Anna Halprin – The Breath Made Visible

On the occasion of Anna Halprin’s 95th Birthday, (yes, 95!) JW3 held a screening of Ruedi Gerber’s emotive documentary of the artist’s life and works, The Breath Made Visible. As a student and professional in the lineage of contemporary dance, Halprin’s legacy has always been on the edge of my radar. Her influence both ubiquitous and yet somewhat sidelined, unknown, mysterious. The film paints her as a comedic, free spirit, an artist who really followed through on whatever just needed to be done, no matter what it took. A dedicated teacher, Halprin approaches making, teaching and performing with both a rigorous attention and a subversive irreverence. In the same spirit here are my sketchy thoughts, impressions that feel important to set out, but they’re not fully formed, so my conclusion might sit somewhere in between the sentences that follow:

– I felt touched by the portrayal of her love for her (now late) husband, and the honesty with which her daughters described the difficulty of growing up in a ‘strange’ household. The juxtaposition of her Jewish cultural heritage, with which she strongly associated in her family life, against the hippie community that converged around her artistic work in the 60’s. It hints at questions around boundaries in an artist’s life. How much of my art should I allow to take over my life? Is it possible to disconnect the two? It sits uneasily with me.

– The transition of her work from the performance based, theatrical pieces, to the ritualistic and spiritual. It made me wonder if her ‘strangeness’ had perhaps become ‘too strange’ for the dance world to accept. Perhaps a few years ago I’d have included myself in that skepticism. But recent thoughts about the nature of health and the power of thought and visualization to overcome disease…. well, it’s something I’m thinking about more and more. No wonder my sister recently wondered if she should come and rescue me from becoming a hippie…

– I think the thing that will stay with me the most was her sense of purpose. Sometimes I feel that I spend too much time trying to carve out my ‘vision’, that ‘Big What’. But doesn’t it all feel a bit superfluous if that’s not underpinned by a strong ‘WHY?’ Why do I do what I do? I think that Halprin’s following the more political, community based work and ritualistic ideas was more a result of her search for purpose than any arbitrary artistic aim. And that’s why her work resonates so strongly.

#datadance – Our Technical Journey

Sicchio Galizia

#datadance is a collaboration between Marguerite Galizia and Kate  Sicchio, supported by South East Dance. This blog post was Written by Kate Sicchio

When starting this project, we really didn’t think that retrieving and inputing data would be the main issue we would come across. But of course, what you don’t think will go wrong, will go wrong. The main problem is around translating data into Open Sound Control (OSC) so it can be sent to Isadora where we are triggering sound clips that give instructions (the score). We want this to happen in real time and use a score of data where the information is updated regularly.

Temboo (https://temboo.com)
One idea in the beginning was to try to use Temboo, which is a website that has a library of APIs and will actually write code for you to use that API in a number of coding languages (SDK). One SDK is Processing, which in turn could then turn that API into OSC data. Or at least that was the hope. But the problem with Temboo is that most of the available APIs are not updated in real time or regularly or the ones that are require permissions. For example, one idea was to use Google Analytics and use the amount of traffic on a specific site as way of generating a number that would in turn play an instruction in the dance. However, getting permissions for Google Analytics actually prevents using this as a system. We would need to find a heavily trafficked sight that would be willing for us to use there data. Some of the Temboo APIs which are available and update in real time just don’t send enough data. One of these is the weather (temperature or severe weather warnings). But there is just not enough information coming in to change the score of a 15 minute dance piece. This data might work in other contexts such as determining something about the piece before it starts, or perhaps in a longer durational work. But in the process of changing a score in real time it is not as useful.

Other forms of data
Another approach we considered was GPS and how location of a person could change the score. However, GPS trackers tend to have a 60-200 feet of distance from the actual location. This means that location in a small space, such as a dance studio or theatre would not be tracked. But if someone was to get on a bus or travel around another place in the world, their information may be useful. But then there is a question of what these numbers are and if they are just slightly increasing and decreasing, would this make an interesting dance?

Satellites (http://science.nasa.gov/iSat/iSAT)
We found a source of satellite data from NASA that tracks the location and speed of various satellites. This site actually takes a list of data (http://science.nasa.gov/media/sot/tle/SMD.txt) and then calculates where the satellites are based on this data. It’s not real time but a real time simulator. So we found this data and we see how it changes on the website (the real time aspect is a seperate issue that we will need to address) but now we need to take this information and find a way to produce OSC data with it in order to create (trigger) the score within Isadora.

Javascript → OSC via Socket.io
Through Github (https://github.com/automata/osc-web) I was able to find a way to bridge web information to OSC via node.js in a programme called Socket.io (http://socket.io). And I was able to send messages by either clicking a button (such as in the Github example) or through refreshing the web page. This means that there must be a way to send further data, such as from a txt file or an updating txt file. And this is where we are stuck – without knowing much about javascript it is hard to understand what to code to allow this function to happen. More experienced coders I am sure could figure this out quite quickly. And it is most likely just one line of code we need for this to happen. But in the week we have had, this has eluded me.

