Tickets to the arts 'n' tech oriented XOXO festival cost $400, and sold out in two days.
So why write about it, if it's sold out and only the super-rich could afford tickets in the first place? Well, first of all, festival organizers Andy Baio and Andy McMillan have booked a healthy fringe lineup of free events around the city (details on that in a minute). More importantly, the festival—which was funded entirely through Kickstarter—has a lot to say about the changing state of contemporary art and entertainment.
In the past few years, Kickstarter has made a significant impact on Portland's cultural landscape. Here's just a sampling of arts projects that have been funded via crowdsourcing: The Independent Publishing Resource Center collected funds to ease the transition into a new location. Experimental art-and-comics festival the Projects, modeled after European art comics festivals, will launch in October, thanks in part to nearly $9,000 in Kickstarter funds. Portland's "street librarian" Laura Molton raised more than $5,000 to support her bike-powered mobile library. The Dill Pickle Club partially funded a social history app—featuring stories and information about significant historical sites. And the Portland Sessions raised money to film Portland musicians performing live in unusual settings. Perhaps even more interesting than these one-off fundraisers, though, are individual artists who are increasingly turning to Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing sites like Indiegogo in order to fund their work.
By offering incentives to fans in the form of free content—by basically asking that fans pre-order their work on Kickstarter—comics creators Lucy Bellwood and Mercury freelancer Dylan Meconis recently funded book projects (Meconis raised a whopping $36,445), and musicians Weinland and Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives raised money to release their new albums. These are just a few of the many, many artists in Portland and elsewhere who are operating outside traditional "gatekeeper" models—in which books need publishing houses, and records need record labels—in favor of a fan-supported model that allows artists to retain control of their work. Essentially, the internet is solving a problem that the internet created. "Sorry I broke the music industry, guys, but... have you heard of Kickstarter?"
Which brings us back to the XOXO festival: The aim, says co-founder Baio, is to connect artists with the programmers and tech-types who are building the platforms they're using. (Platforms like Kickstarter, Etsy, YouTube, etc.) "The entire festival is about independent artists of all types—film, videogames, comics—who are using the internet in interesting ways to do things that they love," Baio explains, "and bringing those people together with the technologists who are actually building those platforms."
The conference portion of the festival—the part you can't afford to attend—features speakers like Etsy top seller Emily Winfield Martin, Metafilter founder Matt Haughey, and Community creator Dan Harmon. But Baio and McMillan have booked a weekend's worth of film, music, and arcade events that are free and open to the public (pass-holders get priority, though, meaning entry is not guaranteed—details at xoxofest.com). There's also a "market" on the basement level of Yale Union that's open Friday through Sunday and features local artists, readings curated by Reading Frenzy, and a lineup of food carts including Bunk's new mobile truck and the Kickstarter-funded Cheese & Crack. (Yes, it's an artisan cheese-and-crackers food cart. You do know you live in Portland, right?)
"This isn't practical," says Baio. "That's why it's called a 'festival.' It's about the culture and the stories of these people, and it ultimately benefits everybody, because they're talking. We've really focused on curating people across the arts, and across tech. Getting all those people in one room will be pretty awesome. Ultimately, they're all making things."