Crowdfund the arts in Eastern Iowa: Initiatives by Akwi Nji and Anaïs Duplan take to the web

Duplan with a Spacesuits collaborator, Winston Scarlett.

Artist Anaïs Duplan has a fundraiser scheduled for tonight, Thursday, Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. at The Mill in Iowa City (Little Village is a sponsor of the event). But that’s not the only avenue she’s pursuing to raise money and awareness for the new Center for Afrofuturist Studies coming to Public Space One this year.

Duplan also launched a Kickstarter campaign to help support the project, and she’s not alone. Cedar Rapids poet and performer Akwi Nji has also turned to crowdfunding to drive engagement with her new 2016 effort, The Hook, a non-profit dedicated to bringing storytelling, performance poetry and spoken word to the community.

The campaign for Nji’s The Hook is hosted on GoFundMe, unusual among crowdfunding sites in that it doesn’t offer the option for a reward-based structure. There are no “levels;” donations of any amount are accepted and encouraged. The site launched on Jan. 1. Donations will fund ArtLOUD! workshops in poetry and storytelling, Drop the Mic (a casual performance gathering for writers of all ages and experience levels, in all genres), a Cedar Rapids YouthSLAM! team, which has already begun to meet, and more.

Nji is dedicated to paying teaching artists, YouthSLAM! coaches and the other professionals brought together for this initiative, and the money raised through this campaign will go towards that, as well as towards venue costs for events and meetings. On the GoFundMe page, Nji describes The Hook thusly: “The organization has a specific focus on collaboration and connection — connecting artists with artists, the community to new and unique art forms, artists to the community and the community to its artists, youth to the community outside of their schools, and — most importantly — all of us to each other through the empathy honest storytelling fosters.”

Duplan’s campaign is hosted on the more traditional, reward-based site Kickstarter, and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies is well-suited to that model. She pulled together work from her wide network of artist supporters, members of her performance collective the Spacesuits, to offer an equally wide range of perks, starting at the $5 letter with a handwritten Thank You card from Duplan, through the $10 level — tickets to tonight’s event — and including offerings such as a handmade 11″ x 12″ quilted art piece from Kione Kochi ($60) or a 60-minute tarot session with singer-songwriter Liv Carrow ($75). Some perks are already sold out.

Another feature of the Kickstarter model that distinguishes it from other hosts is that it is time-sensitive. Duplan’s campaign closes in 11 days, and will only be funded if it reaches its $4,000 goal. In the words of the Kickstarter, the CAS is “the artist residency program that brings all the most captivating voices in contemporary Black art to Iowa City … We focus on work by artists of color that looks into the Future. For our 2016 residency cycle, we’ve invited *eight* contemporary Black artists to Iowa City whose work spans across genres.” You can learn more about the Center in our article from issue 191.

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