Dance Matters: Give Your Piece a Kickstart

November 15, 2010

Nicole Wolcott needed walls—large, movable, white ones—for 100 Beginnings, a piece that premieres this month at Dance New Amsterdam. Earlier this year, the co-founder of Keigwin + Company decided to go out on her own after eight years with Larry Keigwin. But without the backing of an established organization, how does one find funding in a down economy? Wolcott turned to Kickstarter for help.


Kickstarter, Crowdrise, IndieGoGo, and RocketHub might sound like names of rock bands or drinks. Instead, they’re websites designed for artists who are looking for new ways to raise money (who isn’t?). Meet fundraising 2.0—a combination of microgranting (small amounts of donations that add up) and crowdsourcing (tasking your audience with a job that is typically done in-house, like fundraising). For a percentage fee, these sites allow individuals to create a webpage explaining their project, establishing a goal amount to be raised, and providing a secure way for the public to donate. More and more small to mid-sized companies are taking a web-savvy approach to finding funds.


For Wolcott’s walls, she needed $2,500. She created a funky video showing the work-in-progress. The incentives for donating ranged from a handwritten thank-you note to a plate of homemade cookies to a cameo in the piece. “We sent the request to everyone we knew. I thought I’d get a lot of small donations. But family who had never donated before and others gave me larger donations than I expected.” Her campaign was so successful that she surpassed her goal, raising just over $3,200. Wolcott has launched a second one on Kickstarter this fall.


While the sites offer similar approaches, there are slight differences. Kickstarter and RocketHub provide all-or-nothing funding, meaning if the goal is not met by the designated deadline, all the funds are returned to the donors (or are never charged). Others, like IndieGoGo and Crowdrise, release the donations to the artist throughout the process. The sites also offer ways to link up to social networks like Facebook to give your fanbase updates—and hopefully to inspire more donations.


(More established artists like Eiko & Koma and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar have posted projects on Project Site, which is invitation-only through United States Artists.)


Nejla Y. Yatkin, NY2Dance director and a 2005 “25 to Watch,” used Crowdrise to help raise $10,000 for her 10th-anniversary season. She chose this site over the others because “Crowdrise made me think of people coming together and moving in a chorus.” Yatkin likes the way it involves the public. “The audience feels like being part of it, they know about the show and they come because they already supported it. We’re building a history with them.”


While these campaigns usually target a younger base, they also have the potential to reach people who are not your typical audience. They could be art lovers who are inspired by your project page, or friends and family that don’t see you perform often but are enjoying your videos.

The sites’ fees seem to be worth it, and there are even ways around them. The nonprofit arts organization Fractured Atlas has teamed up with IndieGoGo to offer sponsorship to members and coverage of the bulk of the fees.


Sydney Skybetter, a founding partner with Design Brooklyn, a consulting firm that helps arts organizations develop their presence online and offline, says that the dance community is just starting to jump onboard with these fundraising trends. But, he cautions, don’t dive in without a plan. “These things can be very powerful; they’ve translated into revenue more effectively than any other social network that I’ve seen,” says Skybetter. “But without proper planning, you’ll alienate your fans by relentlessly bombarding them with requests.” —Emily Macel Theys