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Brooklyn’s FEAST Makes Crowdfunding a Face-to-Face, Social Event

   /   Feb 7th, 2012New York City, News

Photo courtesy of Kramer O'Neill

The rise of crowdfunding has shown the power of individual, small donations to collectively support projects of all sizes — from community garden nooks to large documentary films. Most crowdfunding is done online though, and therefore inherently limited in the kinds of exchanges you can have with other donors and the project leaders. Brooklyn’s FEAST (Funding Emerging Artists With Sustainable Tactics) takes a more social, face-to-face approach to crowdfunding, allowing donors to be experience a deeper engagement with a project.

Since 2009, FEAST has been running events where a curated group of eight organizations or initiatives, selected for their artistic innovation, community impact, and administrative strengths, present their proposals for funding to a crowd of around two hundred people in a church basement. Local, sustainably-produced food is prepared for the event—on a recent January evening aromatic borscht was served with hunks of country bread—and beer is donated by a local brewery. Each guest donates $20 to enter and enjoy a meal while talking to the people seeking funding for their projects; additionally the project descriptions are pasted around the room.

Photo courtesy of Kramer O'Neill

Past FEAST project winners have included Closing the Loop, who won a $1000 grant from FEAST last February in order to purchase the materials for a bike trailer and buckets to set up a composting system in conjunction with local businesses in Brooklyn’s polluted Gowanus Canal area; the artist Melanie Jelacic, who was granted $1000 for Shower Room, a project to decoratively re-tile the showers at the a public recreational facility in Brooklyn, and Work for Pay, a performance project created by artist Lydia Bell, which used a $400 grant to create a performance piece , in collaboration with the Urban Arts Project, with unemployed artists who were paid for their rehearsal and performance time.

“While there is a diversity of artworks and projects proposed, the projects that usually end up getting enough votes to win grants are those that have a substantial impact on the local community,” Emily Sogn, one of the founders of FEAST, told Dowser.“Some themes that are often explored are sustainability in food production and distribution, creative engagement of local histories that are often hidden or unacknowledged in conventional representations of life in New York’s outer boroughs, and projects that creatively fill in the gaps left by underfunded arts programs,” added Sogn.

The winner of the recent FEAST was a group called 596 Acres, who is installing community gardens in vacant lots throughout Brooklyn. At the table I was seated at, people told me they had voted for this project because it seemed well-organized and already underway—a good bet, in other words.

Photo courtesy of Kramer O'Neill

At the January FEAST event, the enthusiasm in the room was palpable. One of the most exciting aspects of FEAST was the way that strangers were exchanging ideas about the proposals, weighing their merits, and discussing the potential impact of each project.

“FEAST is an incredible opportunity for creative, up-start ideas and initiatives to be showcased by people wanting to create social impact through some unique art medium.  Community really is the theme: from the direction of the projects, to the communal dining tables.  I love how this dynamic contributed to interesting and passionate exchanges among all attendees,” said Matthew Guidarelli, a graduate student in public policy at New York University. “It was a great time, filled with good people, interesting conversations and plenty of good cheer.”

“It was a special experience to share a space with so many people who ventured out on a chilly Saturday evening to support ideas and build community,” added Alyson Wise, a student in the same program.

It was impressive to see people coming together in this way, and it was also rewarding for attendees to have met the people whose project they were supporting, and know how their donation would be spent. FEAST says on their website that they were inspired by a program in Chicago called inCUBATE, as well as the Community Supported Agriculture movement, and FEAST hopes that they will in turn inspire similar ventures to pop up in cities everywhere.

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