Kickstarter Helps Local Arts Promoters Get Their Projects Off The Ground
Grass-roots funding for the arts, both virtually and analog-ly
by Brianna Snyder
August 17, 2010
Anita Riggio’s been working on a musical adaptation of her children’s book, Beware the Brindlebeast. She’s been casting, composing, drafting, rehearsing and designing the show since 2007, and as the show is coming together, Riggio, who lives in Wethersfield, is now trying to raise money to fund readings of the show in Hartford and in New York City this fall.
To do this, Riggio posted a profile at Kickstarter.com. Probably the biggest (virtual) social network devoted to arts fundraising, Kickstarter allows artists (or, in Kickstarter speak, “project starters”) an outlet to promote themselves and solicit donations in tasteful, unobtrusive ways. You can go on the site, take a look at various profiles, and donate to anyone, anywhere, in usually any amount. (The minimum is typically $1.) Project starters set monetary goals they have to reach if they’re to receive any of the pledged donations. So if Riggio’s goal ($12,000) isn’t met by Sept. 1, she gets nothing. If she does receive enough pledges, she gets it all. Currently, she’s received over $9,000.
Stumbling on projects like Riggio’s at a site like Kickstarter is good for a project starter in terms of publicity and funding, of course, and it gives donors and admirers a sense of participation that ups the value of a project, specifically in public interest. If I donate $25 to a play or a band or an exhibit, I’m likely to be excited as a fan and also (now) as a participant, and I’m now more likely to recruit my friends to donate their $25 (or more or less or whatever).
If Riggio meets her goal, Brindlebeast can be performed in staged readings, which will hopefully attract lead producers, who then find funding that take the production to the stage and into the recording studio.
“I think [Kickstarter]’s a cool idea because it gets people interested,” Riggio told me over the phone. “But it’s also nerve-racking. We raised $2,300 in just a few days, and I think it’s very interesting because it stops for a while and you have to remind people again about the project. You just really have to keep reminding people. It has to go viral.”
When Riggio refers to “going viral,” she’s assessing the process pretty accurately, at least on the local scale. Word has to get out and stay buzzing. But word doesn’t necessarily need to reach a gazillion people in order to boost donations. A Hartford-based film, Four, overshot its goal of $18,000 by $1,300, with just 181 people pledging money. A band with Hartford ties, Shu-Sho, attracted 63 people to pledge just over $10,000, making their goal and sending them to the studio to record an album.
Other projects all over the country are attracting donors from inside and outside their cities, climbing toward goals that will eventually make it possible to make things like documentaries about rubber-band-powered model airplanes (that project starter’s made 137 percent of his $3,000 goal) or a Mobile Food Collective, where a “fleet of modified bikes transforms any place into a community dining experience” by traveling around town and setting up tables and dinners to help people rethink their relationships with food. As of press time, they were down about 500 dollars, with just a couple of days to go. One other project starter, claiming to be the fastest lock-picker in the world, is trying to raise money to improve the sport of lock-picking. With about 40 days left before deadline, that guy’s over his goal by $1,500.
Hartford City Councilman Luis Cotto is using Kickstarter to fund Center Without Walls, a project that “will take advantage of every nook and cranny in the city to present music, poetry, theater, dance, workshops, and just plain ole conversations to areas where mainstream arts organizations do not go,” according to his page on Kickstarter. He’s arranged for the saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who won a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2008, to perform in Hartford a work based on the famous book Rayuela. Rayuela, or Hopscotch, was written in Paris by Julio Cortázar, an Argentinean author. The book is famous for its multiple-ending structure; it’s designed to be read in any number of ways — by “hopscotching” between different chapters randomly, reading only the odd pages, only the evens, or reading it straight through. The story takes place in Paris and in Buenos Aires, and Zenón, who is Puerto Rican, is collaborating with the French pianist Laurent Coq to compose music based on the novel and its two settings. Cotto is trying to raise $7,500 for the project by Aug. 31.
Project starters are encouraged to provide incentives for donors, as well, to draw people in. For Center Without Walls, if you donate $5 you become a “lifetime founding member” and a recipient of Cotto (and company)’s “everlasting gratitude.” Pledge $100 and you’ll get a pair of free passes to all Center Without Walls shows and workshops. A pledge of $500 wins you all of the above, plus “a signed print commemorating our first year.”
So far the project has raised just over $2,500 with just a couple of weeks to go.
Being a city councilman, Kickstarter is especially ideal for someone like Cotto, whose deep involvement in the city and the city’s politics limits his ability to do more traditional fundraising, for various conflict-of-interest-type reasons.
“I’ve got so many ties out there,” he told me by phone, “it’s almost like I can’t ask anyone for money. But right now I’m on track to get [this project] going. There’ve been a lot of modest donations from all different people, and it’s adding up.”
Cotto says if he can’t meet his goal, he’ll have to raise funds for Center Without Walls himself. But he’s prepared for that, he says.
Some communities across the country are doing their own, analog, versions of Kickstarter. They’re local potluck-style arts fundraisers and they’ve turned up in places like Brooklyn, Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Portland (Ore.) and Chicago.
These small-scale, neighborhood-based food-and-arts events are meant to be fun and filling, but are quasi-business-minded. This is an opportunity for local artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers, etc., to pitch their ideas to an audience of likeminded donors. Each artist submits a “proposal,” which is voted on by the attendees and funded by that month’s pot, contributed to by everyone who comes to the event.
In Brooklyn, this event is called FEAST, which stands for “Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics”; in Chicago they call it InCUBATE (“Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and The Everyday”). The other cities riff on FEAST or on St. Louis’s soup-and-arts dinners, which they call Sloup. (In Portland, they call the gatherings Stock.) All are knowingly taken from Brooklyn’s FEAST formula, which they encourage other cities wanting to partake in this village-support mentality to feel free to replicate. FEASTs are literal social networks, and they’re helped along by virtual social networks. Each has a website, and all have Facebook pages.
Luis Cotto’s working on bringing FEASTs to Hartford, too.
“My hope is to do them at Sacred Heart Church in Hartford and work with Four Fields Farm in Granby (Hartford residents) to come up with the menu,” he wrote in an e-mail. He’s looking to organize a HartFEAST for the middle of September.