Smithsonian’s Giant Leap Into Kickstarter Pays Off

Millions of Americans gathered around small black and white television sets in the hot July of 1969 to watch Neil Armstrong step off the Apollo 11 spacecraft and set his left boot onto untouched moon dust. Armstrong would go down in history as the first man to ever walk on the moon.

Armstrong’s suit is now much older and in bad need of repair. So the Smithsonian launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the half a million dollars it would take to preserve the suit and get it ready for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019.

Federal appropriations usually cover funding for the Smithsonian but don’t cover preservation projects like this one. That’s why private donations, which make up about 30 percent of funding for the Smithsonian, are key. This is the first time the Smithsonian gave the crowdfunding platform a try.

That Kickstarter, dubbed “Reboot the Suit” paid off, hitting its goal in 5 days. While large philanthropic organizations ask for thousands in private donations, the majority of backers donated $100 or less to this project.

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The campaign continues to raise funds on a stretch goal of $700,000 to preserve the suit worn by astronaut Alan Shepherd. This is the suit Shepherd wore as the first American in space and it will also go into the Destination Moon gallery, set to open in 2020.

A government institution crowd funding on a private platform is very interesting – not only is this a first for the Smithsonian, it’s a first for Kickstarter, too. “This is the first time we’ve teamed up with a museum in this way,” Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler said in a statement.

The platform allows government institutions,museums and other philanthropic projects to reach a global audience of donors who can give a small amount to support big, historic projects that otherwise might not get the money needed to go forward.

The Smithsonian saw such a success from this one it said it plans on doing more with the crowdfunding platform “throughout the next year.” According to the Smithsonian, the focus for these projects will be on artifacts, exhibitions and projects that give the public the opportunity to decide what they are most interested in supporting.