Event Recap: At the Mercy of the Crowd(funding)

By Deborah French Frisher 

It seemed impossible to match the frequency outside Gray Area Foundation for the Arts last week on San Francisco’s Market Street when the Giants played the second game of the World Series several city blocks away.

And once inside the no-nonsense GAFFTA location for the panel event At the Mercy of the Crowd(funding), the field of what is possible at the intersections of technology, arts, and culture was alive with a voltage of enthusiasm just as palpable.

The panel addressed the full room full of innovators in a presentation and Q & A that gave new meanings to the terms of  pitch, strategy, team, and fans or friends.

Coaching from the panel
The diverse panel was moderated by the Stacy Bond, creator and executive producer of SonicSF. Panelists included Alex Kane, musician; Eleanor Hanson Wise, co-founder of The Present Group; and John Spokes, director of development,
USA Projects.

Stacy introduced her role on the panel with a generous disclosure about how her experience in crowdsourcing funds through Kickstarter had fallen short of their vision for a launch, creating a credible space for sharing not only successes, but the failed attempts that are inevitable and lead to successful strategies through lessons learned. Eleanor described successes of The Present Group in providing a subscription service for clients to receive and view cutting edge on-line art, web hosting with incentive prizes and an experiment in art micropartronage. Alex described his resourcefulness in a college social media marketing class of enrolling class members to make their assigned project his Kickstarter campaign, describing the critical value of a small mass of friends that moved his campaign as a solo musician. He also spoke about the soft value of getting the word out about one’s project through the crowd funding process. John brought a seasoned presence to the panel, describing the role of the artist in the ecology of culture, providing not only an introduction to the philosophical framework of USA Projects, but validating the challenges and gifts of most of the people in the room.

The thrill of the full house that evening generated the kind of intelligent hope and informed commitment to find one’s community and enlarge the spirit and service of that community through your shared vision. The event at GAFTTA offered concrete ideas for how to get your game on as a team so that the crowd (funding) will come.

Take-home tips

  • Go together, not alone. Have a supportive circle, a group of friends that can amplify your reach through social media.
  • Take confident hold of the important roles played in culture and its economic ecology by artists, tech innovators, and cultural administrators when sustaining the original passion through the long concrete hours of work that goes into project crowd funding.
  • Practice pitch perfect; it takes feedback and revision of content to choose the words that get your project’s idea out of your brains and into someone else’s heart.
  • Rejection or falling short of the funding goal is an opportunity for clarification.
  • Repeat yourself, oh, yes, say it again and again and be sensitive to the timing: a burst of enthusiasm in the beginning, a slump in support after, and a subsequent need for that second wind to bring the project home in the life of your crowd funding campaign.
  • Make innovative offers with meaningful benefits to those who give to your campaign and, thereby, become partners in reaching your goal. Cultivate community and involvement.

Thanks to folks at GAFFTA for the open door on Market Street and it’s role in making sense that night of the madding crowd(funding).


About Deborah
Deborah French Frisher is a writer working as project Director for, assistant professor in drama therapy at California Institute for Integral Studies, and author of the burgeoning blog her French press.

The Art of Tech: Zero1 Festival App to Capture the Crowd

Zero1 App to Capture the CrowdBy Michael DeLong, Managing Editor

Nonprofit arts organization Zero1 needed a way to help people make sense of its biennial, Seeking Silicon Valley, scheduled for September 2012.

Spread over three months and more than twice as many cities, the festival presents a big challenge with respect to keeping visitors engaged and informed.

To tackle the challenge, Zero1 decided to create an app. As recently noted by Frank Barry of Blackbaud, technology plays a key role in audience engagement for the arts and culture sector. For Zero1, an organization whose mission is at the intersection of art and technology, a tech-based approach to this problem makes perfect sense.

A community comes together

With that in mind, Zero1’s community engagement manager Danielle Siembieda-Gribben organized HackFlux: a weekend hackathon bringing together a mix of coders, developers, designers, artists, and thinkers this past June. The goals of the hackathon were twofold:

  1. To build a community around mobile development and art
  2. To have in place the starting point for an app to create a seamless visitor experience at the biennial

Flexing her background in community organizing — Siembieda-Gribben spent years working for ACORN — she structured the hackathon to maximize learning and shared knowledge. A Tech Advisory Committee of nine Bay Area technologists such as Kollective Mobile CEO Sian Morson mentored the teams.

A core group of interns assembled by Siembieda-Gribben will go on to develop the winning team’s idea, using an API designed by Lift Projects for Zero1.

The teams get to work

The participants gathered at TheGlint, a live-work community aimed at accelerating the creation of value through design, philosophy, the arts, technology, and entrepreneurship — all set atop Twin Peaks backed by a stunning view of the Bay.

For 48 hours, four teams brainstormed, tinkered, designed, and revised, culminating in a presentation for a hand-selected jury. Including tech experts such asAngelHack founder Greg Gopman, Michael Shiloh of DorkBot San Francisco and the Exploratorium, and TheGlint co-founder Alexandros Pagidas, the jury picked the winning idea based on set criteria. The app should

  • be accessible to the widest possible audience
  • be feasible to create, sustain, and maintain with the resources provided
  • have a strong concept demonstrating creativity and innovation

Additionally, each team needed to provide a clear plan for the execution of the app by the end of summer.

Zero1 HackFlux WeekendA winner emerges

The four teams brought excellent ideas to the table, impressing both the crowd and the jury. Proposals included fun geocaching activities to draw attendees into deeper engagement with the biennial; informative, interactive maps; and a personalized, art-enhanced experience to alleviate the stress of festival parking.

