TIME Crowdfunding

The Most Successful Kickstarter Campaigns of All Time

Pebble Pebble Time

From smartwatches to exploding kittens

Crowdfunding the next great business, product or project is often a thankless endeavor. There have been over 200,000 Kickstarter campaigns to date; over 100,000 failed to reach their funding goal. Another 20,000 were canceled or suspended, regardless of whether they were able to raise money. Many projects barely reach their funding goals, only to fail later anyway, when the creators realized the money simply wouldn’t go far enough.

On the flip side, a select few projects have gone on to raise tens of millions of dollars, blowing away early funding goals and turning modest ideas into worldwide phenomenons—in some cases, literally overnight.

So with Exploding Kittens (a card game) recently blowing by OUYA (a micro video game console) in the overall Kickstarter rankings, it’s time to take stock of the all-time record holders. Using our database of Kickstarter campaign data, we ranked the 15 most insanely successful projects to date. In each case, we’ll break down the total backers, the percent funded and a brief history of how things played out. Without further ado…

Double Fine Adventure

Campaign ended: March 13th, 2012

What it is: A point-and-click adventure video game, paired with a documentary that catalogues the development process.

How it turned out: The game was released in January 2014 under the title Broken Age, receiving generally positive critical reviews. The documentary series continues to this day, as the developers work on the game’s second installment.

The Dash – Wireless Smart in Ear Headphones

Campaign ended: March 31st, 2014

What it is: Smart, wireless earphones that track fitness and play music, all without wires.

How it turned out: Though the product has faced a series of delays, it’s scheduled for release later this summer.

The Micro: The First Truly Consumer 3D Printer

Campaign ended: May 7th, 2014

What it is: A 3D printer at a price point friendly to consumers (~$500)

How it turned out: Some models have shipped to early backers, while later backers and the general public are still waiting.

Reaper Miniatures Bones: An Evolution of Gaming Miniatures

Campaign ended: August 25th, 2012

What it is: A line of affordable, intricately designed gaming miniatures, ready to paint out of the box.

How it turned out: The first Bones campaign was so successful that Reaper ran a second campaign just one year later, which again raised over $3 million.

Mighty No. 9

Campaign ended: October 1st, 2013

What it is: A 2D, side-scrolling video game, considered the spiritual successor to the classic Mega Man series.

How it turned out: The project reached its funding goal in just two days. The final version of the game is expected within the next month or two.

Project Eternity

Campaign ended: October 16th, 2012

What it is: A party-based role-playing game with an isometric (pseudo-3D) perspective.

How it turned out: The game was released under the name Pillars of Eternity on March 26, 2015, and received nearly universal acclaim.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Campaign ended: April 5th, 2013

What it is: A fantasy role-playing game and spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, a popular role-playing game from 1999.

How it turned out: Originally scheduled for a December 2014 release, Tides of Numenera is now set for late 2015.

Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere!

Campaign ended: July 2nd, 2014

What it is: A campaign to bring classic Reading Rainbow materials to more classrooms and modern platforms, like web and mobile.

How it turned out: The campaign was a success overnight, raising $1 million in just 24 hours. Celebrity Seth MacFarlane also chipped in a full million on his own.

The Veronica Mars Movie Project

Campaign ended: April 12th, 2013

What it is: A Veronica Mars movie developed after the TV series was canceled.

How it turned out: Starring Kristen Bell, the film debuted to mixed reviews and became a box office flop.

Pono Music – Where Your Soul Rediscovers Music

Campaign ended: April 15, 2014

What it is: A music playing device that delivers uncompressed audio, such that it will sound much more like real life and less like a recording.

How it turned out: The PonoPlayer launched in early 2015 to mixed reviews, where technology writers questioned just how much better the PonoPlayer actually sounded, compared to standard MP3s.

OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console

Campaign ended: August 8th, 2012

What it is: A little cube that lets you control Android-based games with a gamepad and play them on your TV.

