Vermont Arts Council

Sean Williams on Crowdfunding

Sculptor Sean Williams was thrilled to receive an FY2017 Artist Development Grant. He planned to use the funds to attend a workshop on digital sculpture and the human anatomy at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Los Angeles. The grant would cover some expenses, but wouldn’t stretch far enough for travel costs. The intrepid artist turned to crowdfunding; he set up a campaign on GoFundMe, took a deep breath, and made the ask.

Sean not only met his financial target — he exceeded it.  “I was also able to pay for a weekend workshop … called Breaking into Business: Public Art Commissions. With this added workshop, I hope to pursue more public commissions and hopefully I can integrate what I learned this past week to give my proposals a professional 21st century edge.”

Artist and Community Programs Manager Sarah Mutrux interviewed him about the successful campaign.

Before you applied for the Artist Development Grant, had you planned on doing a crowdfunding campaign? Did you have other planned sources of income for your project?

No. I had planned sources of income, but they were not available in time to register for the course I received a grant to attend, and buy a plane ticket to fly to L.A. where the course is being taught.

Which crowdfunding platform did you choose? Why? Did you look at other platforms?

After looking at a comparison chart of other crowdsourcing platforms, GoFundMe seemed the most appropriate for this kind of project, and felt safe because it allows you to keep the money raised even if you don’t meet your goal.

What steps did you take in preparing your campaign? About how long did you take preparing your campaign?

A sample of Sean's digital sculpting work.
A sample of Sean’s digital sculpting work.

I actually set up my campaign in one night. Coincidentally, I had been reading “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer, who is a musician that dropped her record label to crowdfund an album on Kickstarter four years ago. In her book, she writes about the intangible value of art in society, and how artists struggle with asking for support or money for their work. I’m not sure I could have overcome the inherent vulnerability and shame in asking for help if I hadn’t been reading her book.

How many days did your campaign last?

Two days.

What was your fundraising goal? Did you reach your goal?

My goal was initially $2,200, which I met in less than two days, so I raised my goal to $2,500. I ended up with $2,700.

How did you decide how much money to ask for (your goal)?

I used the budget I had prepared for my Artist Development Grant application and added another $1,000.

How many of your donors (ballpark) were friends and family? How many were Facebook or other social media friends or contacts already? Did people you did not know donate?

I would say most of them were friends I sent emails to. Eighty-eight people shared my campaign from the GoFundMe page on Facebook, and out of the 55 people who gave only around 4-5 were people I have never met or interacted with.

What was the most common giving range in dollars? ($5-25, $25-50, etc.)

A lot of people gave over $50. I have been talking with friends over the last couple weeks who said they were prepared to give what I was asking in my write up ($20 from 125 people) but because so many people gave $100 that drastically reduced the number of donors I needed.

A granite piece Sean is working on for installation in Barre.

How do you plan to keep your donors updated on the project?

I will continue to update the GoFundMe page as I learn and create new work. I also plan on using the GoFundMe page to create awareness for the installation of my first public commission in Barre this fall. From the GoFundMe I hope to start a mailing list for future updates.

Do you plan to do a crowdfunding campaign again? If so, what might you do differently next time?

Yes! I am planning a large scale project for another crowdfunding campaign. Next time, I will create a promotional video, and utilize larger online communities beyond my own network. I have seen friends create successful Kickstarter campaigns upwards of $40,000 for startup companies and animation projects, and they both had much more promotional material for potential contributors to look over.

If you could offer advice to an artist in your same position, what would you say?

Speak from the heart. I have seen a handful of questionable crowdsourcing campaigns, and I never would have done this unless I truly needed help for an opportunity that I believe will move my artistic career forward. Friends and family want to see you succeed, and if you believe what you are doing is going to improve your life in a real way, you can trust in the support of your community. On the flip side, as artists we have to first engage with our community and be sharing our art and ideas all the time. Although my artistic practice is solitary, I am very social outside of the studio and love to share my art with as many people as possible. This can be difficult and seem pointless for a lot of artists, because often we must create in isolation, so we then begin to live in isolation. If you are always looking for ways to contribute in your community, they will be waiting for ways in which they can contribute to your art, because they have already felt and understood the value of your art and creative contributions in their lives.

read other featured stories