Learning about crowdfunding through local artists

“I wanted to free up my brain space
and my time to make art
that is not just remarkably executed, but simply remarkable.”
~ Lauren Levato

Lately I’ve seen a lot of crowdfunding activity for local projects. Crowdfunding is an online fundraising method through which startups, artists, and organizations request donations that are put toward a specific project. Several web sites specialize in this, as listed here.  Unlike a loan, those who donate can choose from a menu of perks, but once those perks have been provided there is no further claim to the business/project investment.

Recently I found out about another site, USAProjects, which is geared toward artists. My friend Lauren Levato is seeking funding for an ambitious project involving her drawings with frames that incorporate her porcelain creations.

Porcelain creations by Lauren Levato 

Created by United States Artists, a nonprofit grantmaking and artist advocacy organization, the USAProjects fundraising arm requires that participating artists have already been a grant recipient to demonstrate their dedication to an artist career. As the recipient of a Vermont Studio Center Fellowship in 2006, Lauren qualified.

Lauren teaching at her Moths and Moon Flowers Fall Drawing Workshop

Lauren’s project is called Wunderkammer: A Year of Curiosities.  Her studio is a wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities) indeed, with a display of butterflies, anatomy books, porcelain bones and animal legs, insects, pencils and her wonderful drawings. You can see glimpses of her studio and the beginning of a butterfly drawing here.

Lauren is working on exquisite self-portraits that show all kinds of intricate details in the hair and stomach of each woman (I have no idea how she can draw such fine lines). Based on old anatomical pop-up books, each pencil-drawn lady represents a true or imaginary story about Lauren and her personal history, yet conjures up our own imagination.

“Self Portrait as Capricorn”  by Lauren Levato
17″x14″ graphite and colored pencil on Bristol
You can support her project by donating here. All donations are tax deductible, and USAProjects also matches the funds, essentially doubling your donation to Lauren or the other artists.

Porcelain goat legs by Lauren Levato, a $100 perk

In addition to providing perks (see list below), everyone who donates at least $5 by 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 (Central time) is entered into a raffle to win fine coffees from Bowtruss and Intelligentsia, surprise items from G-Spot and Early to Bed, original art by Ellen Greene or by Rory Coyne. $5 gets you one ticket, $25 purchases 5 tickets (plus the thank you card), and there is a cap at 10 tickets for $50 or more (plus corresponding perks). The raffle is at 9 p.m. Friday night, and items will be shipped.

Per USAProjects, a total of 75% of all projects successfully fund, compared to success rates of 45% at similar sites. More than 500 artist projects have raised $3 million from more than 20,000 individual donors. Each artist is assigned a coach who helps with developing the budget and project materials, reviews updates, and mentors the artist throughout the process.

Gilded porcelain ribcage by Lauren Levato, a $250 perk

While the grant is unrestricted, Lauren has a plan in place for how these funds will be implemented over the next year. The funds will go toward creating handmade frames with porcelain embellishments, and will also fund her studio time for more creations.

Lauren will also pop up at my favorite Brothers K cafe this week, for a Latte with Lauren (donate the amount of a latte and get a free cup of coffee). That date will be announced on her Facebook page, to which you can subscribe. Video updates on the Wunderkammer project are at the Hioctaneredhead Video channel.

Latte with Lauren at Brothers K date to be announced 

Lauren evaluated various options to fund her project, but felt that the USAProjects organization was the most vetted. She found out about this crowdfunding site through porcelain artist Beth Cavener Stichter. Beth successfully raised funds for her project. Another attractor for Lauren was that three of USAProjects’ fellows were just awarded MacArthur Genius grants (granting them an unrestricted $500,000 each).

Lauren working on a large self-portrait

Lauren’s menu of perks includes:

  • $25: a hand written thank you card and monthly photo/video updates – both physical and digital delivery
  • $50: a digital book of the “Self Portrait as…” Series, a series of drawings inspired by 16th C. medical illustrations
  • $100: hand detailed miniature gilded porcelain goat’s legs
  • $250: hand detailed porcelain rib cage, gilded or black, your choice
  • $500: an original small moth drawing
  • $1,000: an original “Self Portrait as…” drawing
  • $2,500: your own hand built Wunderkammer box, full of sculpted porcelain animal and anatomical parts that feature in the work and an original drawing

I was quite inspired by the Kickstarter project of Birds of Chicago, which funded a CD project with a very humorous campaign, and primarily donations of $10 to $150 to raise $15,000, which earned them $22,153 at the end (from 427 backers). It is lovely to follow the duo’s success since then, and keep up with their adventures online. I sincerely hope that Lauren will also successfully fund her campaign, so we can watch her creativity unfold.

“Make your child’s visual world
a rich tapestry of memorable things
that they may continue that tradition in their own adult lives.”
~ Lauren Levato

* All photos copyright Lauren Levato

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