Crowdfunding in Public Art

Posted by Kimberly O’Keeffe, Dec 14, 2018 0 comments

In recent years, there has been an increase in smaller scale, temporary public art projects that encourage community participation and conversation. This is an exciting moment as community members are taking the initiative to create public art that fosters a sense of ownership and pride in their neighborhoods. As the interest in localized public art grows, the individual artists and communities who pioneer these projects are looking for new ways to fund their art. Crowdfunding, a grassroots method of funding a project through raising many small amounts of money from a larger number of people, typically via the Internet, has grown in prominence as a way to pool resources towards a project.

In the recently published paper “Crowdfunding in Public Art,” I explored the ways crowdfunding has been used to implement public art, and I’ve been inspired by what I’ve seen. Since these projects tend to be pioneered by a community who want to add to the physical fabric of their neighborhood, there is a passion and a drive to see these projects funded. This commitment is critical, as crowdfunding is not an easy feat. It requires genuine relationship building and long-term commitment to your stakeholders. Running a crowdfunding campaign is a time- and resource-consuming endeavor and a project lead must be fully committed to the project’s success if they hope to inspire supporters to donate. You know why your project is important for the community, but to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, you need to convince your neighbors to buy in to it as well.

Beyond Walls in Lynn, MA used crowdfunding to install LED lights to improve safety and walkability in an underpass. Through their partnership with Patronicity, a non-profit crowdgranting platform, Beyond Walls received a matching grant from MassDevelopment when they reached their crowdfunding goal. www.beyond-walls.org

While it may be easy to get caught up in the excitement of a crowdfunding campaign, there are many factors to take into consideration before deciding that crowdfunding is right for you. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach and one should weigh the pros and cons before publicly committing to crowdfund. “Crowdfunding in Public Art” looks at the benefits and challenges of running a crowdfunding campaign, examines tips on how to market and evaluate a project, shares examples of crowdfunding sites that have been used to successfully fund public art, and raises questions to consider when deciding whether crowdfunding is the best method for you. Here is a brief overview of some of the topics discussed in the paper:

  • The benefits of crowdfunding. The main draw of crowdfunding is that it democratizes funding opportunities by taking a financial burden and breaking it down over many people. Since campaigns are online, they are unrestricted by geographical boundaries and can engage with donors across the globe. In addition to providing monetary support, a successful crowdfunding campaign can bring attention to a project, ignite civic pride and awareness around an issue, and strengthen the social bonds and connectivity within the community by bringing interested stakeholders together.
  • The limitations of crowdfunding. Crowdfunding brings attention to projects that donors can get excited about, but is less successful at promoting simple but necessary improvements. Because it is built around one-time donations, crowdfunding tends to only be successful once and favors those with pre-existing financial and social media networks. If this is an additional project or one-time renovation your organization would like to take on, crowdfunding may be the right choice. If you are looking to fund your baseline of operations and programming, crowdfunding may not be the best fit.
  • Planning a holistic marketing and development strategy. The majority of donors will give to a crowdfunding campaign because they have a personal stake in the project. A crowdfunding campaign is built off strong relationships and it takes time to engage with potential donors. While social media is a great way to keep people updated and engaged with your progress, word of mouth marketing remains one of the most effective forms of donor outreach.
  • Researching different crowdfunding sites. There are nearly 200 crowdfunding platforms in the United States alone and each site has a unique layout and distinct focus, with some supporting projects proposed by individuals while others work solely with registered non-profits. When deciding on a site to launch a campaign, look into how funds are distributed, project page layouts, and methods of donor engagement to see which site will best support your project.
  • Should you crowdfund? Before committing to a crowdfunding campaign, consider if your organization has the resources and the staff capacity to take on an additional project. Crowdfunding best supports one-time or temporary projects with low maintenance costs as opposed to recurring events or operational costs for an organization. Ensure that your community is interested in the project, that your project adheres to local laws and regulations, and that you have a plan for installation and long-term maintenance of the artwork.
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