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Online arts fundraising project passes $1-million mark

September 13, 2011 |  9:00 am

Andrew Bujalski, film director, in 2006
United States Artists says that creative folks conducting do-it-yourself fundraising on its website have reaped $1 million from philanthropically minded visitors in the initiative's first nine months.

The Los Angeles-based organization, which awards $2.5 million a year via its USA Fellows program, rolled out the USA Projects fundraising program in December, billing it as the first online “microphilanthropy” effort devoted strictly to artists living in the United States. Since then, 125 projects have been funded in eight categories -– architecture and design, crafts and traditional arts, dance, literature, media, music, theater arts and visual arts.

More than 7,000 donations have been made, averaging $146, the organization announced Tuesday. Of the $1 million raised, about $350,000 has come from deep-pocketed donors who volunteer, on certain projects, to match the contributions of rank-and-file givers. 

Filmmaker Andrew Bujalski (pictured above) secured the biggest total, $50,384, for “Computer Chess,” a feature about computer programmers who set out, circa 1980, to create a machine capable of outthinking and outplaying  grandmasters. His video pitch was a humorous vignette that shows him trying to sell his “existential comedy” to a Hollywood producer, with predictable results.

Bill Frisell performing at UCLA's Royce Hall in 2007 Donors anted up $20,230 for “The Great Flood,” a film-and-musical performance piece about the epochal 1927 overflows up and down the Mississippi River, and their impact on American culture and society. The artists are composer-guitarist Bill Frisell (pictured) and filmmaker Bill Morrison. "The Great Flood" premiered Saturday during a guitar festival at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is booked for performances Nov. 4 at Carnegie Hall and April 19, 2012, at UC San Diego, according to Frisell’s website.

More modest proposals have benefited: L.A. artist Cindy Bernard needed $5,000 to incorporate videos into “The Inquisitive Musician,” a live-performance piece based on a 17th century German satire concerning a face-off between classically trained violinists and self-taught fiddlers who play by ear. She netted $5,757 from 54 donors and performed the work in May at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Currently, 35 projects are vying for dollars. Among them is the world premiere production of “blu” by Los Angeles playwright Virginia Grise. Jeffrey Deitch and the Museum of Contemporary Art may be relieved to hear it isn’t about the late-2010 brouhaha over MOCA’s decision to whitewash a potentially controversial mural it had commissioned from the graffiti artist Blu. Instead, it is about a Mexican American lesbian couple raising their family in a barrio. With or without the $8,000 being sought, it premieres Oct. 14 at the Company of Angels Theatre downtown, directed by Laurie Carlos.

USA Projects isn't open to all comers. To be considered, artists must previously have gotten grants from one of about 230 “partner or recognized organizations”  listed on the site.

Experts appointed by United States Artists review proposals meeting that requirement, and decide which ones to post. Artists set a target amount to be raised and a deadline for achieving it, and post a video with their pitch to prospective backers. Those that fall short receive nothing, but United States Artists says that more than 75% have succeeded.


United States Artists announces $2.5 million in awards to 50 winners

Recipients of United States Artists grants can get creative with spending them

Just shooting what, and who, he knows

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Film director Andrew Bujalski in 2006 (top); Bill Frisell performs at UCLA's Royce Hall in 2007. Credits: Jennifer S. Altman/For the Times (Bujalski); Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times