Becoming a modern day Medici, on a shoestring

I always come away from a visit to New York with countless ideas and inspiration but my most recent trip was definitely the most fruitful.

The city felt as though it was overflowing with events, projects and energy, some of which I’ll share here over the next few days.

One of those things is Kickstarter which I discovered in an article in last Sunday’s edition of the New York Times Magazine.

Until I’d read the article I had only the vaguest knowledge of internet based attempts to source funding for projects – apart that is, from exclusively charitable sites - and I certainly hadn’t heard about Kickstarter, which describes itself as the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world.

In the last two years various artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers and designers have used the site to raise more than $75 million for 10,626 “creative projects”. That money has come from 813,205 “backers” — individuals making mostly modest contributions (the most common is $25) to support specific efforts. The selling point of “crowd-funding,” as this phenomenon has come to be called, is that it is an alternative to the wealthy patron or the grant-giving foundation.

Unlike some sites Kickstarter isn’t about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project in return for their patron’s support.

The other significant thing about Kickstarter is that, event hough it mightn’t look like it, someone’s in charge. Carefully selecting and curating the projects that ultimately get on the site and profiled in their weekly emails.

In addition to the role that Kickstarter plays in this respect they’ve developed relationships with a range of existing creative communities that curate and profile projects around specific themes.

Homegrown for instance is a gathering place for folks who celebrate the “culture” in agriculture and share skills like growing, cooking and food preservation. It's chosen projects include a team documenting the remarkable transformation of an old Chicago packing facility into a completely self-sustainable non-waste fish hatchery, vertical garden, aquaponics farm, and microbrewery, alongside ‘Milk Not Jails’ which hopes to forge an improved economic relationship between urban and rural New York by expanding the dairy industry-- not the prison system.

And then there's + Pool, one of  Kickstarter's many successful projects proposed a pool that uses and  filters the very water that it floats in.   A pool that makes it  possible to swim off the shores of New York. In  river water, that’s  clean.

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And there’s a slew of creative organisations curating arts projects that span the spectrum, including lots of fine documentary photography projects which is a particular interest of mine.

The breadth and quality of creative ideas and endeavour profiled on the site is incredibly compelling. But the fact that if I’m sufficiently impressed or moved by a project, for a small contribution I can support it is the proverbial cherry on top. It’s not just a case of hearing about great ideas but also a direct and very immediate way of supporting them.

It brings people with excellent ideas into contact with people who might well like them enough to support them, but without the bureaucracy, costs and distance that other forms of support and organisation impose.

Quoted in the New York Times article Lewis Winter, a designer in Melbourne, Australia makes for a good, albeit generous, illustration of why people support Kickstarter projects.  He  has given financial support to 373 projects (including three portrait commissions, an interest of his). “My motivations probably aren’t that different to the Medicis’ . . . just my budget,” Winter told the Times via e-mail. His average pledge is about $15, and his most generous was $140. “I think Kickstarter helps people do something a lot of us have forgotten how to do — ask our neighbors for help,” he continued. That said, he also had some caveats about the crowd as patron in the digital age, noting that projects typically get many more Facebook “likes” than actual backers: “Apparently a whole lot of people like something so much they’re not even willing to give it a dollar.”

In the interests of full disclosure I haven’t given any projects money yet either, but I’m preparing too, and cooking up some requests for support in the process.

In the mean time I’m spending an awful lot of time on Kickstarter and always come away impressed and inspired, there’s a lot of creative and enthusiastic people in the world, and that in itself is no bad reminder.