Crowdfunding Kickstarts the Arts in Kansas City

From films to exhibitions, galleries to transgender lingerie ventures, new projects get a boost from Kickstarter.

A little seed money can turn an old Chevy truck into a rolling ambassador for Pakistani culture; it can change industrial cargo containers into art space in the burgeoning West Bottoms, and it can transform an old garage into the city’s newest music venue.

Crowdfunding initiatives like Kickstarter, launched in 2009 in Brooklyn, NY, and the newer IndieGoGo are making transformations like these possible, helping Kansas City artists launch careers and enriching the cultural scene of the city.

Projects considered too small or too unconventional for many foundations are driving creators to the Web, where they make a passionate appeal for funding from people willing to give a little or a lot to be part of something new and exciting.

“The arts community, by definition, is transformative, but this is a grass roots movement, much less structured and more entrepreneurial,” says Paul Tyler, grant director of ArtsKC.

Through Kickstarter, Kansas City Art Institute alum Cambria Potter raised $11,330 to help fund 50/50, a gallery created from two cargo containers in the West Bottoms.  Potter and the gallery’s curator, Hannah Lodwick, opened the first show in August, and have also developed a billboard component.

“It is a small gallery of approximately 300 square feet,” Potter said.  “This is due to a small budget, as the space is largely funded by grants and our singular crowdsourcing effort.  Due to the small square footage, operational costs are also lower.”

In 2012, local film producer Gary Huggins enticed 366 backers to pledge more than $70,000 to help bring his movie, Kick Me, to life.

“The movie is about 98 percent finished. It’s garnered a lot of national interest, and was selected by the Independent Filmmaker Project in New York for its Feature Film labs, a year-long mentorship extended to 10 of the most promising upcoming independent films,” Huggins says.

This spring Huggins will have a local premiere and start sending Kick Me out to festivals.

From conception to posting a project on Kickstarter or another crowdsourcing Website takes a lot of hard work—a lot.  “It was a full-time job for about five months just conceiving, planning, timing and executing the campaign, and thoroughly exhausting—but completely worth it,” adds Huggins.

Kickstarter campaigns often don’t have huge budget goals. Just 52 backers pledging $3,800 made possible the “50 Women” project, one of the first female-only exhibitions of ceramics in the United States.  The exhibition will open at the American Jazz Museum’s Changing Gallery on March 16, in conjunction with the yearly conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts’ (NCECA), which will be held in KC this year.

“Kickstarter is definitely changing the ability to expand the creative community, especially for such an arts-centric city like Kansas City,” says Melanie Shaw, media manager for “50 Women-A Celebration of Women’s Contribution to Ceramics.” “This is fund-raising with transparency and feedback, unlike applying for grants which doesn’t provide that sense of progress.”

If a project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when the allotted time (anywhere between one and 60 days), expires. Kickstarter applies a 5 percent fee to the funds collected, in addition to collecting processing fees (roughly three to five percent).

Globally, about 63 percent of Kickstarter projects never get funded, says a spokesperson. If the project falls short, no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. If funding isn’t successful, there are no fees. (A big differentiating feature of IndieGoGo is “flexible funding”—you can keep all the contributions you get, even if you don’t meet your goal.)

Very important to the success of the campaign is coming up with the “rewards” that fuel the donations.

The bigger the donation, the bigger the reward.  For small backers, project sponsors might give away commemorative tchotchkes or T-shirts.  For major donors, it can be anything from a one-of-a-kind piece of art to the bragging rights of being among the first people to own one of the first examples of the finished product.  It might even be a “walk-in” part for a movie.

One of the more socially-conscious campaigns for Kickstarter Kansas City in 2015 was created by Peregrine Honig a well-known Kansas City artist and owner of an independent designer lingerie shop called Birdies.  Over the years, Honig noticed a problem, though; there were really no undergarments made especially for the transgender man or woman.

Most of the products being worn by people who were “transcending” were poorly constructed and not actually made for transgender bodies.

All is Fair’s introductory page on Kickstarter was polished and professionally produced, from the moving video by Scenic Road Productions to the music by cellist Helen Gillet. More than a dozen national print and Website news sites featured All is Fair’s Kickstarter campaign, which helped to drive backers to the site.

But it was hard work for Honig to navigate the media and their language in regard to the transgender community. “I’m sensitive to my clients and friends—transitioning or otherwise. Everyone wants to simply be addressed as who they are and how they see themselves; it is a necessity to be aware and use the proper language to describe everyone’s personal journey. A few times the media missed the mark big time and it was frustrating and upsetting.”

For a Kickstarter campaign, it’s a necessity to figure out a participant’s costs up front. That includes the cost of a video to explain the campaign, how much to ask for and what the rewards should be, and how much these are likely to cost to produce and ship, as well as Kickstarter’s fees.

Successfully funding a Kickstarter campaign might just be phase one for an artist.  More funding may be, and probably will be, needed down the road, says Tyler. “Sometime it’s crowdfunding that comes first and the artists come to us for something to finish it off like one of our ArtsKC Inspiration Grants,” he says.

Asheer Akram knows well that fundraising must continue after Kickstarter. In 2012, a little more than 200 backers pledged $36,377 to help fulfill Akram’s dream of creating a cargo truck like those seen in Pakistan. Traditionally, these trucks in Pakistan carry cargo across South Asia and look like a combination of an elaborate, colorful and hand-crafted temple and a 3-D cartoon.

Since its completion, the rolling artwork studio has visited school campuses and art fairs, but spends a fair amount of time in its storage unit in the caves.

“We were probably too ambitious in our plans to take the truck on the road to all these different locations,” says Akram. Insurance, fuel, storage costs and other expenses demand that Akram use the truck sparingly until more money is raised. But still, he says, “The Kickstarter campaign was a great way to get the word out to people about what we were doing.  It was definitely worth the effort.”

These crowdfunding sites also give non-artistic people a chance to peek behind the curtain.

“Kickstarter and other crowdfunding resources like it give people a chance to pitch in,” says Tyler.  “I have personally contributed to dozens of projects and I feel like I have shared ownership.  It’s a very democratic way of funding the arts.”

About The Author: Kathie Kerr

Kathie Kerr

Kathie Kerr, a former publicist at Universal Press Syndicate/Andrews McMeel Universal, has worked with syndicated cartoonists and commentators, including Garry Trudeau and Pat Oliphant. She now owns her own public relations firm and works primarily with published book authors and animal welfare groups.

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