How it turned out: The OUYA launched in mid 2013 to mediocre reviews and low sales. Today, most gamers consider the product a flop.

Exploding Kittens

Campaign ended: February 19th, 2015

What it is: An irreverent, social card game designed by Matthew Inman (creator of the popular cartoon and comic site, The Oatmeal).

How it turned out: The cards will ship to backers over the course of the summer, but there are no plans yet for a wide, retail release to the general public.

Pebble: E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android

Campaign ended: May 18th, 2012

What it is: One of the first smartwatches to ever hit the market, designed by a small, independent developer.

How it turned out: Pebble went on to sell over a million smartwatches by 2015, an impressive figure given how young the market is.

COOLEST COOLER: 21st Century Cooler that’s Actually Cooler

Campaign ended: August 29th, 2014

What it is: A multi-purpose cooler that can charge your phone, blend cocktails, play music, and much more.

How it turned out: Creator Ryan Grepper originally promised to ship the cooler by February 2015, but due to manufacturing constraints, the release date has been pushed back to sometime in the summer.

Pebble Time – Awesome Smartwatch, No Compromises

Campaign ended: March 27th, 2015

What it is: Pebble’s third edition of its popular smartwatch, complete with a new color e-paper design and timeline interface.

How it turned out: The watch will be shipped to Kickstarter backers in May, but the company will face its biggest test yet as it goes up against the Apple Watch.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 7

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to give up the uniquely American institution of the network anchorman.

By Frank Rich in New York magazine

2. On Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, her “spiritual endowment” endures.

By Wynton Marsalis in Time

3. How to save crowdfunding from scammers and flakes.

By Klint Finley in Wired

4. Here’s how Putin could lose power.

By Amanda Taub in Vox

5. What if the secret to racial harmony is more uplifting internet videos?

By Katie Jacobs at Penn State News

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY the photo bank

An Artist Mints Her Own Take on Bitcoin

How one photographer is using digital currency to rethink the value of money and art.

Virtual currency like Bitcoin has captured the imagination of a lot of people, from techies to economists to drug dealers. Now, artists are riffing on the idea, and one is trying to use it to fund her work—and to raise some new questions about what makes both money and art precious.

Sarah Meyohas, a Wharton School of Business grad who is currently finishing up her MFA in Photography at Yale University, is launching her own digital currency, which she calls, cheekily, BitchCoin. (“If you’re a woman who is taking a stake in your future and aggressive, you’re a bitch,” says Meyohas.) Unlike Bitcoin, which is computer-generated by its users, BitchCoin represents a claim on a tangible asset, in this case Meyohas’ photographic prints. One virtual coin is supposed to correspond to 25 square inches of print. Each time Meyohas creates a coin, she’ll set aside a print in bank vault.

BitchCoin will be “mined” inside of Where, a gallery/shipping container in Brooklyn. Meyohas will be camped inside producing her work, while being streamed live via a webcam. Coin buyers will receive a certificate with key number encryption allowing access to an account on a free BitchCoin software program in which BitchCoins can be sent and received.

At one level, this is really just a clever take on crowdfunding art, similar to Kickstarter, IndieGogo and the relatively new Fotofund. The initial BitchCoins will sell for $100 each, and that money goes to Meyohas. But she also says the project is about “the role of value in reproducible objects like the photograph.” And about the value of money. Since the end of the gold standard, regular money is just pieces of paper with pictures, backed by nothing. Meyohas describes BitchCoin as a virtual currency backed by a real asset, the art. But that art, of course, is just pieces of paper with a pictures. That paradox is especially relevant to her own medium. As Meyohas puts it:

For a long time, the art world wouldn’t seriously collect photographs because they seemed too reproducible. It was only once printed and editioned, made materially scarce, that they could be valued. There is something about the value of money which you can print endless copies of that parallels the photographic print.