When it all works
Once we have this bridge from the web to OSC then we can open up more explorations of data sources. For example, there is a txt of Solar Wind from NOAA (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/ftpdir/lists/ace/ace_swepam_1m.txt) that updates every minute. This could use the same technical set up but send a different data set (this is also the data used in Helen White’s piece Solar Wind Chime http://blogs.wcode.org/2013/08/solar-wind-chime-listening-to-the-sun-using-spacecraft-electromagnets-and-x-osc/). But of course, this leads us back to one of our original questions in this work – what kind of data do we need? And how will that data effect our score?

Supported by South East Dance SED_Blue_298_Master_logoPRINT

Siobhan Davie Dance – Table of Contents

Part performance, part conversation, part installation. Walking into ‘Table of Contents’ at the ICA felt like arriving at a workshop that had already started. A large wooden table takes up a corner of the space. Chairs are scattered around.

“Feel fee to take a chair and move around the space” Matthias Sperling says. It’s a performance installation involving 6 artists. Somehow Matthias appears to have it all in control, offering suggestions and explanations as a mostly silent group of viewers look on. Matthias explains that their aim was to create a dance installation that could be sustained for the length of the gallery opening hours. The work has a pleasing structure. Every twenty minutes or so we gather around the table and the artists explain what they are going to do for the coming twenty minutes. They use chalk to mark out the room on the surface of the table itself, drawing and labelling the sections, stating what space they will perform the section in, inviting the viewers’ questions. Then they proceed to ‘perform’ the snippets of material in the spaces they have agreed on.

“Feel free to take a chair and move around the space” Matthias tells us. Some times the ‘performance material’ is performed by just one artist, sometimes two, sometimes they all get involved. Matthias starts his solo with “I wonder if the best thing to do right now is a section from Siobhan Davies Archive, Wyoming, Lauren Potter’s material” and then he proceeds to perform the short snippet followed by “I wonder if the best thing to do right now is a section from White Man Sleeps from the Siobhan Davies Archive, Gill Clarke’s material.” Followed by another snippet. The material continues to unfold, with Sperling’s description of the name of the work, the performer who originated the material, and the date (which I omitted because I don’t have his memory!) creating a reassuringly comforting refrain to the performance. Charlie Morrissey and Andrea Buckley then perform a contact duet in which Charlie describes how Andrea is performing a public dissection of his heart, “anyone who’s squeamish should look away now” he says as they move into a lift and roll away from each other. “I trust that Andrea knows what she’s doing, although she tells me that she learnt how to do it from internet videos”. The audience laughs.

Another break, the table is shifted to a different corner of the space and “Feel free to take a chair and move around the space” Matthias tells us. A duet between Matthias Sperling and Helka Kaski, ‘Install’ takes up a small corner at the far end of the space. Step 1: Install – The performers carry out a circular movement going from standing to the floor. In further steps 2 and 3 (I think but may have added one here) they discuss the movement material which came from footage on the Siobhan Davies Archive, of Henry Montes performing this small section. “He only performed it once in the whole piece” says Sperling. But the two performers repeat the movement over and over, conversing all the while on details of the movement, what they are thinking whilst doing it over and over again, “Preferably” says Kaski “something interesting”. Final Step: Uninstall – The performers stop “thank you” they say.

The work has the feel of a relaxed sharing, or lecture demonstration, an exposition of the thoughts and ideas that inform a performer’s process. The performers move around the space and talk to each other or greet friends and associates in the audience. They refer to each other by first names although, endearingly, Siobhan Davies is “Siobhan Davies”. The Siobhan Davies Archive is heavily referenced, but is not the only material. Each performance snippet has a reassuringly clean structure. It’s as though you’re watching a performance with the programme notes running along-side it, revealing the underlying thinking and rationale for the work, the internal chatter worn on the outside. I remember one theatre producer telling me that he never reads programme notes because a piece of dance work really should speak for itself. I think that what this work achieves in revealing the thought processes within the material itself, is how much more depth there is in material when we acknowledge the presence of thought in performance.

‘Manual’: each performer asks a member of the audience to give them movement instructions that will bring them from lying on the floor to standing. “Move your right elbow towards your left ear and swing your head to your left…now bring your left knee up to your stomach…” it takes a good 10-15 minutes and still some find that their mover is no further from the ground than they were to begin with. The audience is less silent now, people move around, converse, speak to the performers. “Let’s gather round the table again. Feel free to move the chairs around” Matthias tells us. I leave.

Table of Contents’ is on at the ICA, London till the 19th January. Entrance is free. Go and see!

Coming out of the dark

It’s a strange business this ‘artist’s life’. We spend 95% of our time working towards something: pinning down our ideas, writing endless applications that prove that we know what we want to do enough to know that we can do it, but not so much as to remove the all important ‘risk’ without which, apparently, good art cannot possibly emerge. You send your thoughts ‘out there’, receive a yes (if you’re lucky) and jump for joy before crashing out exhausted and daunted by the reality of the situation you are now in: for all those times that you shouted in frustration about “not being given a bloody chance”, now here you are and, I’m afraid, here it is.

