The Arthropologist

Putting the FUN in arts fundraising: As Ed Norton knows, it's all about the crowd

Putting the FUN in arts fundraising: As Ed Norton knows, it's all about the crowd

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Two Star Symphony quartet members Debra Brown, Jo Bird, Margaret Lejune and Jerry Ochoa Photo by Sarah Prikryl
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Tom Gandy shoots footage of quilter Caryl Bryer Fallert at work in her studio. Courtesy of Picturesmith Productions
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"Building the Forest with Appalachian State University Students" Photo by pearldamour
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Marc Bamuthi Joseph's hip-hop inspired show, "The Break/s: A Mixtape for the Stage" Photo by Bethanie Hines
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Two Star Symphony octet members Cathy Power, Kirk Suddreath, Jon Duboise, Jerry Ochoa, Jo Bird, Debra Brown, Margaret Lejune and Chris Bakos Photo by Sarah Prikryl
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Stitched volunteers Deb Hensel and Bryan Parras interview an international visitor at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in November. Courtesy of Picturesmith Productions
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Stitched director Jenalia Moreno and director of photography Tom Gandy interview Mayor Annise Parker in front of a quilt inside the George R. Brown Convention Center. Courtesy of Picturesmith Productions
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Only 22 days to go. Act now. Send your cash. No, I'm not selling a used car, but a chance to finance Two Star Symphony's recording its Titus Andronicus score created for Dominic Walsh Dance Theater using IndieGoGo, a crowd-funding platform.

For $500 you make the "lover" level, where Houston's beloved indie band comes to your house. I saw Two Star perform in Walsh's Titus. They were terrific, as was the score, so this a worthy effort to ensure we are going to be able to hear this wonderful music again. 

Where's the "fun" in fundraising? It's certainly not in the heap of letters from various artistic directors stacked up in the Bermuda triangle zone of my office. There are new kids in town when it comes to artists collecting bucks for their projects and they go by the names of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Crowdrise, RocketHub, and United States Artists, to mention a few.

Are these efforts to democratize fundraising, leveraging social media and enlisting campaign strategies to make those elaborate paper pleas for cash a thing of the past? 

Let's find out.

Two Star preferred IndieGoGo's approach. The troupe proved a huge hit at last year's TEDx Houston and are known for the classic film scores it performs at Discovery Green. Soon, the band heads to SXSW for a March 15 show.

"We considered several, and found IndieGoGo had a clean interface," says Jerry Ochoa, a violinist in the band. "It's so well laid out, too. I like that we can include testimonials."

Ochoa first became interested in this type of fundraising from Divergence Vocal Theater head Misha Penton's well researched blog post addressing the possibilities for fiscal sponsorship. The group's IndieGoGo page is remarkably comprehensive: you get the pitch, the idea of who they are, along with review clips and a video. Perks include a special cuddle offer for any angels who want to donate $10,000. Because Two Star is raising money for a recording, any amount would be a help.

Dianne Debicella, program director fiscal sponsorship at Fractured Atlas, has her eye on this trend. Fractured Atlas, a New York-based art infrastructure organization, offers fiscal sponsorship, its own fundraising platform and a special partnership with IndieGoGo, which allows donors to take a tax deduction.

"Most of these platforms are for profit companies," Debicella says.

Big goals, big results

She's right, Kickstarter raised over $20 million for projects so far. This is a growth industry. Debicella, along with IndieGoGo founder Danae Ringelmann, will be presenting Fundraising in a Box: Crowdsourcing Microgrants at SXSW's Interactive and a Fiscal Sponsorship & Crowdfunding Info Session on March 10 at Spacetaker (a new member of Fractured Atlas' Open Arts Network). 

Ringlemann presented a complelling portrait of IndieGoGo's story recently at a SWAMP workshop for filmmakers. Compelling? Fundraising? Yes, that's the point.

Your project has meaning to you and your fan base, which wants to be a part of the things they love.

"People contribute to people, not just ideas," says Ringlemann, who shared her own moving epiphany about the disappointment of old school fundraising.

