The Kickstarter Awards: Best in Show

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For the past week we’ve been counting down the best projects, updates, and moments in Kickstarter’s 2009. We highlighted projects according to various metrics, some hard-to-categorize standouts, and sentimental favorites. We’ve really been blessed with an abundance of riches to share.

In the final edition of our inaugural Kickstarter Awards, we’re unveiling the big prizes: Best Project, Best Reward, Best Project Video, Best Music Project, etc. But “Best” in this context isn’t a judgment on the quality of the work or idea — it’s a recognition of the project itself and how well it used Kickstarter to communicate its goal, build its audience, and come to life. Quoting our own Recommended page, these projects showcase passion and creativity. We think they’re brilliant.

Best Project: Robin Writes a Book, Robin Sloan

Robin Writes a Book is far from the highest grossing project on Kickstarter. Its rewards are strong though simple — nothing crazily clever — and its goal to self-publish a book is even a bit ordinary. But what Robin’s project does spectacularly well is bring the audience into the process. With project updates covering everything from testing character names by buying Google AdWords to an excellent, impromptu short story to unveiling a Remix Fund to encourage people to creatively re-use his work, Robin’s project evolved from a simple funding effort into something completely new.

Over time it became apparent that Robin’s project wasn’t about a book but the process of creation itself. That the finished product — a novel named Annabel Scheme — came in deluxe packaging faithful to the spirit of the work was an awesome surprise. But the experience of participating in Robin’s project was already reward enough. As backers we were his patrons and benefactors. His story and success aren’t just his — it’s all of ours, too.

Best Project Video: For Thousands of Miles, Mike Ambs

The video for Mike Ambs’ documentary film project is everything we hoped a pitch video might be. Cutting between footage of the journey that changed his life and his solemn explanations for why it means so much to him (his voice quavering from the emotion), the video is a moving pitch for passion and art. Mike speaks from the heart and his work — flickering landscapes and dying suns — speaks for itself. For a film project like Mike’s, the video is crucial in demonstrating the level of his skill and the depth of his passion. He does that beautifully.

Best Project Update: Phone call with The One that hit the mark, Allison Weiss

Just ten hours after Allison Weiss launched her project this past May, she had reached her goal. Ten hours out of a 60-day duration. It was an incredible outpouring of support for a fantastic independent artist. On May 21, a couple of days after Allison met her goal, Allison posted a project update titled “Phone Call with The One who hit the mark.” It was a Skype video with Jacquie, a young woman in Australia who made the pledge that pushed Allison over her $2,000 mark. The entire five-minute conversation will make you want to hug the world. They marvel over time zones and issues of hemisphere, and Jacquie worries that, as a relatively new Allison Weiss fan, she’s not as deserving of the thank you call as some of Allison’s bigger fans. It’s honest and adorable.

Best Reward: Polaroid Picture, Emily Richmond Sails Around the World

Emily Richmond is a young woman from LA who this week left for a two-year, solo circumnavigation of the globe. One of her rewards was that she would mail backers a Polaroid picture from somewhere on her trip. From the moment I first saw it, I was transfixed. I immediately imagined receiving a creased and worn envelope peppered with mysterious stamps that smells faintly of saltwater, inside a faded Polaroid with a shock of blue and a distant, promising dot of land on the horizon. (See what I mean by transfixed?) Emily’s reward is a completely unique keepsake that on a material level costs next to nothing, while being priced at a reasonable $15 for backers. (It was by far her most popular reward.) It’s a great example of using Kickstarter’s flexibility creatively and romantically.

Most Creative Project: Kind of Bloop: An 8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis, Andy Baio

Andy Baio, the creator of Kind of Bloop, is also Kickstarter’s CTO, but that has nothing to do with this project’s place here. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Andy hit upon the idea to (legally) pay tribute to the jazz classic using chiptune music — songs written using 8-bit sources like Gameboys and other rudimentary digital “instruments.” Interestingly, Andy didn’t make any of the music himself — instead he would serve as curator and contract out specific pieces from beloved 8-bit artists like Ast0r, Disasterpeace, Sergeeo, Shnabubla, and Virt. The idea quickly caught on, and the project greatly exceeded its funding goal. Even better, the finished recordings greatly exceeded expectations, too.

Best Music Project: Keep Music Indie: April Smith Makes a Record

April Smith had a tremendous 2009. She reached her $10,000 Kickstarter goal with flying colors, performed on the Lollapalooza mainstage (where she gave us a nice shoutout), and finished her new record, which will be released in late February. April also ran an exceptional Kickstarter campaign. Her endearing video was the first to use the photo montage with voiceover format (now a site mainstay), and she even debuted new songs in backer-only project updates live from the Lollapalooza backstage.

