Kickstarting the Urban Abstract Experience
Jerry Hardesty harnesses the internet to fund an art project
Renaissance artists had the Catholic church and wealthy patrons to fund their art projects.
Jerry Hardesty has nearly 5,000 Facebook friends and the Kickstarter community. Who
needs a patron with millions when the Internet allows easy access to thousands of people
who just might want to invest as little as $5 to be part of your creative process?
My, how times have changed.
When painter Jerry Hardesty heard about Kickstarter, an online service that helps
creative types find investors for projects, he could immediately see its application to
visual art projects he dreams of doing. Hardesty submitted a proposal to fund a project
he calls the “Urban Abstract Experience,” a collection of paintings and 3-D works inspired
by sidewalk drawings, graffiti, faded signs, decomposing posters, and abandoned buildings
he found in and around Salt Lake City. He used his camera to document more than 100
of these images for some future collection of paintings. As he posted some of the
photographs to his Facebook page, he found they resonated with his readers. This
validated his desire to “preserve” the images before the elements wash them away
by using them as inspiration for a series of abstract paintings.
While most visual artists bear all the expense of creating works for an exhibition and
then pray that sales cover costs, Hardesty sees this as another model, one that may
“generate more interest in my art work. I think this is a unique project and that, in
itself, may generate interest,” he says.
Kickstarter accepted Hardesty’s proposal. Some 40 percent of proposals are not
accepted, so he is elated. But that’s just the beginning of a long and arduous process
that most artists would find daunting. First he had to thoroughly envision his outcome,
his budget, and the steps it will take to get there. If that sounds a lot like a business
plan, it is. Do you know many painters who like to do business plans? Perhaps it’s
Hardesty’s business background (various positions at Union Pacific Railroad) that
provided the confidence and stamina to tackle such a challenge.
Hardesty “attended” the online Kickstarter school to learn best practices for a
successful project. This includes defining the pledge levels for donors and coming
up with an award structure for each investor at each level – from a letter of heartfelt
thanks and invitation to the exhibition, to a copy of a book he intends to publish and
limited edition prints.
Hardesty will officially launch his funding campaign on October 14, after which he can
take as long as 60 days to gather pledges. Donors send money to Kickstarter, which
puts it into an Amazon account from which Hardesty may draw funding as needed.
The catch is that if he doesn’t meet his funding goal, all the money must be
returned to donors. The incentive, clearly, is to set funding goals as low as possible.
With that in mind, most Kickstarter entrepreneurs fund about half their budget with
their own resources.
A look at the painting section of the Kickstarter projects described on its web site,
reveals some projects with little or no pledges while others have achieved more than
100 percent of their goals. The difference may be in the quality of the art, the creativity
of the project, and how well the artist promotes the campaign.
Hardesty is already planting the seeds – a “soft launch” he calls it – on Facebook and
on his blog. On October 14, the projected launch day, his readers will get the details
about how to invest and what they get for their investment. Those benefits, in addition
to “heartfelt thanks” include things like an opportunity to name the book that will
document the project or to submit a photographic urban image that Hardesty will paint
and have printed on a greeting card for the donor. T-shirts, sets of cards, limited edition
prints, and an autographed book are among the other donor awards.
One of the complicated parts of the planning process is “to match the pledge levels with
the awards you’re giving and figure out what your budget is based on that,” says
Hardesty. This requires a lot of research to determine the cost of producing the awards
and making sure you make a profit in the end.
Then there are all the other costs involved: materials, marketing, exhibit space, printing,
and hired help, to name a few. Kickstarter takes 5 percent of the budget and Amazon
charges 3.2 percent for serving as banker for the project. Hardesty estimates he’s spent
more than 60 hours on research and planning thus far.
Of course, creating new works for an exhibit is at the core of the project. Hardesty,
whose works are acrylic or mixed media on panel, has completed two paintings so far
and estimates he will produce at least one painting per week between now and January,
when he plans to exhibit the work. He is still exploring various exhibition venues.
Hardesty plans to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google Plus to reach prospective
donors. If those contacts forward his pitch to their networks, he may benefit from that
oh-so-desirable viral potential of the Internet. In addition, the advantage of using
Kickstarter is that they have about 300 people who consistently donate to projects
they like. Hardesty hopes they will like his.
Hardesty is part of the co-op gallery Art at the Main, in the atrium of the downtown
library building. He has also had shows at Beans and Brew, Barnes and Noble, and other
venues around the Salt Lake valley. Though mostly self-taught, Hardesty has taken
classes and workshops from several area artists including John Hughes, Susan Gallacher,
and Steven Sheffield. He began painting in the ‘70s but his career in the railroad industry
took priority. Then, after surviving two strokes and two heart attacks, in 2006 he retired
early and took up painting again. Though he began with landscapes and other
representational subjects, he has evolved as an abstract expressionist whose work is
characterized by bold color, texture, expressive lines, and adventurous combinations
Kickstarter may not be the right business model for every artist or every project,
but it’s still enough of a novelty that it promises better than average promotional
opportunities. For the right project, it may be worth all the extra effort to bend the
right-brained artist to the required business tasks.
To follow Hardesty’s project or become part of his donor base, stay tuned to his blog
posts or look up his Facebook page.