Kickstarting NYC’s Creativity

Daniel T. Allen |

Artist Leon Reid IV's "Tourist-in-Chief" transformed Union Square's statue of George Washington into a stereotypical New York tourist bedecked with a camera, shopping bags and an "I Love NY" baseball cap. The project's Kickstarter campaign raised more than $3,000. Photo by Becki Fuller.

It used to be that a great idea and $2.25 would get you a ride on the subway. Nowadays, that same combination could put you well on your way to raising thousands of dollars on Kickstarter, an online platform based in Manhattan that has revolutionized fundraising for creative projects around the world.

Since launching in 2009, Kickstarter has collected over $125 million in contributions for its projects, a sum that rivals the annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. The concept is simple: a person with an idea for a creative project submits a proposal to Kickstarter staffers, who decide which projects wil then be showcased on the site. Kickstarter’s unique all-or-nothing funding method means that projects must reach their target goal by a certain deadline or no money changes hands. 

Creative projects on Kickstarter cover a huge spectrum, from independent film to dance to design, and out of the approximately 40,000 projects launched to date, nearly 3,500 originated in the New York area.

That’s no coincidence, Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler told Jane Pauley in an TV interview for MetroFocus. Strickler said New Yorkers are sophisticated producers and consumers of culture.

“I think that the understanding of the breadth and the depth of culture really comes from being in New York,” Strickler explained. “And also, that hustle that you have to do to make it on Kickstarter is not that dissimilar from what it takes to live in the city.”

In the past year, Kickstarter has been the launchpad for projects that have made a real impression on the five boroughs. In early October, artist Leon Reid IV transformed Union Square’s statue of George Washington into a stereotypical tourist. Later that month, a group of Brooklyn buds opened a clam shack on the Gowanus Canal. Even the Occupy Wall Street protesters raised money on the site to publish copies of “The Declaration of Occupy Wall Street.”


Jane Pauley interviews Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler for MetroFocus. According to Strickler, Kickstarter’s genesis was 10 years ago when he and co-founder Perry Chen met in a Brooklyn restaurant.  (Video courtesy of Alan Del Rio Ortiz.)

Littleneck brings a taste of New England to Gowanus, Brooklyn, with its raw bar, full belly Ipswich clam roll and cold beer. The restaurant officially opened in late October, thanks in part to funds raised on Kickstarter. Photo courtesy of Aaron Lefkove.

In hard economic times, Kickstarter projects have breathed new life into underused or derelict urban spaces. A fashion designer opened a pop-up fashion runway in a vacant retail space on the Lower East Side, hipsters raised funds to rebuild a youth-run art space in an industrial neighborhood in Queens and an artist collective opened a drawing studio in a church in New Jersey.

Aside from purely artistic pursuits, Kickstarter has also helped start a number of successful businesses like Brooklyn Soda Works, an artisanal soda maker, and Corrente Handbags, which produces high fashion bags in its Brooklyn Navy Yards factory. Colonie, a Brooklyn eatery and wine bar conceived by three veteran restaurateurs, opened to rave reviews in early 2011 after its successful Kickstarter campaign.

MetroFocus has featured several Kickstarter projects that seem to have the potential to leave a lasting impression on the New York area.

Here are some of our favorites, along with updates on each project:


George Plimpton was a legendary New Yorker whose credits included writer, journalist, athlete, photographer and partygoer. Filmmakers started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a documentary about Plimpton. Photo courtesy of Tom Bean.

The pitch: This documentary tells the story of George Plimpton, the legendary New Yorker who founded The Paris Review, quarterbacked for the Detroit Lions, pitched to Willie Mays, photographed Playboy models and threw some of the best parties in the city’s history. Filmmakers Tom Bean and Luke Poling sifted through Plimpton’s personal archives, which included film reels, video cassettes and memorabilia, to piece their film together.

Where it’s at now: According to the creators, the film is in post-production and a composer is finalizing the soundtrack. They’ve printed over 70 T-shirts for contributors to their Kickstarter campaign and at least 42 other backers will receive a one-year subscription to The Paris Review. But Bean and Poling may want to take preventative measures against carpal tunnel syndrome as they write their way through the 314 “thank you” notes they’ve committed to sending out.

“If These Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the New York Accent”

Tara, a character in "If These Knishes Could Talk," a film funded through Kickstarter, has an accent so strong that even New Yorkers have trouble understanding her. She's an actress and wants to lose her accent to get parts other than the stereotypical "Noo Yawk" roles. Photo courtesy of Heather Quinlan.

The pitch: When Heather Quinlan first set out to discover why New Yorkers “tawk” funny, she hadn’t realized how much each ethnic group had put its own stamp on the “Noo Yawk” accent. She needed funds to complete a 25-minute film that explains how the  New York accent is disappearing as the city changes.

Where it’s at now: Quinlan debuted her film at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival in August and has another screening at the Brooklyn Heights Cinema on Feb. 9, 2012.  DVDs of the finished film are pressed and she plans to send out them out to her backers just in time for the holidays. Quinlan also said that after the campaign ended, a Los Angeles composer contacted her and is working to score the film. “So there are lots of ways that having a project on Kickstarter helps, beyond money,” Quinlan wrote in an email.

The creators of "Art Wars" hoped they would be able to get the game built using Kickstarter funds. The game's design may cause former Nintendo gamers to wax nostalgic. Photo courtesy of Nortd Labs.

Art Wars: The NYC Art World Game

The pitch: You might call it the “Oregon Trail” for the “in” crowd. “Art Wars” is meant to simulate the life of an emerging artist on the New York scene. You earn points or “cred” each time you do something “creatively credible” and lose points for selling out.

Where it’s at now: This project didn’t reach its funding goal in time but Nortd Labs plans to move forward with the project in any case. Maybe they should have updated the graphics?


“Block Party: Soul of Summer”

A block party on Crown Street and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn in 2009. The photographer hoped to use Kickstarter funds to create a book of his images of block parties. Photo by Anderson Zaca.

The pitch: Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based photographer Anderson Zaca spent five years documenting over 200 New York block parties. He was looking to raise funds to self-publish, “Block Party: Soul of Summer,” the first photography book on the topic.

Where it’s at now: Zaca wasn’t able to reach his goal on Kickstarter, but says that a new connection with New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs may help him to complete the project. Zaca’s advice to those thinking of launching a campaign? “Plan well and have a back up plan. Love your project for life and don’t ever stop fighting for what you want and believe.”

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