Funding Explosive Exhibits Through Kickstarter: Interview with MoFAD’s Peter Kim

Last Fall I was at our local MakerFaire when I saw the craziest contraption. It was like a giant dunking booth – clear on the outside. But it wasn’t full of water. Instead, if was full of something that turned out to be 10 pounds of cereal. Once I realized what it was – a giant cereal puffing cannon – I realized something else as well: I had helped pay for it!

On  July 20, 2013, the Museum of Food and Drink closed it first successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $106,503 (significantly more than their goal of $80,000) from 830 backers, to fund what they called “BOOM! Museum of Food and Drink’s Explosive First Exhibit.”

At the time, I really just wanted the first t-shirt from a museum that was still in its planning phase. But when I walked past the puffin cannon – having grown from the concept art (above) into a living, breathing, EXPLODING machine before me, I was excited to grab MoFAD executive director Peter Kim and learn more about how this fledgling museum used the power of social media to fund its first exhibit.

Hi, what’s your name?

I am Peter Kim; I am the Executive Director of the Museum of Food and Drink. We are a 10685436_734294279940063_2761959861896148657_nnonprofit that’s launching the world’s first large scale food museum, with exhibits you can eat. It’s going to be located in New York City.  We are still looking for a building but we are targeting opening it in 2019.

What am I smelling?

We are standing right now at the Maker Faire in Queens at the New York Hall of Science and you are smelling this really toasty smell right now because we just exploded 10 pounds of Kamut cereal. That smell is that toasty effect that’s coming from the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction that occurs at high temperatures. Because of the pressure level of the pumping gun we are able to get that toasty flavor throughout each grain.

That’s what gives breakfast cerea

l its distinctive toasty flavor.

So why did you guys decide to have a traveling exhibit before the museum even opened, and why this exhibit?

We are trying to generate support and interest in the Museum. Since I don’t have any deep pocketed friends who can bankrole the entire museum from the get go, we are doing it the hard way and just trying to get this going step by step.  We want to show people what an exhibit at MOFAD would look like.

The pumping gun is really a perfect example of the kind of exhibit we’d have. It’s hands on. It hits all the five senses. And it highlights this machine that played a critical role in the development of the breakfast cereal industry, which in and of itself is a key part of our culinary identity as a country. 10417019_734293966606761_2942510271020274695_n

And how did you use social media to build interest and financial support for the exhibit?

The way we started out was a Kickstarter Campaign. Kickstarter Campaigns run entirely on your network of supporters and so we were only able to raise money for this by drumming up a lot of support on Twitter and Facebook.  I mean, most of the people who funded this were people I had never met before. And that was an incredible feeling, to have this almost referendum on the idea and to have people overwhelmingly support us, to fund this.

We raised $106,000 on Kickstarter from over 830 backers from around the world. I can tell you it’s been an incredible fulfilling experience to meet a lot of our backers.  These are people who come from all walks of life, but they all share a common interest in food education. I think that’s something we can all kind of get behind.  We should know more about where our food comes from.

10712755_734293946606763_2482237755887623388_nIs there anything you think other museums can learn from how you are using the internet to develop not only your exhibit but also your entire museum?

Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the reasons why we were successful is that we have a very human voice to the museum. We don’t seem quite like the detached, high level institution that some museums can come across as. I think it’s important for museums to have that voice because in the end a museum really can only drive to the extent that it connects with the people who are its constituents.

I think it’s easier for us than for a bigger institution, of course, because we are a scrappy little group of people, but I think that that’s kind of what has fueled this whole project from the beginning. And it’s something I intend on keeping. I want people to look at this and see that, yeah, there is a human face to this, there are people behind it, and it’s not just us presenting a sort of institutional  brand to people.

Thank you so much.

Thanks Barry.

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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