It all started with a show that never was—a $20,000 concert that Perry Chen was trying to organize at the 2002 New Orleans Jazz Fest. The problem was he couldn't afford to assume the risk on his own. That's when the Tulane business-school grad realized that the world needed a better way to fund the arts. Three years later he approached Yancey Strickler, the editor-in-chief of eMusic, with the revolutionary idea for Kickstarter. Together with tech designer Charles Adler, they launched the site, creating a booming new market for creativity. In essence, they introduce people with money to people who need it—giving filmmakers, musicians, and writers a forum in which to pitch their dream projects. If the artist's proposal doesn't attract enough backers to reach the funding goal in the allotted time, no money changes hands. "It's not about standing there with a cup out," Chen explains. "There's something being exchanged." For $25, a patron might receive a DVD. For $250, an executive-producer credit. In its first 16 months, Kickstarter raised more than $15 million for roughly 2,000 projects—$20,000 for the Polyphonic Spree to play a show in Uganda, $25,000 to send cartoonist Ted Rall to Afghanistan. But the fund-raising success of ventures like Diaspora—a privacy-sensitive anti-Facebook project that attracted $200,000 on the site—illustrates Kickstarter's potential to not just reward imaginative thought but also spark a modern Renaissance.