Meyohas is also exploring where the value of an artist’s work should be placed, on individual pieces or on her entire body of work. Unlike crowdfunding or indeed traditional art buying, in which a patron invests in a specific project or publication, BitchCoin is supposed to represent a piece of Meyohas simply “as a ‘value producer’.” Meyohas says a BitchCoin is exchangeable not for a specific photo, but for any of her “editioned, unframed archival chromogenic photographs.” She believes this approach gives her more of a controlling stake in her art and career; if her career is successful and her works grow in value, she can tap into that by creating new, more valuable coins.

By getting buyers to support a career, not merely one work, she’s harkening back to an older type of arts patronage. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Florentine House of Medici which controlled Europe’s largest bank and thus exerted unrivaled social and political influence over the region—used their wealth to underwrite art, architecture, literary and scientific projects. They supported the careers of those geniuses lucky enough to be aligned with their inner circle: Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, Galileo, Brunelleschi and Vasari—among others.

This Sunday, February 15, at 8 p.m., Meyohas will be launching BitchCoin at the Trinity Place Bar, a bar in a bank (of course) at 115 Broadway, in the Financial District of Manhattan. At its initial offering, BitchCoin will back the edition of one photograph, aptly titled “Speculation.” Afterward, the exchange rate will fluctuate based on demand for BitchCoin, and of course the value of Meyohas’ artwork in the market.

Virtual currencies are wildly speculative, and buying art is all the more so. And the idea of BitchCoin as a store of value is, well… complicated. If you see BitchCoin as really a part of Meyohas’ artwork, what would it even mean to try to trade it for 25 square inches of her pictures? Since she says a BitchCoin would be destroyed whenever it was converted to art, wouldn’t that in turn destroy part of the art, and part of its value? Prompting such knotty, unanswerable questions is of course what Meyohas is up to with this project.

This is part of The Photo Bank, a recurring feature on Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank showcases a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com at sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

MONEY Workplace

Now That You Can Surf at Your Desk, Standing Is So Passé

Surfdesk
Rebecca Farmer

First came standing desks, then treadmill desks, now say hello to surfing desks.

To hear Joel Heath tell it, standing was just too hard.

“I started experiencing pain in different places,” he told Fast Company about his experience using a stand-up desk. “I just felt like there had to be a better way. I started to play with the idea that if you put a subtle rocker under the foot, you could move out of a sedentary state.”

So Heath created the Level, a surfboard-like platform that requires users to constantly shift their weight in order to keep their balance. FluidStance, the company behind the product, says that research conducted by the Heeluxe Testing Lab in California shows that introducing movement beneath one’s feet increases heart rate by 15% compared with sitting.

It’s the next evolution of the standing desk, which grew in popularity after studies showed that sitting for long periods of time could be bad for your health.

Kent Hatcher, ergonomics director and engineer at HumanTech Inc., likened using the Level to balancing on a stability ball, which requires your core muscles to work continually to keep you from falling over. “I see a product like this being great for some conference rooms, or occasionally used by people at a standing desk,” he says. “But it would take a period of acclimatization to get good at using the mouse and keyboard while wobbling around.”

Indeed, similar products like treadmill desks have been shown to affect performance-related tasks like typing. Heeluxe’s testing of the Level found no statistical difference in the number of typing errors made by Level users compared with those sitting at a desk, but even the occasional typo might be worth it. “Generally, the scientific community seems to think that the overall health benefits of standing and movement on the muscles and skeleton outweigh any sort of [performance] declines,” Hatcher says.

Level has clearly tapped into an enthusiastic niche market. The company’s crowdfunding campaign, launched on Jan. 12, raised $126,255 in less than a month—more than three times the original goal of $40,000.

FluidStance offers three different versions of the product: the Original Handmade Level ($389), the American-made Level ($289) and the Pacific Level ($269). That’s a lot more than the $22 you’ll spend building your own standing desk, but it certainly looks like more fun.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 5

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Could Blockchain — the secure, encrypted network that powers Bitcoin transactions — be used to build a safer alternate Internet?

