Summer Guide: Bye bye bake sale: Raising money for the arts online

By Ilya Yashin / Staff Writer

Crowdfunding has been in the news for allowing a Columbus resident Zack Brown to collect thousands of dollars to make … a potato salad. For others the goal is art, not a side dish. 

With the help of friends and fans, dreams of producing a play, bringing a film script to life or putting together songs for an album can come true — within days. 

Websites such as and work to connect artists with supporters who donate money for ventures in a practice known as crowdfunding. Crowdfunding has increased in popularity in the last few years and provides a way for artists, among others, to accomplish projects at a limited personal cost. 

David Bubenheim, singer and guitarist in a Pittsburgh rock band Pet Clinic, had long been reluctant to ask people for financial support of his band’s work-in-progress album. His friends’ success and advice convinced him to use Kickstarter to raise money for the band’s first full-length album, which is still untitled. Within 26 days, Pet Clinic had more than enough money to produce the album. 

According to its website, in Kickstarter’s five years of existence, 6.5 million people from 224 countries have used it to contribute $1.1 billion to roughly 64,000 projects ranging from art, to journalism, to technology. Although similar websites exist, according to web traffic data provider, Kickstarter has the most visitors among its competitors and has been increasing in popularity every year. Indiegogo is the runner-up, with about one-third as much traffic, although other statistics are unavailable on its website.

Bubenheim, 24, estimated his band would need about $5,000, mostly for mixing and mastering music, and made his request on Kickstarter April 8. The band has already recorded seven songs for the album and it has more in the works. By May 5, 96 people had donated $5,406, 5 percent of which went to Kickstarter as a service fee.

Bubenheim said he likes crowdfunding because it breaks down the wall between the artist and the fans, allowing for a two-way relationship.

“In the fans’ minds, they don’t see us every day, so it’s like we don’t exist,” he said. 

The Kickstarter campaign shows that artists exist — and need help.

Cole Egbert, a Pitt senior majoring in theater arts and English literature, said he thinks there are quicker ways to get money for art projects than crowdfunding, such as artistic grants and soliciting local businesses for donations in return for advertising, which he has used in the past. Crowdfunding brings the audience into the picture, unlike grants and trades. 

“I like crowdfunding philosophically,” Egbert said. “[It] gives the audience a sense of purpose and power in the making of the work. I like the idea that the show itself is being made by them, for them, that they are paying for it and, therefore, it is theirs to learn from and to experience.”

Egbert used Indiegogo to fund the production of his adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” which played beneath the Tufa Bridge near the cafe and visitor center in Schenley Park from July 2 to July 6. He said he’d needed about $600 for the production and received $1,265 from nine donors in about 17 days.

To some, crowdfunding provides more than just money. For Kayla Martine, a senior fiction writing major, crowdfunding shows that people trust your artistic desires. 

“It’s a feeling of support even if they give you anything,” she said. “It’s like a statement, ‘I believe in you; I have faith in what you’re doing and in your dreams, and I want to be a part of that.’”

Martine used Kickstarter in June to raise funds for the production and promotion of her second short film, “Life as a Canvas.”

Though her goal was to raise $2,000, 46 people contributed a total of $2,310.

Martine chose Kickstarter because it’s a more popular website, but another decisive factor for worried artists choosing between Kickstarter and Indiegogo is often Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing policy: donors get all of their money back if the goal isn’t reached in time, which can be up to 60 days.  

Because of the policy, Egbert chose Indiegogo. He had used Kickstarter in the past and decided that it would be better to make do with not enough money than to have to scratch the entire project if donors didn’t meet his goal.

Bubenheim chose Kickstarter because of its all-or-nothing policy. He said he didn’t want to compromise his album’s quality because of insufficient funds.

Two days before their goal time, Bubenheim and his band members had only received half the amount of money they needed. But within 48 hours, they received more money than they had in the preceding month.

This would not have happened, he said, had they been allowed to keep their money without reaching the goal — another reason he likes the policy. The fear that the band would receive nothing sparked people to donate money in the last two days.

Though the difference in policies may not be the only factor, numbers tell a similar story: According to a 2013 analysis by news and media network The Verge, only 9 percent of projects on Indiegogo reached their goal, versus 44 percent on Kickstarter.

The question of money and success aside, there are other issues to consider before using crowdfunding.

Bubenheim, for example, said that he would not use crowdfunding to fund the band’s second album. He believes bands should resort to crowdfunding only for their first costly endeavor.

“If there isn’t an upward, progressive movement, you have to rethink what you’re doing,” he said.

Because of the audience’s crucial role in his work, Egbert said that there is also a question of morality artists must consider.

“If it’s just work you’re making for yourself or work that is important to you and not because of anyone else, then I think that crowdfunding is selfish,” he said.

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