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The Current Museum board member and Transfer Gallery director, Kalani Nichole. Courtesy of Transfer Gallery

Cloud-Based Museum Meets Kickstarter Funding

Paddy Johnson

"You can invest in art rather than the rent." The Current Museum is working with Kickstarter's new platform The Drip to rethink its membership program.

The Current Museum board member and Transfer Gallery director, Kalani Nichole. Courtesy of Transfer Gallery

“Kickstarter is for Projects, Drip is for people.”

The caring-sharing slogan belongs to Kickstarter's new membership service aimed at creative folk that allows artists to collect money from followers in the same way that institutions solicit support from their members. Following in the footsteps of sites like the five-year-old Patreon, it’s also open to commercial enterprises. And while Drip is currently invite-only, it already hosts numerous artists as well as contemporary dance ensemble Stephen Petronio Company, music label Ninja Tune and non-profit virtual gallery and digital art advocacy group, The Current Museum of Art.

Kelani Nichole, a board member of the Current and owner of Transfer Gallery, thinks Drip has the potential to transform the distribution of digital art as we know it. “We’re rethinking the brick-and-mortar space,” she told me. “Physical locations guarantee limited access and specific context. What happens when you open this up?”

Like Drip, the Current has no fixed location. Founded with $150,000 used to seed a collection, the organization describes itself as a “non-profit examining technology’s impact through the lens of art.” Its mission is to “inspire wonder, support creators, and experiment with the role of museums through exhibition, scholarship, and preservation of artistic works that engage technology.”

Practically speaking, this means it’s an institution that hosts quarterly discussions focused on specific digital artworks that also gives members the opportunity to vote on which of them the museum will acquire. (This sounds even more impressive in the museum’s own copy: “We’re now building a distributed institution via 360° livestreamed salons and a cooperative collection of digitally-native artwork.”)

The Current has chosen Drip as the e-commerce site for its membership program. Five bucks a quarter allows members to receive email notifications about when the events will be livestreamed; $25 earns them access to the recordings of the coveted livestreamed events, artwork previews, and conservators documentation; and $250 offers attendance to the events and secures a vote on which artworks enter the collection. The model isn’t hugely different from those of other museums, apart from one important factor: most museum memberships don’t offer the privilege afforded to board members—a say on acquisitions—without the responsibility of financial stewardship.

“There’s a whole generation of people out there ready to engage in culture,” Nichole said emphatically. “They just need a way to connect. $250 a quarter to feel like you’re shaping culture—that’s something that can feel viable.” The art world is built on limited participation, so it’s good to hear about funding models that aim to be more inclusive. “We intend to open up access. So, if there’s a work that’s sensitive for the public to see, that’s not something that'll be a fit for the collection.”

In terms of viewership, the museum will sell virtual tickets, allowing admittance to the collection and helping to support scholarship and conservation. Also, Nichole tells me she’s interested in licensing the work so that artists can benefit from the proceeds: “It’s something the art world feels a little uneasy about, so we’re moving carefully and slowly in that direction.” (This is a personal interest, not an endeavor of the museum's). Clearly, artists’ resale rights are a much tougher nut to crack than managing a siteless institution; when asked about the decision not to invest in a public space, Nicole’s swift answer was reflective of the notoriously hypercompetitive New York real estate market: “From a budget perspective it was a no-brainer—you can invest in the art rather than the rent.”