By Scott Rosenberg in Backchannel, on Medium

2. One NGO is crowdfunding the fight against human trafficking.

By Leif Coorlim at the CNN Freedom Project

3. High-achieving, low-income students get into selective colleges when they actually apply. Virtual college counselors can make sure they do.

By Bloomberg Philanthropies

4. “Vocal fry” and other patterns in the speech of younger women might signal a change for generations to come.

By Chi Luu in JSTOR Daily

5. Scientists are hoping genetically-modified coral can save the Great Barrier Reef.

By Laura Clark in Smithsonian Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Web

Kickstarter Passed Half a Billion Dollars in Pledges in 2014

168955119
PM Images—Getty Images Exchanging money digitally

More than 3.3 million people pledged $529 million total

Kickstarter had its biggest year yet in 2014. The crowdfunding website saw more than 3.3 million people pledge $529 million to various projects over the course of the year, up from 3 million people pledging $480 million in 2013.

Like past years, 2014 brought a slew of highly memorable crowdfunding projects. The Coolest Cooler, a high-tech icebox that plays music in addition to storing drinks, earned $13.2 million in pledges last summer and became the most-funded project in Kickstarter history. In July, Levar Burton’s campaign to resurrect Reading Rainbow generated more than $5 million in pledges and became the first Kickstarter project to gain 100,000 backers.

Other highly successful projects included Neil Young’s high-fidelity digital music player Pono ($6.2 million in pledges), the Micro 3D printer ($3.4 million) and a pair of wireless earbuds that can store music and track your vital signs ($3.4 million).

Since Kickstarter only doles out money if projects reach their initial funding goals, that full $529 million wasn’t paid out to project starters. However, more than 22,000 projects were successfully funded in 2014, the most ever in a single year. Music was the most popular category for campaigns, with about 4,000 projects being successfully funded. However, technology attracted the most pledged dollars, as backers offered up $125 million to fund various gadgets. Here’s a breakdown of how many pledged dollars each category attracted:

image (2)

This year Kickstarter also shed some light on when projects are most likely to be funded. Wednesdays are the most popular day for pledging money to projects, while Sundays are the least popular. During a single given day, the most pledges occur around 1 PM, indicating that people may be browsing Kickstarter during work more often than they do at home.

Check out more stats at Kickstarter’s “Year in Review” presentation.

TIME Innovation

Big Idea 2015: Make This the Year You Finally Launch Your Own Startup

small-business-meeting
Getty Images

Don Tapscott is CEO of The Tapscott Group, and was founder and chairman of the international think tank New Paradigm. Tapscott's new book is "The Digital Economy Anniversary Edition: Rethinking Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence".

Consider being a social entrepreneur

2015 will be the time to start a business. Here’s why and how.

Around the world we are facing unprecedented unemployment – even in the developed world. Youth are particularly hard hit. In 2014 more than 1.6 million students graduated from American colleges and universities. Many moved directly into the swollen ranks of the unemployed. After taking on enormous debt to finance their studies, they ended up competing for unpaid internships or low-paying jobs for which their education is irrelevant. This violates the tacit pact made with them: If they were industrious, law-abiding and diligent students, their lives would be prosperous.

The U.S. isn’t alone. According to the International Labor Organization, youth unemployment in most of the world is stuck at about 20 percent. “Young people [are] nearly three times as likely as adults to be unemployed,” says the ILO. In Spain more than 50 percent of young people are unemployed, in Italy it’s 35 percent, and in France the rate is more than 25 percent. When considering under-employment, these numbers could be doubled.

Such unemployment is corrosive to all societies, no matter what their level of development. All citizens want to play a productive role and contribute to their community. Unemployment gnaws at an individual’s well-being, and makes them feel surplus to society’s needs.

But traditional methods of job creation are stalled.

One of the keys to solving this problem is entrepreneurship. Research shows that 80 percent of new jobs come from companies 5 years old or less. So the need for entrepreneurs has never been greater, in both developing and developed countries. When given the right conditions to flourish, entrepreneurs are the foundation of growth, prosperity and even innovation. They bring fresh thinking to the marketplace and fuel the creative destruction that makes market economies prosper.

