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Autry's 'Route 66' exhibition looks for its funding kicks online

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The Autry National Center of the American West is hoping lots of people will get their kicks by giving money online to help fund its coming exhibition “Route 66: The Road and the Romance.”

The Autry, which will open the show June 8, joins the likes of the Louvre and the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian art museums in using a “crowdfunding” site to lasso donations. The Autry can appeal to people who otherwise might not know of the L.A. museum's existence but are fans of Route 66 and its manifestations in pop culture.

The Autry launched its 30-day online campaign at noon Tuesday on the site Indiegogo and by Tuesday night had pulled in $3,000 toward its $66,000 goal.

It might have been poetic to use the rival site Kickstarter, given how Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode and countless bar bands have sung composer Bobby Troup’s deathless refrain, “get your kicks on Route 66.” But Maren Dougherty, the Autry’s director of marketing and communications, said Indiegogo lets fundraisers keep whatever donors ante up in a campaign, even if the amount falls short of the goal. With Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. 

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“It’s been part of our fundraising plan from the beginning,” Dougherty said. “For a while we’ve been watching the progress of other museums using crowdfunding, and we thought with Route 66 we had a perfect opportunity because Route 66 has fans worldwide, and they’re complete enthusiasts.”

The Autry’s fundraising video includes Jeffrey Richardson, the exhibition’s curator, running through some of the more than 200 artifacts he’s using to trace how the Chicago-to-Santa Monica roadway wound through the 20th century history and culture of the West.

The show, which will run until Jan. 4, will include Jack Kerouac’s famed manuscript of “On the Road,”  typed feverishly on a single continuous scroll; pages from John Steinbeck’s manuscript of “The Grapes of Wrath”; a Martin guitar that belonged to Woody Guthrie; Dorothea Lange’s famous photography documenting Depression-era desperation; and a new print of a photograph that L.A. artist Ed Ruscha first published in “Twentysix Gasoline Stations,” his early 1960s book documenting a trip along Route 66. 

In the fundraising video, Autry President W. Richard West Jr. is seen giving a welcome from a powder blue convertible parked outside the museum in Griffith Park, although it’s not the '60s Corvette that will be in the exhibition. 

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Dougherty said that the Autry availed itself last fall of an online seminar for museum fundraisers in which the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler galleries for Asian art gave tips based on lessons from a $125,000 crowdfunding campaign for “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” which has since moved on to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

The Autry also took note of last year’s successful Kickstarter campaign by L.A.’s Architecture and Design Museum, which raised $43,114 from 436 donors for its “Never Built: Los Angeles” exhibition of visionary plans that never came to fruition.

“We didn’t talk to them, but we did look at their campaign, watched their videos and looked at their perks,” Dougherty said, referring to the benefits donors get for giving a specified amount. The Autry campaign’s perks start at having one’s name posted on the exhibition’s website in return for $10 -- the minimum donation. A $250 donation gets you a curator-led tour of the Route 66 show for two; $2,500 to $10,000 qualifies the giver for a package of goodies that includes lunch with museum president West, curator Richardson or both.

Muzeo in Anaheim was an early Southern California museum adapter of the crowdfunding model, raising $11,035 from 124 donors in a Kickstarter campaign for its 2011 exhibition “Steampunk: History Beyond Imagination.” In that case, according to a post by exhibition designer Pete Overstreet on the Center for the Future of Museums blog, the fundraising effort attracted not just money that made a more ambitious show possible, but alerted experts on the 19th century Victorian “Steampunk” technology and design aesthetic to its existence, resulting in loans of additional objects and useful ideas for refining the exhibition’s presentation.

The Autry’s Dougherty said that the basic content of the “Route 66” exhibition is set after years of planning, and won’t depend on how the crowdfunding attempt fares. But programs surrounding the show are still being developed, and she said that strong crowdfunding returns could mean a bigger assortment of events such as custom car shows, or lower admission prices for lectures, film screenings and other offshoots of the exhibition.

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Arts and CulturePoliticsMuseumsKickstarterPetroleum IndustryHuman InterestSmithsonian Institution
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