You may have read that The Line successfully reached its crowdfunding target on Friday 28th March. What you won't have read is the nail-biting rollercoaster that was the mad dash to the deadline... Our campaign confirmed that there's nothing like a deadline to focus the mind! When crowdfunding, you only collect your funding if you reach your target. We reached our target with 6 hours to spare. It was a result so hair-raising it looked like a publicity stunt. Albeit one that hasn't yet received much publicity. The Line successfully crowdfunded close to £120,000 in the final week and £62,000 in its final fundraising day.
We announced the campaign in the press prior to securing any funding - admittedly a slightly unconventional approach, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. From a standing start we had less than 8 weeks to raise over £140,000. We also announced the project, a world-class sculpture walk following the waterways of East London, during some of the worst floods the UK has seen in a century. Of course it's difficult for an arts project that is focused around rivers and canals to feel important when the country is suffering from a natural disaster and every time you turn on the TV there's a man standing in waist high water in waders. That said, we did manage to reach our target...
The press support for the project was fantastic and the democratic approach to fundraising did appear to strike a chord. The Line shared its ambitions with the public and asked for help to realise these ambitions. At the time, and to date, the project hasn't received any public funding, so a successful appeal for help was of paramount importance for the project to be possible this year.
Rather than using one of the big American crowdfunding platforms that are essentially based on a commercial exchange (I give X, I receive Y), we opted to use a British platform and the first civic crowdfunding platform in the world - Spacehive. On this site, pledge amounts are discretionary and the 'reward' is the project's realisation - a philanthropic, as opposed to commercial, approach. Crowdfunding is a relatively new concept, especially outside of the US - something that, at different stages, I think proved an advantage and disadvantage for us. The novelty of our fundraising method was unusual and newsworthy and captured people's imaginations, as well as the attention of the press. The Evening Standard, as a London paper, was especially supportive of the project, as was Louisa Buck who wrote 2 articles that were published in the weeks around our fundraising campaign.
We received a supportive statement from Boris Johnson, Mayor of London: 'I wish the team behind The Line every success in developing this exciting project. Our Fourth Plinth programme has shown the enthusiasm there is for public art and their crowdfunding campaign harks back to the public subscriptions that supported many of the historic statues to be found around our city.'
I wonder whether online 'pledging' is such an unfamiliar concept, and one that is less ingrained in the British psyche (than American), that it discouraged some from supporting the project. It's always interesting to muse on the possible motivations people have for giving money. Did people see our ambitious target and think it unattainable, or were they motivated to help make it possible? When there were 7 weeks to reach the target, did people hold back from a lack of urgency or did they want to be one of the first to show support? Time became a crucial factor, but the difficulty was knowing how it influenced behaviour - would a longer campaign make the goal seem more realistic and motivate people to pledge? Or was urgency more important? We initially launched the campaign with an 11-day deadline - I had thought that a short campaign finishing on Valentine's Day would focus people (if you #lovelondon then #lovetheline - please pledge to spacehive.com...). We quickly realised after a few days that reaching such a high target in such a short space of time was too ambitious, so extended the deadline to the 28th March. The optimist in me thought that we would share our idea with Londoners and be hailed on with £2 coins... Of course life doesn't work like that and an extraordinary amount of hard work goes into making things happen in the city.
It felt that the success of the entire project rested on the success of our crowdfunding campaign. Throughout the campaign, everyone, including ourselves, talked about The Line as if it were happening, when in fact nothing would have been possible if we hadn't reached our target. A really difficult balance to strike. You need to have the confidence to lead a project and for people to believe it's possible, but not so much confidence that people think you don't need their help. The accessibility and inclusiveness of crowdfunding platforms do have downsides - they are such a public interface and anyone can go online and assess your progress, without any knowledge of how much work is going on behind the scenes. When you receive considerable positive press for a project, people can easily assume the project is going to happen and the incentive to give money is then lost.
Despite the project being new, with a multitude of unknowns, the idea did seem to have legs in people's minds. Its resourcefulness and apparent simple implementation garnered considerable support, quickly. We raised £27,000 in the first couple of weeks, however the funding then plateaued for nearly a month, so to anyone watching the campaign - the target felt increasing unrealistic. Charlotte, who is The Line's project coordinator, is like sunshine. Only with her support and hand-holding was it possible to make it to the deadline. Around £30,000 of the total funds raised came from pledges from individuals and organisations who wanted to support the project. In the 7th and final week, through The Line's partnership with the Canal & River Trust, both the Garfield Weston Foundation and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners Charitable Foundation (the architects who have also supported the project by producing The Line's visual material) generously pledged. An American supporter, Todd Ruppert, made a donation of the remaining balance, which took The Line to its target. There were big tears when we succeeded and Clive (Dutton - The Line's co-founder) received the first phone call of excited squawks.
In spite of all the trials and tribulations, I'm really pleased we chose to fund the project this way. Londoners and London-lovers had an opportunity to be a part of this ambitious plan. Spacehive were brilliant to work with and checked in regularly to lend their support and enthusiasm. As a team we felt hugely appreciative and extremely encouraged that people shared in our vision and wanted to be a part of it - people were willing to part with their money and demonstrate their belief in the project whilst it was still at a conceptual stage.
In our final week, we resorted to a new hashtag (#lookingforawhiteknight). People tweeted to say that they'd sacrificed their morning coffee to support the campaign, a journalist signed off his article saying that he was going to chip-in himself, and we even had a New Yorker tweeting his support. Our final day was spent refreshing The Line's campaign page on Spacehive... You have to believe that, in theory, everything is possible. In the 11th hour, with 6 hours to spare, it was.
Thank you to everyone who pledged. Now that we have secured this initial funding, plans have been progressing at a pace -artworks have been selected and updates will follow soon...