In addition to creating jobs, new companies are the foundation of the economy and the source of much innovation. They also create the new goods and services on which our standard of living is based. The Internet slashes transaction and collaboration costs for almost every institution in an economy. This is leading to a change in how societies orchestrate capability to innovate, create goods, services and public value. With such costs falling precipitously, companies can increasingly source ideas, innovations and uniquely qualified minds from a vast global pool of talent.

Many big companies benefit from startup entrepreneurship. They acquire small companies with great innovations rather than relying solely on their research and development departments. As the new saying goes, M&A is the new R&D. Entrepreneurship is also critical to social cohesion and avoiding the radicalization of youth and their recruitment to anti-social and dangerous causes.

Waiting for governments or big companies to solve the problem is not the answer. Necessity is the mother of invention. Is it time to take the bull by the horns and make your own job?

The best thing I ever did in my professional life was to become an entrepreneur. It was tough, but it worked out well for me and I have a life of influence, prosperity and fun beyond anything I ever dreamed. Here’s my advice to you.

  1. Create a business with customers. This may sound silly but so many startups are focused on getting traffic to their site, going viral or getting traffic to their website. Peter Drucker said years ago: “The purpose of any business should be to create a customer.” Create some value that a customer would want to pay you for. As for funding listen to Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappos, who said: “Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.”
  2. Don’t seek venture capital. These days virtually no venture capitalist invest in a business plans or even early-stage companies. Besides, you don’t need them. Fortunately, it is less costly than ever to create a company. Thanks to the Internet, little companies can now have all the capabilities of big companies, without the main liabilities: stifling bureaucracy, legacy culture and processes. Talent can be outside enterprise boundaries and companies can use the new media to market and engage stakeholders in radically new, low-cost ways. One study found that readily available resources such as open-source software, cloud computing, and the rise of virtual office infrastructure has driven the cost of launching an Internet venture down from $5 million in 1997 to less than $50,000 in 2008. The best is to have a product or service that generates initial revenue so you don’t have to borrow money or give away equity. Or get a loan or small investment from your family or friends.
  3. Consider crowdfunding. The Internet offers a new solution for companies seeking capital, based on peer-to-peer networks that bring people together to achieve a common goal. New firms can source capital in new ways, and it should be no surprise that a young business builders are harnessing the power of mass collaboration to fund their companies. Individuals and new companies have used crowdfunding to raise billions of dollars in debt and equity during the past five years. In 2012, crowdfunding raised almost US $2.7 billion around the world, an 80 percent increase over the year before. Since 2009, Kickstarter has channeled more than US $815 million to nearly 50,000 projects. The early success of crowdfunding in the developed world shows how much potential this new way of raising capital has for aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world. No jobs? Take a page from my daughter and her best friend who created Knixwear, a company that makes high-performing underwear for women. (“Women are multi-taskers, their underwear should be too”). Their crowdfunding campaign not only raised capital, it lead to a big deal with one of their most important target retailers. A year later, the company is a rocket.
  4. Consider being a social entrepreneur. With the rise of social entrepreneurship – businesses that seek to create social good – there are vast new opportunities to advance social development, sustainability and justice that supplement the efforts of traditional government and civil society institutions. Governments are increasingly inept at solving societal problems. So increasingly it’s up to us. I’m constantly inspired as I travel around the world by the new generation who want to do well by doing good.
  5. The Internet enables startups to focus on what you do best. Partner to do the rest. Companies such as Amazon are opening up their technology infrastructures to create an open stage where large communities of partners can create value, and in many cases, create new businesses. They set a context for innovation and then invite their customers, partners and other third parties to co-create their products and services.
  6. Don’t give up. From my experience, the conventional wisdom is correct — not banal. “Ninety percent of everything is just showing up.” “Success is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration.” Or as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”It’s a lot of hard work to build a business. But if you’re like me or the women at Knixwear, it’s worth it.

