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Albuquerque creative entrepreneurs find micro-funding through Internet site

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Albuquerque creative entrepreneurs who launch small projects — from staging plays to creating papier-mâché — don’t always have success with grants and loans.

So, many now turn to online micro-funding sites like New York City-based Kickstarter, where they can gather funding on their own.

On Kickstarter, a micro-funding platform specifically for creative projects, project creators describe their idea, and backers give anything from a few bucks to thousands of dollars. Another popular micro-funding site, Indiegogo, is similiar but not limited to creative projects.

So far, 23,000 projects have been funded on Kickstarter, about 44 percent of those proposed, says spokesman Justin Kazmark. More than two million people have donated $230 million.

As of June 5, 132 projects have been funded on Kickstarter in New Mexico and another 13 are in process.

Laura Bruzzese, a ceramic artist and single mom who works part-time at HELP-New Mexico Inc., used Kickstarter to take Paper Turtle, her partnership with Haitian artist Aly Abraham, to the next level.

“I just think it’s a really wonderful resource,” she says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it (otherwise). I’m still paying off student loans.”

Kickstarter launched in 2009 to support creative projects in 13 categories, like food and film. The site sees itself at the intersection of patronage and commerce, Kazmark says. Backers do not get money back if a project fails but if it succeeds, they do become part of the project community and earn perks for pledges. For pledges of $35 or more, Bruzzese’s backers scored a large fish, a turtle and two fish ornaments.

Many New Mexicans are getting into the act. In May, Linda López McAlister created a successful Kickstarter project for “Paloma,” a play she is producing at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in July and August. When the play stages in Santa Fe, also this summer, extra funds are needed for actors’ salaries and set costs, she says.

McAlister also hopes Kickstarter will bring more attention to “Paloma,” by Anne García-Romero, playwright-in-residence at the University of Notre Dame. The play focuses on the relationship between a Moroccan-American Muslim and his Puerto Rican girlfriend, who study ancient Spain at New York University.

McAlister, who has backed Kickstarter projects herself, says micro-funding appeals to her as a new form of social networking.

“You feel like you’re part of something that you like and want to support,” she says. “I’m a theater person so I’ve supported all the local theater projects that have come my way.”

Running a project is about building audience around an idea, Kazmark says. One way to secure backers is to tell a compelling story through video, which may explain why film projects are particularly successful on the site.

Once a project is completed, creators have a built-in audience for their work, whether it is a new album or a comic book.

McAlister, who runs Camino Real Productions, LLC, a small theater and radio production company, says securing grants is difficult and time-consuming while Kickstarter is easy.

Most people pledge small sums — the average is $71 — but some projects earn serious money. In May, the “Pebble,” a watch by a Silicon Valley-based team that wirelessly links to a smartphone, earned a staggering $10.2 million from nearly 69,000 backers.

Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, so if a creator tries for $10,000 and gets $9,999, no money changes hands. If the goal is reached, the site charges a 5 percent fee to the creator of the project.

A simple plan

In a video on Kickstarter, Bruzzese describes her business plan for Paper Turtle as: “Live simply. Help Haiti. Sell everything we make.”

In 2009, she was searching for artists to replicate her ceramic work in papier-mâché. She found Abraham, who runs a small business that employs 20 Haitian artists who make papier-mâché pieces from recycled paper and glue using sand, cement or other molds.

To move forward, Bruzzese needed help. Navigating the Haitian postal system and amassing enough inventory after Abraham’s artists were displaced by the 2010 earthquake was daunting.

After a friend successfully used Kickstarter, she decided to give it a shot. In 90 days, 90 backers donated $9,455.

“I was checking it every day,” she says. “I just felt really honored that so many people would step forward.”
Bruzzese, Abraham and Haitian artist Antoine Dieuseul Moretour Barthold now design all kinds of creatures, from fish and butterflies to gazelles and rhinos. Some pieces are left covered in Haitian newsprint or recycled paper made from cement bags; others are painted in bright colors. Bruzzese sells pieces through her website, paperturtle.com, and on wepay.com/stores/paperturtle, then returns half the profits to Haiti.

For her, the biggest benefit was solidifying a partnership with the Haitian artists and building awareness and community, she says.

Bruzzese has since visited Haiti; Abraham came to Albuquerque last year. He calls her his “friend for life,” she says.

Try, try again

Of course, not everyone secures funding. In February, Matt Fuemmeler, 28, asked for $15,000 for Albuquerque’s first bustaurant, which he envisioned as a double-decker bus with a kitchen. He scored $1,801 from 37 backers, not enough to fund the idea.

Undeterred, he is sticking with it. He downsized from a double-decker to a 1977 school bus, which he recently purchased and drove home from Seattle — an adventure in itself — and is drawing up designs with his brother, an architect and contractor. He plans to create seating for 15 people on the bus and serve crepes inspired by French and New Mexican cuisines.

Fuemmeler says he realizes he requested too much money at first. He plans to ask again for a more modest amount on Kickstarter for practical costs like fabric for a bus awning.

Fuemmeler, an artist who also works in construction, learned to make crepes at Molly’s Crepe Escape in Taos. He sees the bustaurant as a “fresh canvas.”

“It gives me the opportunity to take something old and turn it into something that’s fun and brings people in,” he says.

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