My friend Amia Yokoyama and I met last year in the Czech Republic. We were both students at New York University’s Gallatin School, and we were on a three-week study abroad program studying art and culture in Central Europe. Amia comes from a visual arts background with an interest in stop-motion animation. I’m in theatre – a director and writer. We had both chosen to study art with the Czech Republic program because it introduced us to Artmill, a sustainable farm and art residency tucked away in the countryside of Bohemia. Our days were filled with running through mud, chasing animals, swimming in the lake, going for walks, drinking tea by the fire, picking vegetables in the garden, helping in the kitchen, and, of course, sitting in our studios drawing and painting and building and filming and thinking thinking thinking.
This past spring, Amia and I met up to discuss how we could return to Artmill. We had fallen in love with the land and the people, and we knew that we needed to return to the inspiring Bohemian air to collaborate on a project. A book! A children’s book! With Amia’s art and my storytelling, it was the perfect match.
Over the course of a couple weeks, we met in Amia's Brooklyn apartment to lay out our project, which we called the Bohemian Book Project. We wanted to tell a story that linked the past with the present through Czech traditions and the sustainable practices at Artmill. We poured over Czech and Slavic folktales at the library, noting common themes and motifs among them. We brainstormed plots, characters, and mythical creatures; we argued morals; we shared artwork; and we went back and forth with ideas until it became obvious that we just needed to get back to Bohemia. We needed to breathe the air of the countryside, run around the farm, and soak in the magic of the land itself. But first we needed to raise money to help pay for the travel costs of returning to the Czech Republic.
And this is where the real Bohemian Book Project kicked in. How does an artist raise money for a project? We didn’t have anything to show – we had not yet made any art or written a story; all we had was an idea.
So, that was when our meetings changed from brainstorming book ideas to making videos about the project itself. We joined Kickstarter, a fundraising website for creative projects. There we chose a monetary goal ($3000), a deadline (30 days), and uploaded a video and text describing our project. We listed rewards for different levels of donations and added photos, videos, and messages to update our donors as the project grew. If we didn’t make our goal in that amount of time, we wouldn’t be able to keep any of the money. You can check out our page here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/bohemianbookproject/bohemian-book-project
Spoiler: we made our goal plus $26!
But how did we do it? How did we raise $3000 in 30 days? It was the quite the challenge.
Fundraising is a big old pain in the arse, a lesson I learned years ago. I have been self-producing theatre for the past several years in New York City, and raising funds has taken up as much of my time/energy/tolerance, if not more, than actually writing and directing the plays. It is hard, very very hard, to find investors when you are an individual artist (opposed to an organization, though even then it’s still extremely hard), and harder still when you aren’t an established name. So I knew from first hand experience that simply posting a video was not going to help Amia and me find strangers who wanted to throw hundreds, thousands, millions of dollars at us so we could write a children’s fairytale about Bohemia and the environment. We had to target people we knew.
Social networking was our friend. E-mail, Facebook, blogs... we updated and updated and bugged the heck out of everyone we knew. Everyone. It is simply amazing who will come out the woodwork to offer $25 for your project. Old high school friends, people we haven’t talked to in years, friends across the world – and $10 here and $50 there really adds up. Some days the line on our Kickstarter graph would suddenly jump up and we'd prematurely celebrate our success. But other days, the line would plateau, and we’d panic that we'd never meet our goal. And then days would go by and the line still wouldn’t budge; that’s when we knew that we had to be proactive and make another video, post more photos, or write another blog entry. And then we'd Facbeook and e-mail the bejeezus out of it. We made sure that everyone knew what we were up to, how much more money we had to make, and how much time we had to make it in. Yeah, sure, we knew we were bordering on annoyance, but we really believed in our project, and we really needed the help and support of our community. And our community came through.
Fundraising is a big old pain in the arse, and it will never get easier. But it works if you stay proactive. Amia and I are extremely proud of our successful campaign, and we're extremely grateful for the generosity of our supporters. As the Bohemian Book Project progresses, we expect to either use Kickstarter or some other fundraising method again. Because in the end, it is all about the art, but our art can only survive with the support of the community.
Miriam’s blog: www.m-b-c-t.blogspot.com
Amia’s webstie: www.iamamia.com
the Bohemian Book Project’s Kickstarter page: www.kickstarter.com/projects/bohemianbookproject/bohemian-book-project