Created in 2005 as a grant-making and arts advocacy group based, United States Artists (USA) acts as an avenue for individual artists to find private funding for themselves and their projects. Earlier this month, they entered into the foray of crowdfunding platforms with the launch of the USA Projects, a fund-raising engine that is specifically focused on funding individual artists and their projects through grassroots micro-donations.
Part social network, part fund-raising vehicle, the USA Projects site combines many aspects of other popular crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub, and IndieGoGo. While still in beta testing, the site has already garnered some major attention according to The New York Times:
In testing, the Web site attracted roughly 36,000 unique visitors and raised a total of $210,000, with an average of $120 from each of 1,500 small donors, Ms. DeShaw said.
Not bad at all for a recently launched crowdfunding platform for the arts. Still, there are some major differences between USA projects and the other crowdfunding sites out there. Here’s a look at some of the similarities and differences between USA Projects and its peers:
- It’s all or nothing, baby – Like Kickstarter and Rockethub, USA Projects adheres to the “all or nothing policy” wherein projects must meet 100% of their stated fundraising goal, or the funds are returned to their respected donors. Some people have seen this as a great motivator for their projects, while others claim it is a waste of time. This isn’t true of every platform though, IndieGoGo allows people to keep all funds contributed to their projects, even if the final fund-raising goal has not been met.
- The final countdown – As is common on crowdfunding sites, artists on USA Projects have three months in which to raise the money for their projects.
- Getting friendly – Most of the platforms out there have a social media element to them, and the USA Projects site is no exception. Users on the site can create profiles, follow artists and funders, send messages, leave comments, and view recent activity on the projects they have funded or have an interest in. This creates a more personalized experience as well as a stronger connection to the projects and the artists.
- Incentivizin’ – Crowdfunding sites mirror traditional donor campaigns in that different donation levels come with various perks and rewards. Since the perks and rewards are determined by the artists, the endless possibilities are limited only by the artists’ capacity to deliver. Rewards might range from a personal note from the artist to prints or video downloads of the resulting artwork, from private studio visits to the chance to sing back-up on the artist’s CD, etc.
- At what cost? - In order to meet the bottom line, sites like Kickstarter and RocketHub will charge a percentage of the final funds and for the credit card processing fees. These fees can amount from 5-8% of a project’s total funds raised. Since United States Artists is a not-for-profit organization, there is no fee attached to the projects.
[Correction: According to an FAQ on the USA Projects Web site: "81% of every dollar pledged goes directly to the artist’s project, and 19% supports USA’s programs for artists and the site’s administration." So with this information, it appears that the percentage of funds received by US Artists is two or three times the percentage received by other crowdfunding sites. -- Hat tip to Justin Kazmark.]
- Who gets to play in the sandbox? – Now we hit the major difference between USA crowdfunding and the other platforms out there: not just any artist can add a project to the site. In order to appear on USA Projects, the artist in charge must have received a previous grant or award from a USA Project Partner or recognized organization. Visit the main website here to view all of the recognized organizations and their award/grant programs.
This requirement for artists to have been granted a USA grant, or equivalent from a partner organization, in the past in order to pilot a project raises some interesting questions about this model of crowdfunding:
- Is the policy too exclusive? Requiring grants or awards in order to even start a project excludes a large number of artists right off the bat. And while there are a considerable number of organizations partnering with USA, they do not cover the full spectrum of creative professionals in the United States.
- Does the grant/award requirement go against the spirit of crowdfunding? One of the exciting aspects of crowdfunding is that virtually anyone can start a project and find the funders to make it happen. So what happens to all the first timers? The energetic artists with a great idea and the will to make it happen, but lacking the professional background to make it onto the site? It can be argued that much of the success individuals have had on sites like Kickstarter can be attributed to the strength of the idea behind the project, not necessarily their past accomplishments.
- Will having “approved” artists act as an incentive for people to donate larger amounts? There is definitely a reassurance when donating to an artist who has had some previous success and support. But most existing crowdfunding platforms already have the reassurance of returned funds and set time limits, so how big of an impact will having pre-approved artists make? Will USA’s stamp of approval result in more donations or larger donations for these artists?
It will definitely be interesting to see how the USA Projects platform grows over time and if the requirements for projects will stay the same or evolve with that growth. Additionally, how might this model for crowdfunding the arts affect other existing platforms?