You’d think that receiving any substantial support might be just the kind of affirmation you needed. Finally you enter the sublime experience which is the 5%: making new work. Here I am, earning actual money in return for my creative work. I’m a ‘real’ artist, turning up to ‘work’ in the studio. Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted? But still, the world is intent on putting you in your place. Here’s how it went for me:

The first ‘sharing’ of the work in progress, two weeks into the project: I got cold feet, wasn’t sure I wanted anyone to see it, and then got a little upset when no one bothered anyhow.

Week three: we travel to Bedford and find that our studio is full of children on summer camp. A few phonecalls and one frantic staff member later, we have a space. Crisis averted. Phew. We head to our hotel later that day (travelodge in case you wondered) and “no, we don’t have a reservation for you.” Cue: walking an hour to the OTHER END of Bedford and back EVERYDAY because I mistakenly booked the wrong hotel. Oops.

Week four: I turn up in Lancaster and endure the very humbling experience of having to explain to the ‘lady in charge of the keys’ a.) who I am and b.) what I’m doing there. Very good questions, I thought privately.

Things finally began to pick up for us in week five. We worked at Jerwood Space, rubbing shoulders with Tori Amos and David Walliams in the green room, feeling smug and oh so professional….just the small issue of having no time left to finish the piece….

And that was just the practical stuff. There is always a point, about midway along where I realise that I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Actually the knowledge is always there, it’s just that at some stage I have to confront it. Now sometimes, as in this case, all that was needed was for a practical re-evaluation of my project outcomes and some decisive action on this front would have been handy. But instead this was the exact moment when I decided to have a bit of a break down. Confidence plummeted, and with no one around to scrape me off the ground, I slowly began to unravel.

There was a game we used to play as children, skimming pebbles across the sea. You had to find a pebble that had the right kind of flatness to it and you threw it side ways so that it skimmed the water’s surface. If you threw it wrongly it would just plonk into the sea. If you threw a ‘good one’ it could skim the surface up to three of four times before running out of speed and sinking. I think putting an idea out there is a bit like throwing a skimming pebble, once it leaves your hand, you have no more control. You can only trust that you’ve given it the right kind of guidance to keep it moving . In my case the problem wasn’t that the idea was sinking, it was that it was moving on a course that I had no control over. I had an idea and set it in motion. Somewhere along the line I took a turning that was absolutely the right turning to take, but as the journey continued, I realised, that I was going somewhere that was new to me. There was absolutely no question of steering it back. This piece was somehow making itself. At the end of it all the resounding feeling was that ‘I’ was not in it….

This was where I was at when I arrived in Lancaster in week 4, with my mini identity crisis in hand and my confidence at rock bottom. At this point I was supposed to have completed part 1 and should have been ready to start part 2. The former had clearly not happened, but the latter still had to regardless. There was a shift in energy and focus as I began to work with another collaborator. Three days into this collaboration it became obvious to me that the mix was not right. I’m baffled by what exactly went wrong. But I feel that there was a clue to this in a conversation I had with my collaborator on the evening of her arrival. We were sitting in a cafe eating the only palatable food on the menu (no wonder students put on weight when all they eat is pizza and chips), when the discussion turned to Malta – the country I grew up in and still associate myself with, being still a ‘Maltese’ national. My collaborator had just returned from a holiday there and explained to me how she found the Maltese conservatism was a superficial guise for the reality which was quite different. For example, top-less bathing is against the law, but then everyone leads hugely hedonistic lives with couple swapping and orgies, apparently a norm. She seemed to assume such an air of authority that it took some strength of will to say: now just a moment, I grew up there, and unless I’m terribly mistaken my parents don’t couple swap!!!!!! and the people camping in the free camping zone on Comino are not exactly reflective of the average Maltese. Now here’s the thing. What do you do if you’re about to start working artistically with someone who appears to over generalise and has a very assertive sense of what she knows, even when she doesn’t know?

I left Lancaster with part 2 in disarray, but as they say: lots of lessons learnt. Returning to London where I could focus on completing the project in the comfort of my home town was such a relief. I felt as though I’d emerged from a very dark room and I was starting to find my feet again. A week later I was plunged back into my teaching work, back to routine and classes and the see-saw of applications and rejections, elation, self-confidence crashes, crises and resolutions. Welcome back to the 95%. The only question is: “Now….where am I?”

Come and see “Where am I?” at the Giant Olive Theatre, 27th and 28th September

 

 

Call for Solo Performer/ Dancer / Collaborator

Over Summer 2013 I will be carrying out a new research and development project, supported by DanceDigital, live@LICA and the Arts Council England. I’m looking for a dancer to help me develop the work which will be performed in April 2014.

