Vanessa Anspaugh on Kickstarter

On January 18th Vanessa Anspaugh’s Kickstarter Project for her upcoming Live Arts premiere, Armed Guard Garden, successfully reached its funding goal.  With the support of 167 backers, the project gained momentum and visibility via facebook, surpassing its $10,000 goal by $25 in its final hours.  In light of her recent crowd-funding success, we asked Vanessa if we could pick her brain about the experience…

New York Live Arts: Can you tell me a little bit about your past fundraising efforts/funding?  Was this one of your first campaigns or do you already have a community that supports your work?

Vanessa Anspaugh: This was my first Kickstarter campaign, but I did my first real fundraiser this summer on my friend Constance Hockaday’s Bogsville Boatel, which is a boat hotel on the water made out of abandoned boats that she has refurbished. She was getting all of this press and immediately all the boats were booked for the summer, but she kept a few nights open to have a party or something.  I convinced her to let me use them for a party/fundraiser for Armed Guard Garden, which I was really just in the beginning stages of making. She generously gave me the whole Boatel for a night. My plan was to rent out the boats to my friends and throw a party-fundraiser. I was sure all the boats would get booked for that night because she had sold out in one day. Sadly though, they did not. Many of my friends were not as excited by the long trek out to Far Rockaway and shelling out the $50+ dollars for a boat. My good friends did make it out, but I spent so much of my own money on alcohol, food, and candles that I just barely broke even. It was exhausting. I realized that I’m not throwing a party again. I’m bad at parties. Kickstarter was so much easier. It required getting a nice video together, which my very talented filmmaker Hedia Maron shot for me. I edited it to save some money… turns out choreographers aren’t such bad editors. It’s basically the same thing, I think, choreography and editing. They are both about time, space, and movement. I worked hard on the video and on getting my friends to donate gifts like art or jewelry. My dear friend Valeda Stull did the Kickstarter layout, which she made look really nice with all the images and text etc. It was really a collaborative effort from the beginning. Many people had some kind of investment in its success, which of course helped us reach our goal.

LiveArts: How did you decide on the $10,000 goal?

Anspaugh: I was actually advised to ask for a lot more than $10,000 from filmmaker friends who have earned upwards of $15,000 and $30,000 from Kickstarter. I felt that realistically I couldn’t imagine raising more than $4,000, so I told my friend who was doing the design layout to make it $7,000. She went ahead and clicked on $10,000, which made me really nervous! But then… slowly… it worked. Ask the universe for what you need, I guess.

LiveArts: What was your experience of making and running the campaign?  Did you enjoy it?  Did anything about it surprise you along the way?

Anspaugh: I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it. I know my partner, Cassie, didn’t enjoy hearing “Oh, guess who gave?!” Poor thing. She put up with a lot. It was a full time job really and I realized that I don’t really like asking people for money. It’s kind of embarrassing. I also know that lots of people have “Kickstarter fatigue,” so I was sensitive to not overloading them and being annoying.

LiveArts: How much of an emotional roller coaster did it put you through?

Anspaugh: Well, it started to take over and then I realized, THE WORK, Vanessa, THE PIECE YOU ARE MAKING! Armed Guard Garden needs tending too. So I just shut down sort of in my mind, gave up on Kickstarter and just started focusing on the work. I had to. But it was funny because I would see all these people out in the world and I would look haggard and folks would say “Oh, you are probably so nervous and stressed out about your Kickstarter!” and I would say, “No, actually, it’s the dance that I’m wrestling with.”

LiveArts: Can you talk about the integration with Facebook?  What other fundraising/digital tools/personal strategies did you use to further the campaign?

Anspaugh: Facebook. That’s it. That’s what worked.

LiveArts: Do you feel like the campaign (or experience of running it) interacted with the work itself in any way?

Anspaugh: Yes. I really wish I had done it earlier, rather than right into January. It was too close to the show. My energy was really sucked in to being a salesperson for my work and doing a song and dance to get people to want to support it, and then it was really hard to put my creative hat back on in the studio, quiet down, and discover what the piece wanted to be. They are such different personas in the world, fundraiser and maker. For me, at least, one is very extroverted and the latter is more introverted. I also felt like there was more pressure on me to make the piece something that other people would like or find important, which I think did get in the way of me being able to trust my own choices. Here I was spending all this time talking about how important supporting this dance was, and it wasn’t actually made yet. It’s like saying, “Support me! I’m great! I will make a great and important work!” Yuck! I hate that. Who knows what this piece will actually be. Maybe nobody will like it, and that’s ok if I haven’t just told everyone I know and then some that they have to invest in it because it’s worth it.

LiveArts: Did you learn or realize anything you think will return in another piece or fundraising campaign?

Anspaugh: Yeah, it was tough doing it so close to the show. Next time I would do it either after I finished making the piece or before I’ve embarked on the work. But definitely not in the middle.

LiveArts: Anything else you’d like to add?

Anspaugh: I have a concern about the sustainability of Kickstarter. Of course it’s really great that people are donating and it’s great that it’s easy for them to donate through computer clicks, etc., but I worry that it takes pressure off of the government, presenting organizations, and bigger potential funding sources if they see all these artists raising money on their own. I worry for several reasons: number one because, as you know, fundraising is a full time job. It’s a very different job than making work. And, it does compromise the integrity of the work and it will, if everyone is simultaneously trying to raise money while making work. Of course it’s part of the life of being an artist. But applying for grants is different because it’s not so public. You privately ask for money and you only do your song and dance for those mysterious board members or funders, not to every person in your community.

I don’t want funding to fall on the shoulders of individuals because our government’s priorities are skewed. 
I also don’t know how long it can last. What do I do for my next project? Do another Kickstarter? I think folks might say to themselves, “I just donated to Vanessa!” I don’t know how sustainable it is. 
But I don’t know how else I would have been able to pay anyone if I hadn’t had the success of this fundraiser. I would have had no other way to pay my dancers and collaborators. The money from the commission really can all be swallowed by rehearsal space rental.

Vanessa Anspaugh
Armed Guard Garden

Jen Rosenblit
In Mouth

Wed. 2/15 — Sat. 2/18 at 7:30pm
$16 Advance Purchase / $20 Day of Performance – $15 Night: Feb 16
Pre-Show Talk Feb 15 at 6:30pm with Cassie Maude Peterson
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