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:email@example.com.