I’m looking for a strong performer with a mature attitude and an interest in exploring interactive designs in performance. The role involves some speaking and will probably be a bit of a brain workout (I speak from experience). The working process will be a challenging one for me, so I need to work with a confident and supportive collaborator who is responsive to the work and doesn’t mind trying different things out, even if they lead to nothing.

The project will take place in August / September 2013 and will involve residencies in Bedford and Lancaster as well as two weeks of work in London.

If you are interested… or if you know anyone who may be… or if you’d like to recommend someone who might be good for the role, please get in touch via email. A brief biog would be helpful. I will hold a workshop for a few dancers date tbc.

email to: margueritegalizia@yahoo.co.uk

Thank You!

Call for Dancers / Collaborators

Kirsty Arnold in Strange Loop 2012
Kirsty Arnold in Strange Loop 2012

I am holding research / workshop sessions over May / June @ Clarence Mews, Hackney. Each 3 hour session will include a ‘class’ where I draw on my work as a pilates teacher and my experience and interest as a dance maker, to bring the body to a place where it is ready to move. This will be followed by some creative workshop-ing where I try out some of my ideas with technology in preparation for a funded project that will take place in Summer (depending on the outcome of a GFA). I am looking for a maximum of 2 artists per session to come and join me on the following dates:

18th May 2-5pm
25th May 2-5pm
1st June 2-5pm
8th June 2-5pm

I cannot pay for your time, however I can offer each artist £10 towards costs. I am hoping to work with a number of artists with a view to finding a collaborator to participate in the next (paid) project. I am looking for dancers with a mature attitude, a ‘presence’ that brings to life even the simplest of movements and a committed and rigorous approach. Someone whose movement is ‘uncluttered’ would suit the work best.

Please get in touch if you’re interested.

“Training, or any kind of physical conditioning, is only useful when its focus is to prepare the body, to bring the body to a point where it is ready for action, where it has options and can react to internal and external stimuli efficiently and effectively with no need to pre-rehearse.”

Rules and Freedom

The house I live in is shared with 6 other people. We’re all busy professionals. We’re not friends who knew each other and decided to start living together, although of course we are friendly. And we’re not family. We have a rota in the kitchen for who will take the bin out and pay the cleaner each week. Rules. There’s a part of me that resists the thought of having to pin myself down to petty rules. It seems unintuitive, manufactured, nanny-ing. Surely any reasonable adult knows how to empty a bin when it’s full. Think again. It was my turn to empty the bin last week. Saturday morning + a bin full of rubbish + late for work = an angry scribble on the rota pointing out that weekly duties lasted into the weekend. Oops!

Rules are by nature an act of control, whether self-imposed, tacitly agreed on or not. Having any kind of organisation requires rules, boundaries that protect us from ourselves, or at least from the worst aspects of our human-ness. Most reasonable people agree on this with respect to social organisation. We know that imposing some form of control does not necessarily infringe on freedom. If anything it protects all of our freedoms. The same is true of movement practice, training and choreographic practice.

The Problem with Contemporary Dance Classes

In the contemporary dance world there’s some confusion as to how you train the body without restricting it to one ‘way of moving’. Training involves internalizing a technique: a system with rules. It often generates a kind of aesthetic too. It seems completely contradictory to the idea of individuality and the industry’s obsession with ‘idiosyncratic movement vocabulary.’ In release classes we’re supposed to start each day by re-inventing the dictionary, wiping out centuries of evolutionary movement function and pattern in order to become completely unique ‘movers’. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that we spend 2 hour long professional classes rolling around on the floor like amoebae ‘visualising’. (Actually visualisation is an extremely powerful tool when working with the body, so long as it is grounded in function and is not just thrown around for its own sake. Creating pretty pictures in your head is all very well. But if it serves no purpose then you lose me instantly.) The alternative is to attend a class that is far more stylised, involves ‘exercises’ but is most often a confusion of ideas about how to ‘train’ the body. These classes seem to miss the point because they switch into ‘choreography’ before addressing the most obvious question: where does power and support come from? Learning someone elses co-ordinations is interesting and is useful. But it needs to form a part of a class that addresses movement in a less embellished and more functional format.

The truth is that being asked to do nothing, or to do what you want, leads to exactly the opposite of freedom! You might not be forced into some silly routine, but you’re undoubtedly regurgitating a lifetime’s movement pattern ingrained in your body and fixed as habit, even if you are not aware of it! Choreographers know this. It’s interesting that the movement aesthetic that has come to dominate in contemporary dance work, ‘Release’, has been attributed to a choreographer who still doesn’t ‘teach’ a ‘technique’ class to her company: Trisha Brown. When asked about this Brown’s reply was that she created ‘problems’ that required ‘movement solutions’. She didn’t go out of her way to develop the ‘Release aesthetic’. The aesthetic came out of the questions she proposed. In fact there is a kind of functionality to her movement vocabulary that comes from her adherence to the task at hand. Even the term ‘release’ is something of a misnomer. ‘Release’ is not about flopping around and relaxing, it’s actually about learning to un-embellish movement to create clarity in how you move through space, take or give weight or respond to choreographic structures and scores. It’s actually about efficiency. However, what developed as a functional response to a choreographic intention has become a ‘style’ with ‘moves’, a ‘performance presence’ and a bizarre aversion towards the idea of using muscles.

