Going to the Mats for Help

Smithsonian targets yogis with its first major crowd-funding campaign for a show


“Yoga: The Art of Transformation” includes this 12th-century marble figure.

Now is not the time for savasana.

Relaxing will have to wait as there’s a lot that needs to be done before “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” opens at the Sackler Gallery on Oct. 19. Billed as “the world’s first exhibition of yogic art,” the large-scale show promises to bring in thousand-year-old sculptures, regal illustrations, rare books and other artifacts from 25 museums and collections around the world. It also needs to bring in $125,000.

“We’ve done the math,” says Smithsonian Institution’s Allison Peck. Although there is a fair chunk of change available from grants and endowments, no corporate sponsor for the exhibit means there isn’t enough money to cover costs.

That’s where you come in: On Wednesday, Smithsonian launches its first major crowd-funding campaign. Yogis can chip in via Razoo.com, which is similar to Kickstarter, only it’s specific to nonprofits and the cause doesn’t need to hit its target to get paid.

If the plan flops, the show will still go on, Peck says. But public programs — including yoga classes surrounded by art, film screenings and other events — will have to be scaled back, and the Sackler will be forced to rethink how to use resources for future exhibits.

A much better scenario, Peck says, is that the campaign raises more than expected, which would leave funds for additional programming — maybe even a giant yoga festival on the National Mall. And she thinks that’s likely, given that 20 million people in the U.S. practice yoga, and it’s a group that often wants to recruit others to join in.

As a test for the crowd-funding concept, it’s hard to think of a better topic than yoga, the Sanskrit word for “union.” Appropriately, the idea to use the trendy financing scheme for the yoga exhibit came out of a focus group of about 30 local yoga instructors that curator Debra Diamond convened to define the show’s themes and brainstorm about publicity.

“This exhibition has always been crowd-discussed,” Peck says.

As long as the members of that focus group keep discussing it, the funding will follow, predicts Blandine Trouille.

When she’s not teaching yoga at various fitness centers in Washington, Trouille works at the Department of Commerce. She sees the value in the plan not only as a way to raise money but also to “involve people from the bottom up.” All of her students should care, she says, because it’s a way to strengthen their understanding of the yoga practice.

“My message will be that in this studio, we have a lot available to us. But now, we have the origins of yoga coming to us,” Trouille says.

Along with the history and imagery comes spirituality, says Avneet Baid, the Rockville-based director and co-founder of YogaLife USA, who previewed a few pieces through the focus group and was blown away by how they depicted yogic concepts, such as self-actualization.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Baid says.

So many instructors stick with just the physical side of the practice, says Linda Lang, who specializes in therapeutic yoga. Although she brings the Vedas and other yogic texts into her classes in Washington, she knows that many people who do yoga are never exposed to those teachings.

“My hope is that everyone can experience yoga on a deeper level,” she says. That’s why Lang plans to promote the crowd-funding campaign as a “Yoga Messenger,” an option for folks eager to spread the word online and in person. (They’ll be provided with images and other materials to aid their efforts.)

It’s the people, not cash, that will make this campaign ultimately successful, says C. Rajan Narayanan, another focus-group member. His organization, the Life in Yoga Foundation and Institute, grew out of a free class in a Lanham, Md., temple basement in 1998.

“If we believe in something, it will get done,” Narayanan says. “Don’t worry so much about money. There’s a way things work out — just maybe not exactly how they were planned.”

In yoga, everyone likes a twist, but Peck would still like to get the exhibition into a more comfortable position.

Yoga (Giving) Tree

The crowd-funding campaign for “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” will run Wednesday through July 1 on Razoo.com. Smithsonian Institution rules prohibit offering gifts tied to particular donation amounts, so the reward is the exhibit itself, as well as the array of associated electronic materials — including e-cards, Twitter backgrounds and the exhibition catalog — that will be made available to everyone. Find more details about the program at Asia.si.edu/yoga/save-the-date.asp.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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