Kick-start my art 

Montana creators discover a new way to raise funds

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His rewards—or incentives—for contributors started with a thank-you email and a place on a donor wall at $5. At $15, you got a thank-you postcard. At $25, you got a Gourds CD. At $30, $50, $75 and $100, you got DVDs and Blu-Ray HD films and movie posters. "When we started, I thought, well, there's only one way this is going to get funded, and that's if I can essentially pre-sell the DVD to Gourds fans." As the campaign went along, he began to see that there were High Plains Films fans contributing as well.

There were obstacles. The Gourds worried that the Kickstarter campaign might seem as if they were exploiting their fans. Until several days before the campaign began, The Gourds's manager was trying to find another way to fund the film, through big donors. When that didn't work, Hawes-Davis says, the manager said, "Let's Kickstart this thing."

click to enlarge The Gourds, from All The Labor
  • The Gourds, from All The Labor

Still, Hawes-Davis fretted. "If my Kickstarter campaign fails, not only do I not get the money and I look like a failure, The Gourds look like a failure," he says, adding, however, that the band never told him that. Still, "They were in somewhat disbelief that we could ever raise so much money this way, and so that was a lot of added pressure."

On the final day, the campaign had raised $47,000$2,000 over goal. It was more money than Hawes-Davis had ever gotten from a single funding source.



The goldrush

Patrick Cook has also managed a Kickstarter campaign for Missoula's Stellarondo. The quintet—an art-folk group that uses glockenspiel, pedal steel and musical saw, among an array of instruments—lately has been playing their sweet-and-dark, high-lonesome songs in conjunction with readings from author Rick Bass. Recently, Bass and the band headed to Portland, Ore., where they recorded an album of stories and instrumentals. They decided to try to fund the endeavor with Kickstarter.

Stellarondo hired Cook and another Kickstarter aficionado, Caitlin Hofmeister (who also co-managed the Winter in the Blood Kickstarter campaign), to manage their effort, with a target of $8,000.

Using Kickstarter "felt a little bit like going out on a limb to ask for money," says Stellarondo guitarist and singer Caroline Keys. "But Patrick and Caitlin, those two are a savvy, incredibly talented team. I feel like a Kickstarter campaign run entirely by [us] would not necessarily be done so well. Those two had done all their homework, all the research about which weeks are slump weeks and which weeks are big weeks. So we kind of had this experience where we were close to it but we didn't have our hands on every knob and button during the process."

Stellarondo is a classic shoestring operation. When they went to play a show recently in Astoria, Ore., for example, they found themselves without a place to crash for the night. Their original hosts had cats, and Travis Yost, their upright bassist, is allergic to cats. Their Plan B crash pad also had cats. So did the Plan C. Discouraged, driving up the gloomy Oregon coast, they caught sight of a hotel at the end of a pier. Keys and Bass asked if they could exchange a night in the hotel for a night of music and storytelling. "They said, 'We never do anything like this. Yes!'" recalls Keys. "It wasn't an immediate yes—we had to do some talking. They gave us a room and we all put on bathrobes and went and played in the lobby" for two other musicians who'd been booked for the night, the front desk staff and couple from Kansas City. "The front desk worker, one of them, was just in tears by the end," Keys says. "We just got a glorious letter from the hotel saying how deeply affected everyone was by our visit. ... They're trying to figure out how to get us back there." The next night, they played in a 200-seat auditorium for eight people. "That's just how it goes," says Keys, not sounding disappointed at all.

In the Portland studio, while making their album, they checked on the Kickstarter campaign when they could. "There were different levels of panic among us," Keys says. "There were some moments where we were trying to figure out how we would get it done if we didn't hit our goal."

When they returned to Missoula, the band dispersed, but they all checked Kickstarter"some of us daily," says Keys.

Three days before their deadline, they reached their goal.

"It's like many things in life," Keys says. "There's no horn section blowing behind you when you reach your goal. It just happens. And then people kept giving. The spirit of that was pretty overwhelming. And still is. This thing we're doing is going to exist because we asked."

click to enlarge Stellarondo on tour - PHOTO COURTESY OF STELLARONDO
  • Photo courtesy of Stellarondo
  • Stellarondo on tour

The money will fund the mixing, mastering and duplication of the album and the album art. It also will help cover the cost of traveling to Portland and of studio time.

At the end of their campaign, Stellarondo, Cook and Hofmeister drove up to the Yaak Valley and celebrated in the way you'd hope a wildly creative Montana band would: After a dinner of elk burgers and rhubarb pie, they visited the Yaak cemetery, then hiked in pouring rain to the Canadian border, where they set up a movie camera and staged a defection.

"So many people are taking advantage of this," Keys says of Kickstarter. "Aside from the fundraising aspect of it, there's this kind of beautiful publicity thing about it. Now there's so many people who know about projects that are out there, whether or not they've helped fund them."

Patrick Cook calls this Kickstarter era a goldrush. And as in a goldrush, ultimately, there might be a few big winners and a lot of losers. A list of the saddest Kickstarter projects on Buzzfeed.com, for example, includes a T-shirt that says "I Love You Mom," which raised $0 of its $120 goal; a one-man concert detailing a personal journey through harmonica and sword fighting; a $270,000 World Trade Center replica memorial to be built in St. Louis; and a "realistic" dating board game called Single Again. On the other end, a campaign for the Pebble Technology customizable watch for Android and iPhone raised over $10 million. In Kalispell, John McGinnis raised $95,000 to build a futuristic-looking, energy-efficient airplane.

What could Kickstarter still do for technology, art and design? What if, instead of investing in politicians to change the world, people looked to artists?

Andy Smetanka considers that and chuckles. "Finally," he says, "the artists get all this money and the politicians will have to have bake sales."



Current Missoula Kickstarter campaigns

• Freeload is a gritty, thoughtful documentary-in-progress by filmmaker Dan Skaggs who has spent the last year hopping trains and capturing the dreams and tribulations of fringe characters who live their lives on the rails. Last day to support: July 16.

• Missoula’s Josh Farmer—an accomplished musician who cooly blends jazz, rock, funk and soul—is heading into the studio with his band to make an EP, and the $5,500 he needs will go toward mixing, mastering, studio time, production and promotion. Last day to support: July 8.

• Tyson Ballew of Tummy Rock Records is making a 7-inch record for $600 featuring the Portland punk bands Andrew Link, Metallica 300 and King Elephant, a loud and fast Missoula band with members from Blackfeet rez rabble rousers Goddammitboyhowdy. Last day to support: July 7.

• Missoula’s Lynda DeBerry has been traveling to Guatemala to restore the Concha Acustica, a theater where she hopes to produce a play called “The Happy Prince” starring local Guatemalan actors. She needs $2,000. Last day to support: June 25.

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