What’s Natural?

Let’s go back to habit for a moment. Something I am often asked as a pilates teacher is why someone should stand in parallel if their natural posture is turned out. It’s a good question. It’s the KEY question, because underlying it is the assumption that what feels ‘natural’ is ‘natural’. The truth is that what feels ‘natural’ is actually ‘habit’. Just to clarify here, the person asking is normally not actually standing in a ‘turned out position’ but is often standing with a collapsed arch and toes pointed outwards whilst their knee is rotating inwards. So my answer is that parallel is a quick way to align the ankle, knee and hip to spot poor alignment issues that lead to less efficient bio-mechanics in the lower limb and pelvis. Yes we can stand in turned out too. We can stand in a turned in position also, or with legs apart, or with one leg off the floor or any variation of the above, so long as we know that we are aligning ourselves in a way that respects the structure of the joints and most importantly, within a range of movement that we can control. So by gradually progressing through increasingly complex variations of the above, sustaining control throughout, we develop a physical ability to carry out any imaginable movement.

Options not Restrictions

Training should be about giving people options, not restricting. The aim of training, class or practice is to achieve a fully functioning, injury free body that is ready for anything, not restricted by habit or by an adherence to a particular style. As I was writing this article I came across a post by another Pilates Teacher Mike Perry, who says something quite similar with respect to Pilates:

“..Pilates’ intention was to create a form of physical training that, unlike the kinds of training he had done himself (boxing, for example), would ready one for any conceivable physical challenge. In a nutshell, General Physical Preparedness.”  – Mike Perry, read the blog here

Training, or any kind of physical conditioning, is only useful when its focus is to prepare the body, to bring the body to a point where it is ready for action, where it has options and can react to internal and external stimuli efficiently and effectively with no need to pre-rehearse. I feel that what is strongly needed in the dance world is an approach to movement development that safeguards the dancer from self-indulgence without enforcing any particular style. It should be a process that gradually brings the performer into themselves more fully, so that habit is replaced by options, providing an informed starting point for any movement exploration. As Gary Carter once said, a dog lying quietly on the floor, sees something worth chasing, springs up and runs after it. It doesn’t slowly extract itself from the floor, do some hip limbering, chose it’s ‘better leg’ and then spring. Similarly, our bodies should be ready for action. We should be able to sprint for the bus without worrying about our knee tracking. A performer should be able to change direction, transfer weight or get to the floor as and when the work requires them to, not when it feels right, or when they’re on their ‘good side’. That is what physical ‘freedom’ means.

Working inefficiently or restricting ourselves to one way of moving will often manifest itself in injury at some point. Problems happen when a ‘way of training’, ie: a ‘technique’ becomes a ‘style’ or worse still a ‘habit’. This is when choices are made not because they are functional but because they fit in with the particular look. This is how parallel position of the feet has become synonymous with the contemporary aesthetic, whereas a turned out position indicates a ballet aesthetic. One ex-royal ballet dancer turned pilates teacher once described how after years of stretching her hamstrings in a turned out position, she happened to step in to perform a piece that required parallel leg kicks and instantly tore her hamstring. Once again to quote Mike quoting Gray Cook:

“Every time we specialise we give up our adaptability” – Gray Cook, quoted in Mike Perry’s What’s Great About Pilates, Part 4. Read the full article here

Mind Training

Habit isn’t just something that the body does. We have thinking habits too. I’ve recently begun attending meditation classes with the wonderful Jill Setterfield. I’ll go into more detail on the content of the sessions another time. Right now I want to bring up a point that I feel is relevant to this discussion. The first step in meditation is to become aware of your thoughts and judgements, to notice what ‘gear’ your mind habitually shifts into. Meditation is not about doing nothing. Actually it often involves a lot of training to learn how to gain control of your thoughts. Jill suggests that allowing your thoughts to drift to where your mind wants to take you does not make you free. Rather you become a slave to a way of thinking or a frame of mind that has grown with you through your interactions in the world. Being able to control your thoughts allows you to become the person you really want to be. It frees you from impulsive actions that are rarely efficient or effective. But it does take practice and training otherwise it’s just a waste of time!

Awareness

The most useful outcome of a truly holistic training structure is the development of awareness. Ultimately I think that this is what makes us free to control our movement, behaviour and creative choices. Being aware means being able to notice the difference between habitual tendencies and the other options that might be available. It is through rules that we become aware of the implications of our actions or the wider picture.

So the moral of the story is: don’t be afraid of rules, rights and wrongs, positions. So long as they are used appropriately, to expand the options available, and not simply for their own sake, then they are a vehicle to freedom and happiness. Don’t be seduced by what feels good. Develop a training structure that opens doors. Do things that you are less comfortable with. That is the only way to ensure that you are not stuck in one pattern but are constantly growing into your body.