Not all platforms are alike. All you need is an idea at IndieGoGo, but they want you to put in some elbow grease with something they call DIWO (Do it with Others), which means you do your part using the integrated social media tools. That's the best way to end up on their homepage or blog. Houston filmmakers Jenalia Moreno and Nancy Sarnoff want to finish their documentary Stitched, which offers a glimpse of the lives of competitive quilt makers at the 2010 Houston Quilt Show. After a fully funded campaign on Kickstarter, they are giving IndieGoGo a go.

"You have to have your tentacles everywhere," says Moreno, who learned a lot in the first go around.

She suggests three key tips for success: Ask for a realistic amount of money; get your trailer out there; and offer cool gifts. Morena has found the process a great way to connect to fans.

"They leave comments on the site," she says. "And there's nothing more exciting than getting an e-mail that we have received $500 from a complete stranger."

The team has also applied for grants and is considering a fundraising event. "It's hard to plan a party and edit a movie at the same time," Moreno adds. 

Kickstarter welcomes art projects as well as the creative end of food, design, journalism, comics, fashion, games and technology. It's not a place for causes or business start ups. With Kickstarter you only get the money if you meet your target goal. That way you are not committed to a project you don't have the funds for. For anyone who has received a grant for way less than you asked for, this is good news. If a little bit of money is better than nothing, it's not for you.

United States Artists' name says it all. It's an arts only operation and considerably more selective. Artists must be recipients of their USA Project Partners or other recognized organizations.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph, currently in residence at the University of Houston's Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts funded red, black and GREEN, a bluesslated for a fall performance in Houston. Katie Pearl and Lisa D'Amour, of the Obie-Award winning team PearlDamour, just wrapped up a successful campaign for a new installation of their collaborative work with Shawn HallHow to Build a Forest, which was performed as a work-in- progress at the Mitchell Center.

Inspired by the loss of 100 trees on D'Amour's New Orleans family home, the piece entails the assembling and disassembling of a simulated forest over an eight-hour time shift. I found the piece captivating, and can't wait to see where it's going next.

As recipients of a Creative Capital Award, United States Artists was a logical choice. "It's brand new. There's only 200 projects instead of 14,000, and it's artist focused," says D'Amour, whose play Anna Bella Eema is on Catastrophic Theatre's 2011 season.

Pearl and D'Amour deliver a direct but warm talk about their project. "They really encourage a personal approach," Pearl says.

As for structuring the campaign, they did their homework. "Shorter campaigns are more successful," Pearl says. "Also, it allows us to have an ending, so we can go back and focus on the piece. It's really helped light a fire under us."

The Celeb Factor

Crowdrise has the uber cool Edward Norton behind it and, like other platforms, is wide open. You can raise $50 for a bus ticket. With a tagline of "If you don't give back no one will like you," it's the most hilarious of the pack too. I got an e-mail reading, "Thanks for signing up and because you're the 709th person within the past hour to create an account we're sending you a special Crowdrise shower cap. That's actually not true but it would be great if it were."

When I raise funds for The Arthropologist: The Movie, I am going to use them for the funny factor. I want to chuckle while I beg for bucks. Nel Shelby, a leading New York-based dance videographer, chose Crowdrise to raise funds for her film Where Women Don't Dance, which tells the story of Turkish choreographer Nejla Y. Yatkin.

"It just seemed fun to follow the trend and share our project in an authentic way," Shelby says. "I loved setting up my page on Crowdrise, they have such a wit about them and it made me feel a bit more casual about writing about my film. You do have to market your page and really get it out there so people know what you are up to." 

According to Debicella and Ringlemann, it's a reap what you sow situation. "The biggest misconception is that you just put your page up and wait. It sounds easy," Debicella says. "Successful campaigns involve managing your page every day. Like any fundraising effort, it's work."

Just maybe, it's fun too.

Actor Edward Norton explains the passion behind Crowdrise

 

Watch the wonderful Two Star Symphony and send them all your money