Best Film Project: LaPorte Indiana, Joe Beshenkovsky and Jason Bitner

Several years ago Jason Bitner, co-creater of Found Magazine, stopped in a diner in a small Indiana town called LaPorte, and happened to notice a preponderance of classic black-and-white portraits hanging around the small eatery. Minutes later he was ushered into a back room containing some 18,000 photographs of the town’s citizens over the years. That discovery became a photography book and now, thanks to their Kickstarter project, a documentary film as well. Bitner’s collaborator is Joe Beshenkovsky, a producer on the television version of This American Life. Beyond the project and film itself, we also like the clever portrait theme to LaPorte’s rewards, which included original photographs from the LaPorte diner, a caricature by a famous artist, and songs written in backers’ honors.

Best Art Project: Giant Crowd Painting, Emily Grenader

Emily Grenader’s two Kickstarter projects — 365 Postcards was the first and Giant Crowd Painting the second — have been two of our most participatory projects. In each Emily used the Kickstarter system to self-select participants and an audience. For Giant Crowd Painting, Emily will paint a mural of an enormous crowd scene where every member of the crowd is also a backer of her project. Having your portrait painted into the work costs just $30, and $100 netted backers an 8x10 detail of their portrait in the painting and a separate 6x8 oil on canvas.

Best Comic Project: Poorcraft, IronSpike

IronSpike’s “Poorcraft” is the only Kickstarter project successful enough to generate a three-hour Ustream conversation with over 100 participants to debate its value. A comic-based guide to living cheaply as an artist, “Poorcraft” was priced at an incredibly reasonable $10, and she sold nearly 1,000 copies as a result. The community that’s developed around IronSpike’s work has been impressive. She’s unveiled pages (illustrated by Diana Nock) from the finished comic, and the response from backers has been wildly enthusiastic and supportive. The whole project has been a wonderful celebration and validation of her work and vision. It’s been a joy to follow.

Best Community Project: Reddit Jetblue Travel Challenge

Earlier this year several members of Reddit, the social bookmarking site, noticed a particularly lucrative promotion: unlimited JetBlue flights in the month of September for just $600. That same day they launched a 48-hour Kickstarter project to buy one ticket for an unemployed Redditor — by the time the project finished, they had almost $2,000 and another member making the journey. The ensuing trips — weird, cross-country errands and silly tasks — broke down the community’s geographic barriers and provided a fun distraction detailed in depth on the site itself.

Best Food Project: Remedy Quarterly by Aaron, Ari, Jillian + Kelly

Remedy Quarterly
had us in awe when they rocketed $5,000 past their project’s funding goal in just a matter of weeks. The coolest part? They got there almost entirely on the basis of their lowest-priced rewards, with 81 backers at the $7 level and a whopping 110 at $34. And the arrival of their first print issue definitely validated the hype — especially once we started cooking from it. One “Grandpa’s Black Bean Soup” and a single batch of perfectly soft-and-chewy ginger cookies later, the prognosis was clear: we’re hooked on Remedy for life! —Cassie Marketos

Best Open Source Project: Makerbeam, An Open Source Building Kit

If the numbers 8, 32, 128, 256, and 1,024 mean anything to you, then you’re either a geek, a backer of the MakerBeam project, or both. Backers pledging at those dollar levels received various lengths of the universal rapid-prototyping beam created by tinkerers Sam Putman, Glenn Powers, and James Coddington. But the best part about MakerBeam (and all open source projects on Kickstarter) is that you don’t even have to be a backer to benefit from the project’s success: all assets will be freely available and licensed so you can deploy and remix your own versions. —Fred Benenson

Best Animation Project: Lake Beast, Vance Reeser

We’ve never been so moved by storyboards as we were by Vance Reeser’s teaser for Lake Beast. In Reeser’s lushly choreographed animated short, we see pensive exchanges and haunted lakes accompanied by mysterious sounds and plaintive sketches. In his project updates, Reeser takes backers directly into the creative process, from the cluttered basement that served as an inspiration to regular updates on how his animation has developed. It’s a wonderful example of a creator fully bringing their audience into their work.

Best Book Project: Dictionary Story, Sam Winston

Sam Winston’s “Dictionary Story” art book has been exhibited at MOMA, the Tate Galleries, and the Getty Research Institute. It’s a beautiful work — accordion’d pages spiral out from its binding — that turns the alphabetized sequence of the dictionary into a playful tale. (It’s a bit reminiscent of Ken Nordine’s classic ’60s spoken-word album Colors.) Winston used his project to debut consumer editions of the work for an incredibly affordable $20. And as a thrilled backer, I can assure you that the finished editions are stunning.

Best Gaming Project: Crossword Puzzles, Eric Berlin

Eric Berlin makes crossword puzzles for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among other esteemed publications, and earlier this year he took to Kickstarter to unveil a new suite of nine puzzles. The puzzles themselves had an added gaming dimension: once someone correctly answered all nine puzzles, an answer word reveals the “final, satisfying solution.”

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