In a budgetary sign of the times, the N.C. Museum of History is taking a bake sale approach to paying for an upcoming exhibit. Using the crowd funding site Indiegogo.com, the museum is seeking donations to raise $25,000 for “Starring North Carolina!,” which will open in November 2014.
“It seems like the wave of the future,” said Camille Hunt, the museum’s project manager. “We’re all facing cuts in everything, whether it’s government or personal lives. The museum has always been good at fundraising and finding sponsors, and this is just another thing to try.”
“Starring North Carolina!” will spotlight the screen legacy of the Tar Heel state, which has long been a popular production site for the film and television industry. Over the years, blockbuster movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Bull Durham” and TV series including “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill” have been made in North Carolina.
The museum’s Indiegogo campaign is soliciting tax-deductible donations from $1 to $2,500. As of Thursday afternoon, pledges stood at $1,194. It ends on Nov. 29. If the $25,000 goal is not met, the museum will still get whatever is pledged.
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While this sort of direct crowd funding is unusual, relying on outside funding for programming has long been standard for the museum. After years of cuts in budgets and operations, personnel costs take up virtually all of the museum’s allotment from the state.
The museum received about $4.1 million from the state budget for the current fiscal year, down slightly from the year before, all but $231,000 of which will go toward salaries, benefits and other personnel costs for its 93 full-time and part-time employees. After paying utilities, insurance and other infrastructure expenses, the museum’s only way to pay for new exhibits is to hit up donors and sponsors.
Private, corporate support
For the museum’s current exhibit on Russian porcelain and religious iconography, donations came from an array of individuals and corporations, including Bank of America. Heyward McKinney, the Museum of History’s chief operations officer, said the museum took in donations and revenue of more than $500,000 last fiscal year for exhibits and education programming.
“Almost none of our state budget goes toward that,” McKinney said. “If not for the private support, we’d be just a warehouse for the permanent collection. Years ago, we had a budget to purchase artifacts. We haven’t purchased an artifact with state funds in 10 years.”
Nationally, there have been some major crowd funding success stories in recent years. Last year, alternative-rock singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer took in almost $1.2 million in fan donations on Kickstarter.com to record an album. A nonprofit group in New York did even better, raising more than $1.3 million via a 2012 Indiegogo campaign to build a museum devoted to Nicola Tesla, “father of the electric age.”
Another local effort
Locally, another crowd funding arts campaign is close to reaching its goal. Liberty Arts, a Durham-based nonprofit, is trying to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter to fund a “Bull City Sculpture Show.” As of Thursday afternoon, its tally stood at $22,235 with three days to go.
The $25,000 that the Museum of History is seeking probably won’t be enough to cover all the expenses for “Starring North Carolina!” Hunt said she picked that figure as a goal that seemed attainable, so the museum will be soliciting further monies from its usual cast of donors.
But crowd funding seems firmly entrenched as a strategy for the arts. Marjorie Hodges, director of the Contemporary Art Foundation at Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum, said that CAM is pondering a similar campaign for some of its future programming.
“There are multiples of donors needed for an arts institution to be financially solid,” Hodges said. “You need your major patrons and corporations but also new patrons who maybe can’t afford to donate as much.”