Crowdfunding Finds a Creative Outlet

photo: Spencer Tunick / "Dead Sea 6, 2011," a chromogenic print from the Spencer Tunick installation featuring 1,200 nude participants. Those who gave $5,000 to a Kickstarter campaign received photographs now worth $10,000.

photo: Spencer Tunick / “Dead Sea 6, 2011,” a chromogenic print from the Spencer Tunick installation featuring 1,200 nude participants. Those who gave $5,000 to a Kickstarter campaign received photographs now worth $10,000.

NEW YORK — Stephen Glassman’s idea for an art installation was an ambitious one: Transform a billboard above one of the busiest freeways in Los Angeles into a living bamboo forest, surrounded by a cloud of mist and augmented with air-quality monitors and Wi-Fi.

Finding an appropriate site was only the beginning: Using the billboard required a permit, a crane to remove the existing commercial infrastructure, a welder, a plumber, a lawyer, a substantial amount of bamboo, water misters, technologists to set up monitors for air quality and Internet access. It would all come at a significant financial cost, and crucial pieces were missing.

For all the hassles that come with large-scale and complex pieces, those like the one imagined by Mr. Glassman are increasingly in vogue because of their potential to draw people, said Samuel Scharf, an American installation artist. “Nothing says ‘come see our space’ like an ambitious installation,” he said.

But large installations can also serve a valuable role in promoting and drawing attention to smaller pieces, said the American artist Grayson Cox, whose installation with the title “The Water’s Fine” transformed the entire gallery at Gasser & Grunert in New York last year.

Such complex and often massive works are not easy to deliver. “Up and coming installation artists are increasingly interested in new technologies,” explained Maurice Benayoun, a French artist and professor of creative media at the City University of Hong Kong. “Their work can be very costly, and can require teams of people to assemble.”

Like Mr. Glassman, many installation artists are now turning to crowdfunding Web sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to realize their ambitions. According to Kickstarter, 640 projects in the site’s Public Art category, many of which are installation art, have been fully funded since 2009. In 2012 alone, the site financed more art projects than the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington. Danae Ringelmann, a co-founder of Indiegogo, acknowledged that installation campaigns were showing strong growth, although the site does not release statistics.

The public nature of many installation projects makes them a natural fit for crowdfunding, Mr. Glassman said. “I had a growing sense of urgency to create work that would be accessible to, and generate impact in the public realm,” he said, “and the democratic nature of crowdfunding made perfect sense.” Mr. Glassman raised $100,772 on Kickstarter for his bamboo installation, called “Urban Air.”

In keeping with the spirit of crowdfunding, artists who have turned to the Internet for financing build in a range of rewards for their backers that is linked to the size of the donation. In some cases, the reward is a piece of the installation itself, an added benefit for the art form, whose bulky, site-specific or ephemeral works are notoriously difficult to sell or store.

When the American artist Molly Crabapple sought financing on Kickstarter for a live art installation, she eventually raised $25,805 from 745 backers. For her piece, titled “Molly Crabapple’s Week In Hell,” the artist locked herself in a room for five days, covered the walls with paper and covered them in drawings, which she offered to those who had given her financial support.

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