities.
Kickstarter changes all that: it is an entrepreneurial platform for art projects. As its website says, “Creative works were funded this way for centuries. Mozart, Beethoven, Whitman, Twain, and other artists funded works in similar ways – not just with help from large patrons, but by soliciting money from smaller patrons, often called subscribers.”
Not everything on Kickstarter rises to that standard. But among the proposals for lines of artisanal sneaker laces, handwoven in Brooklyn, sit moments of brilliance, like the Glowing Plant project – or Arkyd’s space telescope for everyone.
Arkyd is a genuine business effort: it is part of the work of Planetary Resources, a company co-chaired by Peter Diamandis of the X Prize, with its sights ultimately set on the potential of asteroid mining. But it is also a real art project, determined to change how people see the world, rekindling excitement about access to space by “extending the optic nerve of humanity”.
Kickstarter’s founders say: “We believe that creative projects make for a better world”. They are right. When art’s power to change how we see ourselves is brought back together with the dynamism and humane concerns of business, it can escape today’s deadening cynicism. To reach for the stars, we must rediscover our sense of adventure.