But you have to put up with a certain amount of stress and virtual pavement-pounding to make it work. Brooklyn choreographer Miguel Gutierrez — a project-based artist who doesn’t run a 501(c)(3) — typically sets forth a yearly letter-writing campaign to help pay for his works. But the most he had ever pulled in from those was $5,000. When he started working on a piece he calls “And lose the name of action,” which has its premiere next month at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center and includes a video installation and original sound design, he realized that he needed more money than he had budgeted. A lot more.
“I’m trying to run a really professional company,” says Gutierrez, 41. “To rehearse six or eight people with a composer and a video artist is at least $1,000 a day.” So he launched a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign — and an anxiety attack along with it.
“Are we out of our [bleeping] minds?” he remembers thinking. But the breathlessness of possibly blowing it, he realized, is critical. Both the artist and the donors can get swept up in the drama as they watch the donated amount creep up on the site. The time crunch makes arts funding feel like sweating through an eBay auction.
“Oh my gosh, it was so stressful!” says D.C.-based dancer and poet Holly Bass, who this month raised $2,292 on Kickstarter. The money was to help fund a showing of new work at Dance Place with Philadelphia artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko.
“It’s this perfect storm,” Bass said, “because you already have performer anxiety, and then you become this fundraiser and you have development-director anxiety.”
Therein lies the most interesting part of this developing Kickstarter story. Though their campaigns succeeded and they were delighted with the results, the choreographers I spoke with all attested to some unease with the process. But the reason for that is not what you might think. It wasn’t just that pestering their friends and family for money was awkward, or that the constant reminders and updates they sent out via e-mail and Facebook took up time they could have spent in the studio.
What was trickiest for Gutierrez, Bass and “Vaudevival’s” Oleson and Olwell was the very notion of asking for exactly what they wanted.
This felt quite different from general pleas for support, or from applying for a grant in an amount that has already been predetermined by some foundation. What Kickstarter forces dance people to do is something they are not used to doing, and that is: to consider the universe of possibility for their project — How many dancers would be truly perfect? What costumes would make it just right? — and then make a case for why they deserve those things.
“We’re so used to making do with so little,” acknowledges Olwell.
Hearing this, Oleson laughs and adds, “I get increasingly angry at the resignation in dancers.” She recalls being in meetings with other grad students at Maryland, where the professors would ask them what sets and costumes they wanted for their shows.
“The dancers would say, ‘What’s around that nobody wants? What can I have?’ ”
Gutierrez speaks of a “poverty mentality” in dance. “I don’t blame dance people for that,” he says. “It’s a condition of dance funding.”
“With dance, you have to have experienced a fair amount of success before you can ask to be successful,” he says. “It took me so long so be able to say, ‘Hey, I really need this grant,’ without wanting to claw up my own skin. As a result you see a lot of crappy lighting and crappy costuming in dance. Aesthetically, there are a lot of retrograde things that would never fly in any other field.
“How do we educate ourselves to ask for what we need? It’s a very dynamic and tricky process.”
Kickstarter seems to be helping. The fact that dancers are successfully speaking up for themselves on their project pages suggests that the dance field may be on the verge of, if not a revolution, then an awakening.
“Part of the dance culture is not getting too attached to the exact design details and having a flexible vision,” Olwell says. “Kickstarter might be a cool bridge for dancers.”