… And don’t forget to take the rubbish out.

Crowdsourcing Tips and Tools for Dance Artists

Image

First of All…

In Autumn 2011 I took one of the biggest leaps of faith in my whole career: I pitched my work to the general public in a bid to raise funds to complete a project. It worked! I raised just over £2,000 through the crowdfunding platform WeDidThis.

Ok, so now for the reality check: most of that funding came from loyal friends and family. It wasn’t an easy process. I was overwhelmed by the support that I received and naturally extremely grateful too, but I also realised that I needed to have a much more varied network if I ever wanted to raise the same amount again.

Crowdsourcing involves a lot of hard work, and some degree of tact in how you put yourself forward, inform people and keep up the momentum without pissing off half your friends and family.

In my eyes, successful crowdfunding is not just about raising the money, even though that bit is also very important. The key is to inspire people, beyond your immediate circle of contacts, to back your work. This way not only do you avoid over-taxing the generosity of your near and dear ones, but you also gain a wider public through the exposure and interest generated by your pitch. So my first pointer is this: Crowdfunding is not like raising money for charity. It is a professional endeavour, so treat it as such!

Update 07/02/2013: Following the publication of the original article in January, a number of readers pointed out that creating a Platform from which to launch yourself is actually the first step to successful crowdfunding. Whether you are an established company, or a new venture, creating an online profile, either via a website or blog, is the essential FIRST STEP. It’s important to establish your identity and your vision, seperately of the project you are looking to run. Once you have done this, now is the time to begin recruiting followers, before you start asking for money!!! I think this is an important contextualisation of the notion of crowdfunding: it works within the social networking world and is most successful when this online platform / presence has already been established.

This post is an amalgamation of advice from the different websites, together with my own tips and pointers, to help you get off on the right foot.

Check out my pitch here: http://www.peoplefund.it/strange-loop/

How Does Crowdfunding Work?

An individual, or group, pitches their idea to the general public via a crowdfunding website. Entering a pitch is normally free. Often a pitch involves both a video and a written statement. Members of the public can browse pitches and select to support an idea by offering a small donation. In return for their donation they are rewarded with a “gift” that reflects the size of their donation and is related to the outcome of the work.

The website deducts a commission on all donations received to support its own running. Websites will either have an ‘All or Nothing’ or a ‘Keep it All’ policy. In ‘All or Nothing’ you have to reach your target amount in order to receive any of the money. ‘Keep it All’ allows you to keep any money you have raised, even if you have not reached your target amount. However, in the latter case you are normally charged a higher rate by the website and you need to work out whether or not it is possible for you to achieve the stated goal with less than the full amount of funding needed.

In addition, there are credit card or paypal charges which are sometimes added to the funder’s bill rather than to the person pitching, so watch out for this as donators can be put off if they feel that they’re paying paypal rather than paying you.

Donations cannot be ‘giftaided’ because officially speaking contributors are buying rewards so the donation is technically not charity.

Whilst setting up a pitch you specify the time-frame and target amount. You normally receive the money you’ve raised at the end of the campaign. Any fees required are normally deducted from the amount you receive although in some cases you pay the website separately.

Once you have received your money you will also be able to access a list of contributors with their contact details. Be aware that the best way to keep in touch with your patrons is via e-mail, and some websites do not collect this information! So check with the website before you pitch.

How to choose a Site

The crowdfunding site charges a percentage of the total amount raised. It is therefore in their interest to help their pitchers raise as much as possible. Every site you visit will have comprehensive notes on how to run a successful campaign. In addition it’s worth checking out sites who have the highest success rates since this reflects the amount of work the site’s team put into marketing and outreach which will help you access a wider public.

According to Crowdsourcing.org,  Kickstarter  was the most successful company of 2012. It’s success is linked to the fact that it enables users to “…reach beyond friends and family for capital. These campaigns are clearly interesting distant contributors that are not directly connected to the person or team running them.” – Crowdsourcing.org founder Carl Esposti.

Click on the link here to read the stats:

http://www.crowdsourcing.org/editorial/kickstarter-in-2012-the-numbers-you-need-to-know/23124

It’s important to shop around and find a site that you feel will support you and engage your target audience.

