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Arts crowdfunding goes local with power2give.org

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - It’s no secret that crowdfunding — raising money, usually via the Internet, by appealing to large groups of donors — is reshaping philanthropy. Such sites as Kickstarter have allowed entrepreneurs and artists to access funds that would have previously been unavailable to them.

Now, thanks to the Arts and Education Council, crowdfunding in St. Louis is going local.

Today marks the launch of a St. Louis page on power2give.org, a crowdfunding website operated by the Arts & Science Council of Charlotte, N.C., that allows arts groups in several communities across the country to appeal to local donors. The St. Louis site — the 21st power2give page — opens with 25 projects available for donations. Users can give to initiatives ranging from the Repertory Theatre’s book-donation project (fundraising target: $1,978) to Stray Dog Theatre’s 2014 performance of The Wizard of Oz (fundraising target: $10,000, the maximum goal).

The list of organizations participating in the new venture includes many stalwarts of the local arts and culture scene: not just Stray Dog and the Rep, but Circus Flora, the Contemporary Art Museum and Craft Alliance, among others.

“The response in St. Louis has been tremendous,” said Cynthia Prost, president of the Arts and Education Council. The council, one of St. Louis’s foremost cultural philanthropists, tapped its impressive list of beneficiaries to ensure a full slate of projects from the outset. Organizations can promote no more than two projects at a time on the site, and the donation period lasts for 90 days or until the fundraising goal is met. Contributors receive benefits like invitations to dress rehearsals or having their name inscribed on a donated guitar.

Compared to Kickstarter

According to Prost, power2give offers two major advantages over sites like Kickstarter: It is inherently local, allowing St. Louis groups to target an audience that immediately benefits from their work, and -- unlike Kickstarter, which only funds projects that reach their goals -- it allows groups to keep whatever proceeds they raise.

Prost added that the schedule of the Arts and Education Council’s yearly grant cycle effectively lasts about three weeks; power2give allows its grantees to raise more money throughout the year. “This is a way for us to say ‘yes’ more often,” Prost said.

For the organizations participating in power2give, crowdfunding isn’t just a way to hear “yes” more often — it’s a way to hear “yes” to projects that often receive a “no.” Prost said that arts groups often struggle to secure money for more mundane needs like infrastructure and maintenance. Crowdfunding, by spreading the cost across a large group of donors eager to help with small gifts, is a way to address this need.

Fund the need

COCA’s first power2give entry, for instance, asks for help purchasing couches and chairs for parents to sit on while they observe classes or wait for their children. Chesterfield Arts seeks to update its website.

Craft Alliance, for its part, wants to repair the roof at its Delmar location. Saskya Emmink-Byron, director of development and communications at Craft Alliance, said its request for $3,894.32 on power2give is the group’s first foray into crowdfunding. Projects like fixing a leaky roof are “not very sexy,” Emmink-Byron said, and therefore tend not to appeal to traditional donors, who typically want to contribute to arts programming.

Not only does crowdfunding help groups like Craft Alliance meet its more prosaic needs, it allows them to do so by reaching new donors.

According to Prost, that opportunity to reach a new group of benefactors was a major draw to many of the organizations participating in power2give, including the Contemporary Art Museum, which is looking to light its outdoor courtyard with funds raised on the site. In a statement, CAM director Lisa Melandri said that power2give “is a wonderful way to introduce the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis to new generations of members and funders.”

Prost said that organizations have been particularly eager to access the potential afforded by crowdfunding since the recent financial crisis, when traditional philanthropy took a significant hit. From the other side, donors have sought more transparency in their giving, which crowdfunding is perceived to offer.

Licensing a power2give webpage from the Arts & Sciences Council in Charlotte costs $25,000, Prost said. The Arthur and Helen Baer Foundation underwrote that fee in St. Louis.

The Arts and Education Council will officially launch the site with an open house on Nov. 13 at the Centene Center for Arts and Education, 3547 Olive St. The event will last from 5-7 p.m., and all are welcome. RSVPs are requested and can be sent to events@KeepArtHappening.org.