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Reddit Co-Founder: Crowdfunding Is Powering a Second, Much Bigger Renaissance


We are living in the next Renaissance, but this one is touching so many more lives -- a democratic Renaissance, if you will, powered by the Internet. At least that is what Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian believes.

During the first Renaissance, germinated in the 14th century in Italy, the Medicis, a wealthy banking family from Florence, became patrons of legendary artists including Michelangelo and Leonardo di Vinci. This second Renaissance Ohanian speaks of will hopefully allow more exposure -- and money -- for artists and creators alike.

“So much of Western Civilization was created during that period of time, and yet it only affected a pretty small part of the world. Not a lot of people actually got a chance to do a lot of awesome stuff during that period,” says Ohanian, who also is a partner at Y Combinator, a seed-stage accelerator. The development of crowdfunding, however, is powering another Renaissance of creators on a “much bigger scale,” said Ohanian speaking in New York City last week at the BBC Future World-Changing Ideas Summit earlier this month.

Related: Y Combinator Partner on Crowdfunding: It Makes Our Job Harder

With Internet-based crowdfunding platforms, countless artists are able to raise money to support their craft. For example, Ohanian pointed out that a gentleman named Smooth McGroove is creating videos pairing acapella music with Super Mario game visuals thanks to money raised with crowdfunding over the Internet. “This is not School of Athens, but this is art. And to enough people, this is something that is valuable,” says Ohanian. McGroove, living in Oklahoma City, has made $2,600 from 800 people for his project. Crowdfunding allows “makers to create stuff, and get paid for it by the people who love them,” says Ohanian.

That spells opportunity for so many artists, not in the same binary Michelangelo-or-bust framework as during the Italian Renaissance, but still an opportunity. “Where there was once nothing, a creator can now create something,” says Ohanian.  

Related: How to Grow Your Art Into a Business: Move Beyond the One-Off Model

Ohanian’s presentation was exceptionally, maybe too conveniently timed. Reddit announced just yesterday that it was launching it’s own crowdfunding platform, called “redditmade.”

One byproduct, Ohanian admitted, of the explosive connectivity provided by the Internet and crowdfunding is that there may be work created that is less awesome than Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. But he also said that it is a fool’s errand to guess what ought to be deemed important and what ought to be deemed frivolous.

“It is very hard in the moment to judge a lot of this stuff. And yes, if everyone has a platform, there will be a lot of noise,” said Ohanian. “But I think it’s really exciting that there in that mess you can actually find some signal and perhaps discover some art where perhaps it never would have been found.”

Related: Artists Are Job-Creating Entrepreneurs, Too.

Catherine Clifford

Written By

Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.