  • Ensure that the site you have chosen is CAPS accredited.
  • Look at the kinds of projects that are successful on the site. This will help you gauge whether your project would fit in to the site’s community.
  • Know what the charges are to you and to your funder.
  • Be clear about what the site will do to help you with your campaign.
  • Check for credibility of the site. ie: what is the project success rate? Is the presentation fun and engaging?
Company Website Based Fundraising Structure Fees to you Fees to funders Other support
GoFundMe www.gofundme.com International Flexible: You can set a time frame yourself, or choose an All or Nothing option. 5% of each donation + PayPal Charge of 2.5% + $0.30 per transaction. No The site is full of useful tips and information and offers comprehensive tools for you to manage your own fundraising. However it does not offer any more personal support.
Indiegogo – best known site www.indiegogo.com International Flexible: You can set a time frame yourself, or choose an All or Nothing option. Flexible Funding: 9% charge on each transaction, but if you reach your target you receive 5% back. All or Nothing: 4% charge if you reach your target, but you get no money at all if you don’t reach your target. There is also a 3% credit card processing fee on each transaction and $25 wire fee for non US based campaigns No The site is full of useful tips and information and offers comprehensive tools for you to manage your own fundraising. Depending on the interest you generate around your project, it could be featured by the site in media and other advertising.
Crowdfunder, recently merged with Poeple Fund It to become the UK’s biggest crowdfunding platform www.crowdfunder.co.uk UK Fixed: All or Nothing structure with a choice of 30, 45 or 60 days to raise the full amount. 5% fee on total amount if you reach your target. If you do not reach your target all monies donated are refunded. Paypal charges 1.9% + 20p for each transaction. Payment via Direct Debit is 1% of your transaction but with a minimum of £0.10 and a maximum of £2.00. Donations over £500 can be transfered directly so as not to incur fees. Limited Support
Kickstarter – Highest funded projects to date www.kickstarter.com US based but with operations in the UK Fixed: All or Nothing structure however you set the time frame (up to 60 days) and target amount. 5% fee on total amount if you reach your target. Funders are only charged once the target amount has been reached. + 3-5% third party payment fees. No PayPal no The site is full of useful tips and information and offers comprehensive tools for you to manage your own fundraising. Depending on the interest you generate around your project, it could be featured by the site in media and other advertising.
WeFund www.wefund.com UK All of Nothing but the time frame is open for you to set. 5% fee on total amount if you reach your target. Funders are only charged once the target amount has been reached. Paypal charges 3.4% + £0.20 per transaction. no Limited Support
Sponsume www.sponsume.com UK Keep it All structure. You determine target amount and time frame up to 90 days 9% fee on all transaction. If you reach your target 5% is refunded. + paypal fees of 2% plus fixed amount depending on currency. no The site is full of useful tips and information and offers comprehensive tools for you to manage your own fundraising. Depending on the interest you generate around your project, it could be featured by the site in media and other advertising.
We Did This – arts leg of the PeopleFund It company http://www.peoplefund.it/arts/ UK All or Nothing. You determine target amount and time frame. 5% fee on all transactions go to WeDidThis. GoCardless deduct 3% fee on all transactions. no The site is full of useful tips and information and offers comprehensive tools for you to manage your own fundraising. The team also actively tweet and promote projects. There are some regional events too where creators can pitch their ideas personally to potential investors.

The Pitch

Once you’ve chosen your preferred site it’s time to get your pitch together.

a.)    Have a clearly defined goal:

“What are you raising funds to do? Having a focused and well-defined project with a clear beginning and end is vital. For example: recording a new album is a finite project — the project finishes when the band releases the album — but launching a music career is not. There is no end, just an ongoing effort…

With a precisely defined goal, expectations are transparent for both the creator and potential backers. Backers can judge how realistic the project’s goals are, as well as the project creator’s ability to complete them. And for creators, the practice of defining a project’s goal establishes the scope of the endeavor, often an important step in the creative process.” – Kickstarter

b.)    Creating your Pitch.

Whether working as a group or individually, it’s important to introduce yourself and get across what your idea is in an upbeat, clear and preferably fun way.

“Tell people why your campaign deserves to be funded. Contributors fund ideas they’re passionate about and support people they trust. Introduce yourself and your background. Describe your project and why it’s important to you. Explain to contributors what you’re hoping to achieve. Keep it concise, yet personal. And be sure to include a pitch video!” – Indiegogo

It’s best to use the pitch video to illustrate the actual idea and show your face. Don’t go into too much detail about how you will use the money in the video.  Making the pitch video fun will help attract more people, but don’t get lost in complex animations and filming, especially if you don’t have much filming skills. It’s best to keep it simple and be yourself.

“Check out what successful projects have done in the past and how they’ve done it. Be shameless about copying what they’ve done well!” – Sponsume

c.)    Writing a statement

Support your pitch video with a clear plan of action providing more detail on your background, your idea, how you will develop it, how the money will be used. Be aware that in crowdfunding platforms artists do not normally use the money raised to pay themselves.

I guess most people think that there may be something a little cheeky about asking for money that will pay your groceries bill, even if needing to eat is an important factor when being creative. The old mentality that artists should scrape by is very much still current. In fact you often come across pitches that clearly state that the money will be completely used to pay for the resources needed to carry out the project and that all the artists will work for free. You may just need to be sensitive to this. Perhaps just pay artists a small percentage to cover travel and food costs during the project, or just use this funding as seed funding and later apply to the Arts Council to cover artists’ fees.

