When Kickstarter kicks back

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And now Zoltan — who has devoted all of his time to launching Geek Bar — is $20,000 ahead.

Which makes Pacheco — who admitted she's been too busy with the Urban Arts Society, as well as Ald. Danny Solis' public art initiative for the 25th Ward, to conduct a decent Kickstarter campaign — irked.

"(Geek Bar) would be successful on its own," she said. "So it's frustrating. They have money in the bank! What was cool about Kickstarter once was how it was full of projects that weren't sure things and only found supporters on Kickstarter. What the hell is a bar with investors doing here? It's not like the North Side is hurting for culture. Have you seen Spike Lee's Kickstarter? The same thing: Dude, you have no place here."

This is how a backlash builds.

The grass-roots-colored glasses come off — unapologetically.

Even actor Colin Hanks raised $92,000 on Kickstarter to make a documentary about Towers Records.

And where is Colin Hanks going to find $92,000?

Not that having money and contacts is any promise of wild crowd funding success: Zosia Mamet, daughter of David Mamet and co-star of "Girls," recently tried to raise $32,000 on Kickstarter to make a music video with her sister. She topped out at $2,700 (and received nothing). James Franco, with a goal of $500,000 on Indiegogo, raised a more modest $328,000 for three short films (on the upside, Indiegogo lets you keep whatever you raise, regardless of reaching your goal). But Spike Lee, who launched a Kickstarter campaign in late July to fund a movie, has already raised more then $500,000, with a goal of $1.25 million.

He'll probably hit his goal (the campaign ends Aug. 21). He even posted an update on Kickstarter anticipating the backlash, explaining: "I have every right as anybody else (to use Kickstarter). I'm an independent filmmaker and I want to try this."

To be honest, I don't know how I feel:

Is this good for crowd funding? (Kickstarter has a lot of statistics pointing out that the influx of backers to well-known Kickstarter projects tends to trickle down and sprinkle money across less-obvious projects.)

Or is it a step toward co-opting?

The nice thing about being on the fence is I have company. There is no consensus: Author Neil Gaiman recently tweeted he was so irritated at online gripes about Lee's right to use Kickstarter that he donated to the project. (Steven Soderbergh also gave $10,000, entitling him to dinner and a New York Knicks game with Lee, the reward to anyone who gives the filmmaker at least $10,000.) Meanwhile, Chicago artist Lyra Hill, who has a campaign running right now, told me she usually won't support Kickstarter projects if it seems the artist could raise money elsewhere.

I heard this often.

Chicago filmmaker Cyrus Dowlatshahi has been on two sides of this argument: A couple of years ago this fall he raised more than $25,000 on Kickstarter for a documentary about the everyday life of the South Side. He landed about 250 backers, many of whom were friends, family and acquaintances — everyone but a family friend who, Dowlatshahi recalled, was blunt and "told me that 'I think this is something you should save your money and work hard to accomplish.' I disagreed with him at the time. But now I agree. Though Kickstarter worked great for me, and I like the pressure of not wanting to let down the people who have backed me, some things on Kickstarter? Some people on Kickstarter? It's a moral question. They should hustle. I have a cousin raising money on Kickstarter so she can go to India for yoga training — some people don't need Kickstarter."

If there's any agreement about Kickstarter — particularly among artists who've used Kickstarter — it's that few artists (and fewer of their backers) entirely grasp the etiquette, expectations and ramifications of crowd funding yet. Which leads to backlash. One artist asked me: Is it OK for a friend who didn't reach his goal on Kickstarter to now ask for money using Indiegogo? (She didn't know.) Another quipped that she has friends who don't seem to get out of bed unless they can raise $2,500 on Kickstarter first. But mostly I heard two things. No 1: Any successful Kickstarter campaign is a full-time job. Katie Olson, the strategy manager for World Business Chicago, said, "It's an incredible amount of work, and it's also really about your network."

Betsy Sikma of Accion, the nonprofit microlender that's helped Olson find projects for Seed Chicago, said, "In the end, you are sort of running in a charity race in a way; you're tugging at the hearts of your circle."

The other thing I heard: Be careful what you wish for.

Consider Chicago artist Rob Loukotka, who had a great idea last winter: an art print showing all of the Acme products that have appeared in Looney Tunes shorts. He asked for $3,000. By Christmas, he received $105,000.

"Suddenly I was in a new tax bracket," he said. He said he had to hire an accountant, arrange for the printing and shipping of 3,400 prints — and listen to the complaints of backers who didn't receive prints (one of the rewards for donating money) fast enough. Loukotka, dealing with the problem of distributing and printing exponentially more than he expected to, delivered his posters four months after he promised them.

He said he probably won't use Kickstarter again; the headaches of success were too intense.

Pablo Garcia, an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute, sympathizes.

"Artists tend to lean heavy on funding and forget there's a crowd," he said. He should know. In May, using Kickstarter, he raised $425,000 to make an updated version of the camera lucida, a 19th-century optical drawing tool. He crafted a thoughtful, well-reasoned pitch. He expected to raise $15,000 and produce 500. Now he has to make 9,000.

Basically, he had to set up a small business on the fly. And he's OK with that.

"I think the grass-roots thing about Kickstarter is actually wrong. I think the backlash is misplaced. I support Spike Lee and Zach Braff and whomever. Because I had no investors and (Kickstarter), at the end of the day, was really an empowerment tool. You don't have any middlemen. What you receive is not so much money as freedom."

This month he flies to China. Someone has to manufacture all those camera lucidas.


Twitter @borrelli

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