Students Capitalize on Internet’s Funding Breakthrough
After saving up money over the past several years from odd jobs and an internship, Parsons photo major Bailey Roberts resorted to selling her clothes, books, furniture and an old digital camera to finance her senior thesis exhibition. She shot photos in Maui, where she grew up, for an ongoing series called “The Sister Project” that documents her relationship with her older sister, Lecca. Still, Roberts needed to make prints and frame them. In a little over a month, she raised $2,071 by making a page on Kickstarter, one of the new “crowdfunding” websites cropping up.
Crowdfunding is a platform that allows people to streamline the fundraising process and involve their donors to a greater extent. Kickstarter and its competitor, IndieGoGo, allow all sorts of creative and innovative people looking to finance whatever projects they’re up to, but many other sites with narrower interests serve niche markets.
It’s not completely free, since about 10 percent of the money raised on Kickstarter is skimmed off the top. Kickstarter takes 5 percent and Amazon, who processes the money, takes another 3 to 5 percent as a transaction fee.
The main difference between the major sites is that IndieGoGo will let users keep all the money they raise regardless of whether they reach their goal, whereas with Kickstarter it’s all or nothing. Roberts chose to meet her $2,000 goal within 45 days (users have a choice between 0 to 90 days) and actually wound up passing it by $71. Like many other users, she put up a video of herself talking about the project and posted some incentives for donors of different levels. In Roberts’ case, a contribution of $10 or more would grant donors an invite to her exhibition’s reception and anyone giving $20 or more gets a print of their choosing from her series.
Other users’ rewards range from a home-cooked meal to naming the romantic lead of the creator’s film after a patron. This model can help connect donors, whether they’re fans or family, with the work they’re funding. It can also be useful for professionals who want their name on a project since users often offer producer credits for high contributions.
“The goal and the beauty of Kickstarter was to include our fans every step of the way as we set out to complete this record,” said Max Jaffe, band member of In One Wind and graduate of The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. In One Wind raised $8,205 with 108 backers to record their first full length album last August — exceeding their $8,000 goal by $205 in the five weeks their page was up.
New School students are using Kickstarter to successfully fund various projects in fashion, photo, music and digital media. A Parsons class is even using the site to raise money for their final project, an art installation in the form of a digital linear zoetrope that would go up in Union Square, at least through the summer.
Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing sites have spread through word of mouth, and many users have been motivated by their friends’ success.
Roberts’ use of the site inspired her friend Jessica Walsh, a senior in Parsons’ fashion program, to create a Kickstarter page to make back the money she’d spent on her Spring 2011 collection for her line Derikoza, which incidentally, Roberts photographed. In only five days, Walsh reached her goal and since then has surpassed it, making more than $500 above her original goal of $1,800.
“My backers were mainly my family members and adult close friends. However, I did receive donations from people who I have never met,” Walsh said. “I can only assume that they were browsing and saw my project and liked it enough to become a backer, which is the most flattering thing in the world.”
Walsh is not the only one to draw on family and friends. The nature of the site is that it gets a project out there, and the response it receives on the site can help creators to find out whether their work is or isn’t appreciated.
“I think projects that are not only personal endeavors, but which also have a larger impact on the world are the most successful on sites like [Kickstarter],” said Sonny Farnsworth, a theater major at Lang who is working to fund "The Law of Remains," a play that the Lang theater seniors are working on
For the most part, Kickstarter functions to make fundraising more efficient.
"[Kickstarter] doesn't create the funds. Your connections create the funds," said Joshua Spodek, the guest professor teaching the Parsons class.
Roberts sent out a hundred emails to everyone she felt comfortable asking for money.
She plans to have a show in Maui and hopes to eventually have one in New York as well.
“I would like to say that I would use [Kickstarter] in the future. However, there is something kinda funny about always emailing the same resources for support. So if I were to ever use Kickstarter again, I would do so very tactfully,” said Roberts.
-Additional reporting by Courtney Stack