Museums Turn to Crowdfunding for Support


The Autry National Center of the American West is the latest museum to turn to crowdfunding to raise money to support an exhibit or purchase. Individual artists have used online fundraising sites, like Indiegogo, Kickstarter and Razoo, to seek public donations for years. Museums, which traditionally relied on corporate sponsors and bequests, have been testing the crowdfunding waters in recent years, with mixed results.

The Autry is reaching out to the public, particularly Route 66 enthusiasts, in hopes of raising $66,000 to support an exhibit, titled “Route 66: The Road and the Romance.” The exhibit, which is scheduled to open June 8, will include artifacts tracing the history of the road and its impact on American culture, including a classic Corvette, the oldest Route 66 shield, vintage gas pumps and Jack Kerouac’s original “On the Road” typewriter scroll. The crowdfunding campaign, through Indiegogo, is seeking donations in amounts ranging from $10 to $10,000, to support the exhibition and related programs.

Larger, well-known museums have done limited crowdfunding campaigns. The Arthur A. Sackler Gallery, part of the Smithsonian, raised $176,000 through Razoo to defray costs on an art exhibit connected with yoga. The Smithsonian effort was small and targeted.

The French have turned to crowdfunding, which they refer to as “participatory financing,” to help the Louvre purchase a pair of 13th-century ivory figurines and the Center for National Monuments raise Euros to restore the Panthéon dome. French cultural spending may be sacrosanct, but austerity measures have led some of the treasured institutions to, not just court the wealthy, but to try public appeals to the average Jacque. Their efforts are bringing in the Euros.

In the United States, other successful efforts were conducted for the Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles and the Marina Abramovic Institute. The former recently surpassed its $40,000 goal on Kickstarter, garnering money from 436 backers for a “Never Built” exhibition to show how differently L.A. would look if certain structures had not been constructed. The performance art devoted Marina Abramovic Institute raised more than $650,000 last year from almost 5,000 supporters, according to the New York Times.

Several museums, besides the Autry, are now mounting campaigns. Kickstarter reportedly has 135 appeals tagged as museum projects on its website. To help museums develop and run campaigns, the American Alliance of Museums offers them a seminar and information on fund-raising platforms.

Not every crowdfunding campaign has been successful, and those that misfired have been embarrassing to the organizations. One such failure was an effort by the Philip J. Curie Dinosaur Museum, in Grand Prairie, Alberta, to raise $1 million on Indiegogo that only brought in $34,000. The Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tenn., tried to raise $9,900 via Kickstarter last year to preserve Thomas Allen’s painting “Evening Market” but only collected $3,371.

While recent efforts and the Web have attracted attention to crowdfunding, it is not a new fundraising tool. Crowdfunding has been around for hundreds of years. In fact, the funds to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty were raised through crowdfunding with over 125,000 people contributing. The Autry is not trying to raise money for anything so permanent or monumental. However, the museum hopes the wide appeal of Route 66, which connected Chicago to Los Angeles; spawned numerous songs, books and movies; and was iconic in the 20th Century westward movement, will inspire enthusiasts throughout the country to help fund their upcoming exhibit.

By Dyanne Weiss

New York Times
New York Times
Los Angeles Daily News

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