When donating money people prefer to feel that they are contributing towards something sustainable. Don’t make this money just about this project. Be clear about how this contribution will be an investment in your future work. For example, perhaps it will help you to learn a particular skill, or buy equipment that you can use in future projects. It’s worth thinking about how you can move from purely asking for subsidy towards asking for investment.

d.)    Rewards

Recognising why someone might fund you will help you to come up with rewards that will suit your target audience. Crowdfunder lists some possible reasons why people might fund your project:

  • To get a unique Reward or to get a unique gift for a friend
  • To support a community, business or industry you believe in
  • To help a friend launch their project
  • For the fun of it

When choosing Rewards remember that these are the outcomes that you will need to deliver by the end of the project. Offering interesting options can help to engage your audience and may appear to be more attractive to funders. However, be wary of putting people off. Not everyone wants a cameo role in your dance piece, however if you were making a filmed dance piece this might be more possible. Generally anything that involves your funder’s time may be off-putting. With most performance works, a mention in the credits is quite a good option. Here are some other ideas:

  • Naming a funder in the production credits
  • Signed Photo and thank you notes – remember you’ll need to pay for postage for these!
  • Part of the dance dedicated to them
  • Invitation to a performance or work in progress

“Rewards are what backers receive in exchange for pledging to a project. The importance of creative, tangible, and fairly priced rewards cannot be overstated. Projects whose rewards are overpriced or uninspired struggle to find support. Rewards ensure that backers will benefit from a project just as much as its creator (i.e., they get cool stuff that they helped make possible!).” Kickstarter

Launching and Managing your Pitch

Once your pitch is live you’ve got to get things moving. Here’s some advice from PeopleFundit:

Top 10 Ways to Promote Your Project

–          Tell friends, family & everyone you know

You’ve created your first project and now you’ve got to tell the world!  Start with those closest to you.  Your friends and family are those most likely to help you out and promote your cause so make sure you tell them how important this is to you!

–          Make a poster!

Make a poster and get it printed and put up in local shops and businesses.  Are there any businesses that match your project, get in touch and give them some flyers!

 –          Use Twitter & Facebook

Assuming you have the worldwide average number of friends on Facebook (130) and you tell your friends about your project, if just 10% of your friends tell their friends then over 18,000 people will hear about your project.  The numbers add up quickly!
It’s well worth using Facebook as much as you can.  Twitter is equally as powerful for quick messages.  Tweeting at least a few times a day, retweeting other peoples messages and responding to tweets will keep this momentum going.

–          Target Online Communities

If you’ve been interested in the area surrounding your project for a long time then you probably know where people talk about the subject.  Get on those sites and start telling people about your project.  If you want to search forums then try boardreader Just make sure that you post a link straight to your project so everyone can see it.

–          Start a Blog

If you don’t have a blog already it might be worth starting one.  This way you’ll meet lots of people that have similar interests and you’ll be able to tell the world about your knowledge surrounding your project.  Why are you doing this project, what’s your experience, why will it work, all these are examples of possible blog topics.  WordPress or Blogger are great sites that offer free blogging.

–          Look for Relevant Bloggers

Once you’ve established yourself as a blogger find out who else blogs about similar topics.  See if you can highjack their followers.  Email the blogger and suggest a guest blog (i.e. You write a post on their site).

–          Keep Commenting

Everywhere you visit online that allows you to comment you should leave a trail.  Keep posting the link to your project page and crucially, check back to see if anyone has posted a question about your project.  Address people individually and they are more likely to respond favourably.  Reply to people who post on your own blog, keep on updating your project page with comments and keep your current pledgers happy.  The more you engage with people the more likely they are to do some promotion for you.

–          Earn people’s trust

This is all done in your project page.  If you write expressively and show your passion for the project people are more likely to back you.  A good video and honest words will do more for you than any amount of advertising.  When someone pledges for your project then send them a message through Peoplefund.it thanking them.

–          Offline press

Have you considered approaching your local paper?  If you’re doing something that might just change the world then they might be interested.  Email a few reporters with your project details.  Look for relevant magazines and publications that are in your subject field.  Write them a letter or drop them a line and let them know what you’re planning to do.  Have you got any local radio stations that might help promote you?  Will you plan a launch day with a local celebrity?

–          Share your widget

You can put your project anywhere on the web with your widget.  It’s a great device for people to see how much you’ve raised.  Just copy the code and paste it in your blog/website/forum and watch people click.  Why not approach some larger websites and ask them to do the same?

And Finally…

Crowdsourcing should not be seen as a failure to raise funds from conventional means. If anything it’s a powerful statement against institutional funding that is often tied up with specific political targets or industry expectations. It enables artists to achieve outcomes on their own terms.

Crowdsourcing is a means towards grass roots production. It allows artists greater freedom to question and critique mainstream work, which leads to a richer, more varied and more subversive arts scene.

Most importantly, being crowdfunded means having third party validation, in itself a powerful motivator. It’s an invaluable tool, so don’t destroy it for everyone else. Be honest with your supporters, fulfil your commitments to your funders and champion your peers’ work alongside your own.

Goodluck! 😉