A remarkable part of the judging portion of the event – and of the hackathon overall – was the collaborative energy sparked among the teams. As one team presented, others offered on-the-spot suggestions. The feeling was one of cooperation rather than competition.

In the end, one team’s idea did stand out to the jury. Team Reactor, composed of Kelsey Innis, Anna Billstrom, and Helen Mair, proposed an app to crowdsource reactions to the festival artwork in the form of voice, text, and drawings.

Called The Reaction Trader, the app will allow festival-goers to trade anonymous reactions to nearby art (the response mechanism remains locked until the viewer is within range). It will also allow attendees to vote up specific reactions, creating a leaderboard of top responses.

There was some debate around the wisdom of allowing for anonymous comments — the fine line between candor and a race to the bottom — but the winners have the rest of the summer to work it out with the core team.

Don’t miss Zero1’s biennial this September to December and let us know in the comments how your organization has used technology to engage its audiences.

Interested in putting together your own hackathon? Check out NetSquared’s tips for creating a successful app-for-good event by Vanessa Rhinesmith.

A version of this post appeared on the TechSoup blog.

The Hybrid Challenge

hybridBy Emily Lakin

Strength in variety

My colleague at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), Marc Bamuthi Joseph, was recently featured in United States Artists’ online magazine discussing his role as a seeker and hybrid. It was perfect timing as I prepared to write this post about my experience with the NextGen Arts Leadership Initiative, a project of the Creative Capacity Fund, part of the Center for Cultural Innovation.

From my perspective, nonprofit employees work beyond what is narrowly defined by our job descriptions: we are nimble, multi-skilled professionals that do everything from setting up tables for an event to managing a grant-funded program. Bamuthi muses on that further, speaking to the challenges of fitting into discrete categories as a hybrid artist-curator-teacher (and many more hyphenates).

While it may be challenging externally – to the funder trying to slot your proposal into a program area, to the journalist trying to figure out where to list your show, to the hiring manager reviewing your resume – I propose that we are stronger candidates to become leaders if we have explored a diversity of experiences and taken advantage of the valuable learning and resources available outside our own specialties.

Crowdsourcing mentorship

With that in mind, in January 2011 I proposed a NextGen Grant for a project I must honestly admit I wasn’t sure would be funded. NextGen’s guidelines stated that the grant could be used for a workshop, conference, or mentor. For this project, I wanted to crowdsource a mentorship by meeting with professionals who are actively involved in some aspects of nonprofits, social practice, philanthropy, technology, arts and innovation, though not necessarily in the arts nonprofit sector.

Instead of a single mentor, I talked with multiple people in New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, offering them lunch as a token payment for their time. In a time when most organizations have cut conference and travel budgets, this grant helped me greatly expand my network to exchange ideas and learn new information through its financial and credentialed support. And, much like my proposal to NextGen for an independent mentorship program, this series of lunches inspired me to engage in further self-directed study.

Making it together

I’ve also become increasingly aware of my role in collaborations, attempting to make something together instead of focusing on pushing my goal as the end result. I found myself seeking out opportunities for partnerships outside YBCA that would benefit both parties. In December I worked with Airbnb, a vacation rental service operating on the collaborative consumption model, to offer a week of free admission for anyone registered with their site. It was a boost for members of their community to engage in cultural activities in their own cities, or who were visiting as part of their Airbnb stay. It gave YBCA the opportunity to engage a vibrant user group, and the credit we earned in the partnership offset some of the cost to host a visiting artist during her residency in April.

Just recently I’ve been working with the artist David Shrigley and Kala Art Institute to create a limited edition print in conjunction with Shrigley’s YBCA show, Brain Activity, which runs through September.

Ideologically, these mentor conversations collapsed my perceived walls between sector silos to focus around the idea of “good” business – work that is sustainable, socially responsible, and which demonstrates an impact. I find myself ravenous to find studies or projects or companies that offer insight into the themes from this project: collaboration, philanthropy, social impact in nonprofit and for-profit spheres, and the relevance of the creative fields. As I feed myself information, I try to synthesize it into the work I’m currently doing or work I’d like to do in the future.

A call to be seekers and hybrids

As culture workers I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we ignore the trend towards the growing intersection of the public and private sector. We are primed to take advantage of all the resources out there to make ourselves and our organizations better and stronger.

I’d like to challenge my fellow emerging leaders to be seekers and hybrids as well. Build trust and integrity within your communities as you network far and wide and hopefully you will be inspired and strengthened to move forward. If you need help starting, below is a list of my areas of interest as well a few links and the list of people I’ve spoken to in the last year. I’d love to hear from the readers of EAP’s Blog Salon about what or whose work sparks their interests, and how it might inform your work as an arts professional.

Areas of Interest

  • collaborative consumption
  • partnerships and collaborations
  • alternative/continued education
  • citizen funding
  • social practice

Some things to read

Online resources

Some interesting people

About Emily Lakin

Emily has been involved in San Francisco arts and nonprofits for the past ten years, including holding positions at the 111 Minna Gallery and the Nonprofit Finance Fund. She currently works in Development at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Emily serves on the advisory board for Root Division, and has also volunteered at Intersection for the Arts and Southern Exposure. When not hands-deep in the arts in SF, you can find her @hazelbrown on Twitter, cooking up new recipes with a CSA from Eatwell Farm, and crashing startup offices throughout the city in search of skeeball machines. She earned B.A. in Anthropology from Smith College.

Image: Adapted from a photo by jaqian of artwork by Asbestos