This Influencer post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Don Tapscott shares his thoughts as part of LinkedIn’s Influencer series, “Big Ideas 2015” in which the brightest minds in business blog on LinkedIn about their predictions on ideas and trends that will shape 2015. LinkedIn Editor Amy Chen provides an overview of the 70+ Influencers that tackled this subject as part of the package. Follow Don Tapscott and insights from other top minds in business on LinkedIn.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME privacy

Julian Assange Is Crowdfunding a Life-Size Statue of Himself Because Of Course He Is

Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Makes A Statement After Six Months Residing At The Ecuadorian Embassy
Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the Ecuadorian Embassy on December 20, 2012 in London, England.

The WikiLeaks founder wants to get his face out of the Ecuadorian embassy

Julian Assange has been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for two and a half years, and the WikiLeaks founder apparently has a lot of time on his hands.

Assange is using the whistle-blowing website’s official Twitter account to fuel a funding drive for a life-size bronze public “monument to courage” featuring himself, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, the Independent reports. The Italian sculptor Davide Dormino will stick bronze depictions of the trio on chairs with another empty seat beside them—that’s for the public, who can join the whistleblowers.

Some £100,000 is needed for the project, while just £19,360 has been raised on Kickstarter so far. The Kickstarter page says that the the statue “is not a simple homage to individuals, but to courage and to the importance of freedom of speech and information.”

Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sex offense allegations, which he has denied. He fears that if he leaves that embassy, he’ll be extradited to the U.S. after his organization published classified military and diplomatic documents.

[The Independent]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 28

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Income inequality isn’t beyond our control. Smart policymaking could increase the efficiency of the U.S. economy AND narrow the income gap.

By Jason Furman in the Milken Institute Review

2. A “Paris Club” making and enforcing rules for managing Europe’s economic woes could offer stability for the long term.

By Robert Kahn at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. Fresh, community-based food offered at convenience stores and gas stations could change the way people in Detroit eat.

By Chris Hardman in Civil Eats

4. Reader as publisher? How crowdfunding journalism changes the relationship between news outlets and their audiences.

By Catalina Albeanu in Journalism.co.uk

5. Balancing privacy concerns is key to a future where learners are empowered to use data and truly take control of their networks and their futures.

By Catherine M. Casserly in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY the photo bank

I Raised $1,500 On Kickstarter—Then Gave It All Away

It took 31 days for Santa Fe–based photographer Matthew Chase-Daniel to raise $1,500 via Kickstarter. In addition to the money that came through the website, people handed him singles, a lump sum of $150, even a jar of pennies. They thrust cash at him when they saw him around town, at the post office or the market. Then, once Chase-Daniel had amassed all the funds, for 24 days starting in late August, he gave it all away, at a rate of 40 to 50 one-dollar bills a day.

Now, if you happened to read MONEY reporter Jacob Davidson‘s article earlier this week, “Kickstarter Backers Are Investors, and It’s Time They Got Used To It,” you may be tempted to write off the whole thing as another potential Kickstarter scam. How dare someone in the art world solicit donations when he didn’t even appear to need the money—not like, say, the L’ouvre, the Musée d’Orsay (as reported by the New York Times this week) or even the curatorial program for Portland’s Newspace Center for Photography. Heck, he didn’t even keep it! Take a breath. Chase-Daniel did exactly what he promised his backers: “If you give a dollar, I will smile when I hear about it. Then I’ll give the money away.”

The $1,500 that he raised was for an art installation entitled “Dollar Distribution” for the “Economologies” series exhibited in Axle Contemporary, a 1970 aluminum stepvan custom retrofitted as a mobile art gallery. After meeting and surpassing his goal (even after Kickstarter and Amazon Payments took their cuts), Chase-Daniel made a trip downtown:

I went to the bank and withdrew the money, all as 1-dollar bills. I wasn’t clear how much space that would take. I brought a zippered duffel bag into the bank. It turns out 1,500 bills can be quite compact. 1,000 of them were handed to me fresh from the vault, in a nice brick: 10 banded bundles of 100 ones, sealed in a plastic bag, straight from the Federal Reserve in El Paso. That brick has power. Holding it made me a little giddy and giggly.

