When a group of NYU Tisch students decided to produce their own version of the “An Enemy of the People” last spring, the group hit a few budgetary snags. The Tisch School of the Arts was supposed to pay for part of the production and help students fundraise the rest. But somewhere after costumes, props, and stagehands, the students came up $1,000 short.. That’s when they decided to turn to the generosity of friends, family, and complete strangers. So Caleb Shomaker, a 19-year-old drama student with a role in the play, and a few other students decided to make an account on the popular crowdfunding site IndieGoGo.
Posting a project on IndieGoGo is free. The site hosts a slew of different projects – everything from music videos to life-changing medical operations – but IndieGoGo is particularly popular among art students trying to finish a project. “We were just a group of young drama students trying to get a 19th century Norwegian play produced. We put our project out there and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, give if you can.’”
Although Shomaker and his peers had never tried crowdfunding before, the process of making an IndieGoGo account was easy enough. Soon enough everyone from the show was linking the site to Facebook, Twitter, and friendly emails. To Shomaker’s surprise, they raised the $1,000 in a little under a week and a half.
The economics behind IndieGoGo are simple: the site makes it’s money by taking four percent of the fundraising goal if it’s met on time and nine percent if not.
Success stories like Shomaker’s give other art students hopes for crowdfunding. Without the support of university or private funders, arts students are putting their work online in hopes that friends, family, and strangers will donate so they get their dreams off the ground. Kickstarter, founded in 2009, has since raised $275 million towards successful campaigns. Fundable, founded in 2012, has little data to report yet but has already produced hundreds of successful campaigns. IndieGoGo, founded in 2008, has over 45,000 successful projects launched and raising millions
In this economy, crowdfunding seems to be only source of outside funding for arts projects. The three federal agencies devoted to making arts and cultural grants will take an 11.2 percent collective hit under the budget deal that institutes the largest spending cut in U.S. history. The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities each will take a $12.5 million cut this year – a 7.5 percent reduction. Spending at the Institute of Museum and Library Services will similarly drop by 15.7 percent.
Danae Ringelmann, the founder and chief operating officer of IndieGoGo, thinks that crowdfunding is essential for students in this bad economy. “Instead of being limited by maxing out credit cards, waiting for banks loans, or filling-out grant applications, crowdfunding is a fast and engaging way to raise money.”
But crowdfunding doesn’t always go as smoothly as the Tisch students’ experience, and can become a much more involved process than university grants or sponsorships.
The allure of crowdfunding was undeniable to 21-year-old Tisch film student Wes Middleton as he was trying to fund a documentary about a program for young American and Mexican Jews to visit Israel to meet Palestinian students of the same age. Middleton had already been working on the documentary for a few months when he realized he needed outside funding to finish the project. “Grants and sponsorships seemed to be reserved for people with many more years of experience than I had,” said Middleton. “Crowdfunding seemed like the perfect solution.”
Middleton set what he thought to be a realistic goal to fundraise $3,000 on IndieGoGo and tried to get the word out. A few family members donated as well as several strangers who left him encouraging comments. However, at the end of his fundraising period he only had $150. And because he hadn’t reached his goal, nine percent of that was taken by the site. “I appreciated everyone giving whatever they could but it just wasn’t enough,” said Middleton.
Still, Middleton’s story has a happy ending: he asked the charity that ran the Jewish/Palestinian program, Jitli, if they had any available resources and they happily obliged.
Some students find Middleton’s experience to be a much-needed cautionary tale. Ty Lazauskas, 20, a fellow Tisch student, doesn’t believe that crowdfunding is the cure to every art student’s woes. “I’ve donated to a lot of other students’ campaigns – just what little amount I could give,” said Lazauskas, “but I don’t feel like sporadic donations of $20 are going to be able to save art education in America. If you want to help us pursue our dreams, make school more affordable.”
But another film student Sabrina Jaglom, 20, was more optimistic. Jaglom recently went from donating to online campaigns to trying to get her own funded. Her project, a short film entitled “It Don’t Come Easy,” has a lofty goal of $13,500 goal but she’s almost there with $10,496 raised. Unlike Middleton’s, her project has almost a dozen other students attached to it. That collaboration gives Jaglom an edge-up, in her opinion.
“Crowdfunding is definitely a collaborative effort,” said Jaglom who’s been working on her Indiegogo site with multiple other students. The site features multiple trailers, a cast list, an outline of her project, and – most important – a clear rationale behind her fundraising goal. “In the end, I think it all depends on scale,” said Jaglom. “The amount of people that are working on the project is directly proportional to the amount of people that care so deeply about this one project.”
With only eight days left to raise another $2,000, Jaglom’s still optimistic. “We’re only halfway there financially but in my mind, it’s already been a major success,” she said. “Regardless of how our campaign ends, I’ll keep looking out for student film projects and donating to the ones I believe in. Crowdfunding can actually be kind of fun.”