Steorts walks me through the living room, past the kitchen, and into another sitting room, where she introduces her elderly mother and her husband, a former lawyer and wood sculptor. The three live in this 1500-square-foot house on their combined Social Security incomes and the occasional sale of one of Steorts’s paintings.
“We live well, we eat well, we laugh, we drink wine,” she says. “Well, cheap wine. But it’s good.”
Steorts began painting around 17 years ago. Aside from a two-year stint as a gallery owner in the Gaslamp, from 2000 to 2002, she hasn’t been much involved with the San Diego art scene. But she has gained a small, loyal following, including a couple of patrons who regularly buy her paintings.
“I’ve been collecting people, great people,” she says. “They’ve been collecting art.”
In 2011, two of those patrons paid for the creation of Steorts’s first website — as a Thanksgiving gift. In mid-May 2012, Agora Gallery in New York City found the website and contacted Steorts with an offer of representation. The site, they said, would substitute for the usual portfolio-submission requirement.
Steorts accepted, though she had no idea how she’d pull off the creation of a new body of work to show at the gallery. She loves to paint on 3-by-4-foot canvases and frames every one of the paintings in large, ornate frames, a hefty expense. Because finances were tight, she’d begun painting on smaller, 16-by-20-inch canvases. If she were going to have a show in New York, however, she wanted to return to the larger paintings. That would cost. So would the framing and the shipping and her travel to New York for the show. The way she was living, she didn’t have the extra money.
“My mom would say, ‘I’ve got $5 in my purse. Do you need it?’ And I’d say, ‘That’s our savings, Mom, you keep it.’” She laughs.
When Steorts spoke with one of her patrons about the situation, he mentioned Kickstarter.
“I’d never heard of it,” she says. “I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to high tech.”
It didn’t matter. A group of friends came over one day in late August. Three hours later, they submitted Steorts’s project to Kickstarter for review. Three or four days after that, they got the go-ahead.
Steorts launched on September 5 with a $6500 goal.
According to statistics on the Kickstarter site, projects without videos succeed at a 30 percent rate, whereas those with videos succeed at a rate of 50 percent. Steorts had no video. Neither did she have a huge Facebook or Twitter following. What she did have was a small, loyal group of friends and one dedicated sister.
In the beginning, Steorts created an email list of about 70 people. She sent them all a link to her Kickstarter page. She believed that approximately 50 would donate. The number ended up closer to 20.
“The idea of asking people for money kind of made me squirrely,” she says. “But then it just started happening.”
After the initial email blast, donations quickly slowed down. Five days later, Steorts’s sister Claudia, 16 years her junior, decided to send a personal appeal out to the people on Andrea’s list, as well as to those she’d forwarded the message to from her own list.
Claudia’s final paragraph read: “If you feel inspired, and I know you will, go online and support not just Andrea’s journey to NYC, but support Art in general. Through all the noise of worthwhile causes that need our support, if we were to look for one that would make us feel surrounded by beauty, Andrea’s fund would be the one we’d choose every time.”
Four days after that, Claudia emailed one of Steorts’s friends to discuss campaign strategies.
“Maybe we put it up on Andrea’s Facebook again with a note that we are $2500 from reaching her goal?” she wrote. “If you think another email push makes sense, I can do that. The other thing I thought about, though I’m still a novice, is Tweeting about it. I don’t have a lot of followers, but Kickstarter does have a presence. It’s a long shot. Any other ideas? I mean, if you look at Andrea’s friend list, if 50 of them put in $50 we’d be there.”
From there, they decided on an email push, offering a new story about Andrea’s artistic journey every few days.
“Claudia says you have to nudge people,” Steorts says of her sister. “They forget in a day or two.”
We’re in her bedroom, where at the foot of her bed, two easels, a chair, and a collection of not-quite-finished paintings define her work area. Other paintings lean against the baseboards and hang on the walls.
“The minute her emails would hit, the money would come,” Steorts says. “We were all pumped. It was so exciting. Everyone would get up and check [the campaign] first thing in the morning.”
On September 29, Claudia sent out a last email, pleading for donors to help close the final gap of $275. At one point, Steorts received a check from an elderly couple who didn’t want to send their banking information to Amazon. Steorts was afraid to make the deposit to the Kickstarter campaign herself.
“If you contribute [to your own campaign], you lose it all,” she explains. “I didn’t want to mess with that.”
That last email was the longest so far, and the most pleading, with a personal story about Andrea being a caregiver for both her mother and her husband.
Steorts was fishing in Eastlake with her granddaughter that same afternoon, when she received the alert that her project had been successfully funded. A patron in Austin, who had already donated $1000, upped the pledge to $1275 and later told Steorts, “I couldn’t take it any longer.”
In the final five days of her campaign, Steorts received another $265, putting her at 104 percent of her goal with $6765. She closed with 46 backers, making her average donation $147, almost twice that of the $75 Kickstarter average.
And this with zero updates, zero comments, and no video on her project page.
A week later, over the phone, she says, “The thing I love about Kickstarter is everything, but the thing I love most is that when you make it, they send an email to congratulate you, and they sign it, ‘Love, Kickstarter.’”