Then, he took the brick of bills to Axle Contemporary, where he proceeded to use them to carpet the floor of the stepvan. Chase-Daniel put the final touch on the piece by installing a sheet of glass over the back door, after which he drove the gallery-cum-vault around town, parking in random locations to show the pile of money to interested passersby. (By sheer coincidence, the Axle Contemporary stepvan is not so dissimilar to a Brink’s truck—the distinction becoming even less so with its new cargo.)

Following the viewing, the artist dismantled the piece and distributed it around town. He tossed, slipped, hid, tucked, folded, crumpled, rolled, floated, and buried dollar bills in locations around Santa Fe for anyone to find. Sometimes they were “discarded” haphazardly, sometimes they were strategically placed.

Chase-Daniel recounted the impetus for the project—he was driving into town in 2013 when the breeze blew a dollar bill past his windshield. As he continued, a rolling tumbleweed of bills drifted across the road. The knee-jerk reaction of the drivers around him was to brake and swerve:

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, the sight of cash blowing down the road gets attention and provokes reactions and thoughts and reflection of all sorts, positive, negative, joyous, angry, liberated, stressed-out. I decided I wanted to replicate my experience for others, to spark associations and reactions in others by simply leaving some cash around Santa Fe for others to happen upon by chance.

The Kickstarter approach came later. “Since my idea was to distribute the money randomly to a large ‘crowd,’ crowdsourced funding seemed like the logical way to raise the money,” said Chase-Daniel, who made no money from the project nor gave any credit to contributors.

In some ways, Chase-Daniels’ “Dollar Distribution” is similar to Jody Servon’s “I ____ a dollar” installation. Both used money they had been given (for Servon it came from a grant) to create their installations and then disseminate the money again, circulating it to a new group of people. Chase-Daniels makes a further distinction between his project and the illustrious @HiddenCash, this summer’s social media treasure hunt:

From what I understand of @HiddenCash, people are given clues and then search for the cash and are rewarded for their intelligence, problem-solving and determination. ‘Dollar Distribution’ gives money out to anyone, without discrimination. It is found by rich and poor, intelligent or not, with no warning or even knowledge of the project by the vast majority of ‘participants.’

What Matthew Chase-Daniels hopes will result from the project is that people will experience a visceral reaction to the surprise of discovering a dollar bill at some unexpected point in their day, in the same way he did while driving last year. He likens it to “a feeling of joy or luckiness or good fortune” that comes with finding even such a small denomination as a penny on the sidewalk.

Chase-Daniels tried to remain unobserved while distributing the dollars, but he also felt compelled to document some of the placements photographically. Those photos (which he shared on social media) were—for the most part—cropped too tightly to clue anyone in to a specific location, but they did help to spread the word about the project. That led some people to respond by sharing photos of the bills they had found.

While Chase-Daniels didn’t plan out where he would “drop” the dollars, he did happen upon some locations—a Brink’s truck, a one-dollar table at a yard sale, a book on Dada art in the library—that were too perfect to resist. Over time, he began refining the compositions of the photographs as well as the placement of the money. Chase-Daniels is compiling the images and writing about the project in a book that will be out later this year.

Chase-Daniels emphasized that the most important part of the piece was the distribution of the money; the installation and the photos, he said, “are almost incidental.” If, as he noted, “the money IS the project,” then the 1,500 people that happened upon one of the lucky bills each acquired a limited edition intaglio print—valued at exactly one dollar.

This is part of The Photo Bank, a section of Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com:sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

More from The Photo Bank:
FREE MONEY! (If You _ _ _ _ It)
Looking at ‘Rich and Poor,’ 37 Years Later
When the DynaTAC Brick Phone Was Must-Have Technology
Inside the ‘Pay What You Want’ Marketplace

 

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