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Biz Buzz: VMFA launches crowdfunding effort

posted Sep 24, 2014, 1:42 AM by J Shaw   [ updated Sep 24, 2014, 1:43 AM ]
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts launches its first crowdfunding campaign today in connection with its upcoming blockbuster exhibit “Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing.”

Crowdfunding — using the Internet to appeal to a broad base of investors and donors — has long been a source of backing for startup entrepreneurs, artists and social activists.

Now museums are exploring the possibility. Scores of art and history museums — from major institutions to quirky narrow-interest operations .

The VMFA’s effort — with a goal of $40,000 — is tailored to offer a new path to philanthropy for those who support the museum’s mission but may have felt such giving was beyond their means.

The museum is asking would-be patrons to “help build” a miniature version of the Forbidden City. The campaign ties gifts — starting at $10 and going as high as $500 — to architectural elements of the 980-structure city in Beijing.

The crowdfunding continues until the exhibit opens Oct. 18. While the fundraiser is underway, the VMFA will build the miniature city using 3-D printers to construct the scale-model buildings.

Claudia Keenan, executive director of the VMFA Foundation and deputy director for resources and the visitor experience, said construction of the model is symbolic of the crowdfunding mission.

The money raised will “support all of our exhibits at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” she said.

The campaign gives the VMFA an opportunity to test the crowdfunding path for new revenue, and a way to “reach a new audience, offering an opportunity to take part in a venerable institution,” Keenan said.

The goal of $40,000 is “not insignificant,” she said, but it is a minute portion of the museum’s annual exhibit budget.

For example, the Forbidden City exhibit — 200 objects that will be displayed on the museum’s 15,000-square-foot lower level — has a budget of $2 million.

Keenan said this exhibit is an example of things the museum does to appeal to the broadest possible audience.

“We like to say, ‘We bring the world to you,’ “ she said. “This will be the only U.S. venue for these objects.”

She said the exhibit is a product of a seven-year cultural-exchange relationship between China the the VMFA. In a reciprocal gesture, in 2016, the museum plans to send nearly its entire Fabergé collection to China for an exhibit there.

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