There’s no Place like Crowdfunding: Smithsonian Clicking Heels to Hip Hop

When Hollywood’s most famous footwear needed a little polishing, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History turned to crowdfunding to rehab Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the movie The Wizard of Oz.

The world’s largest museum and research complex is clicking its heels again, this time to the tune of hip-hop.

Energized by previous campaigns, the Smithsonian added some bounce to its fundraising steps earlier this month by surpassing a crowdfunding goal of $250,000 that is required to produce a major anthology of the history of hip-hop and rap.

The partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture seeks to create an anthology of more than 120 tracks on nine CDs as well as a 300-page book with essays, liner notes and never-before-published images – all examining the musical, cultural and social force of hip-hop.

Drawing upon the likes of old-school pioneers, such as the Sugarhill Gang and Roxanne Shante’ up through Kanye West and Nicki Minaj, the collection will offer a “perspective on the African-American experience and its impact on American culture.”

For a pledge of $10,000, donors can take one friend for a tour through the NMAAHC guided by Questlove, an American percussionist, DJ, record producer and journalist. Other gifts, including a copy of the anthology for a donation of $100, are more affordable.

“Smart museums and cultural organizations are taking advantage of crowdfunding to finance projects,” said Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of the free fundraising platform UHelp.

Federal funds keep the Smithsonian afloat, but the national institution founded 171 years ago by a private donation to the U.S. government also relies on private support for large projects.

Prior to acquiring the $300,000 needed to rehab the nearly 80-year-old slippers worn by Judy Garland in the landmark 1939 film, the Smithsonian raised funds for the National Air and Space Museum to conserve the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore for his walk on the moon. The campaign attracted $719,779, well above the $500,000 goal. 

Hikind said crowdfunding is all about creating momentum and museums are in a unique position to feed off grass-root interests to acquire support.

In a shift toward the ways arts and cultural projects seek funding and find success, UHelp can be the first step toward centralizing the energy that builds publicity to locate the much-needed backings.


Smithsonian National Museum of American History

National Museum of African American History and Culture

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