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Boosting Girard Avenue’s creative economy

Online, “crowd funding” has become big business.

The idea — getting a large group of people to chip in and offer individual donations — isn’t new, but lately, it’s become all the rage to create pages on sites like Kickstarter.com or Indiegogo.com for those who need to raise money for anything from opening a theater to buying a few hours in the recording studio.

A quick visit to either of these sites will show how thousands of dollars have been raised for projects as varied as organic microwave popcorn to helping a theater group present a play about superheroes.

The projects — and the donations — fill the map, with opportunities available all over the world.

But, if you’re looking to support a project in dire need of outside funding, why not ensure that the money is spent locally to support efforts in the community?

That’s the idea behind ActGirard.org, a new project created by the Girard Coalition to support non-profit groups, projects that are beneficial to the community, and local artists all along Girard Avenue.

The site targets its efforts in Fairmount, Francisville, West Poplar, East Poplar, Northern Liberties, Brewerytown, Cabot, Yorktown, Ludlow, Kensington South and Fishtown.

“We work with a lot of community organizations,” said Ty Hulse, business development manager for the Girard Coalition. “We were always stuck on ‘OK, let’s share this funding project with your people.’ But, with so many projects, it’s hard to keep up with everything.”

To simplify the process, last week, the Girard Coalition launched ActGirard.org, a site similar to Kickstarter.com or Indiegogo.com, but more locally focused and open to projects that might also be on those sites.

This is just a different, centralized, local place for those who need funding or those who would like to support local projects, said Hulse.

“If you go to Kickstarter, you’ll see that Kickstarter takes everybody,” he said during an interview at the Girard Coalition’s new headquarters at 740 W. Girard Ave. last Wednesday. “But, this is Philly at a local level … People are interested with what’s happening in their neighborhood.”

But, how is this different from the myriad programs community groups provide throughout the city?

While the Girard Coalition’s targeted area — all along Girard Avenue from the Schuylkill River to the Delaware River — includes a number of community groups, Hulse said unlike those groups, the coalition focuses specifically on economic development and supporting small businesses, from storefronts to local artists in the creative economy.

“Our goal is to get businesses to expand and hire more people,” said Hulse.

And, one way he said the local economy can be supported is through acknowledging and embracing the area’s artistic culture.

“I believe one of the best ways to work to improve the economy is through art,” he said.

In order to do this, the Girard Coalition offers small business consulting to help local business owners and artists learn to compete with larger businesses.

On ActGirard.org, one of the projects that needs funding is this very initiative.

Called the Creative Incubator, the project provides artists with one-on-one training to help promote their work and grow their business.

“A great chef doesn’t necessarily know all about business. They learned how to be a cook,” he explained.

Unlike traditional businesses, where products and services are developed and sold based on customer needs, artists often work the other way around.

“They have to figure out who their audience is based on what they have created,” Hulse explained.

Hulse, an Old Richmond resident, has worked with film and art groups in the past to grow their business. He believes initiatives like ActGirard.org can help not just one business, but an entire creative economy.

“We are slowly growing,” he said of the Girard Coalition. “We can manage a lot more, our capabilities have expanded.”

But, more than the creative economy, projects on ActGirard.org run the gamut of ideas from new security features to mobile health clinics in Haiti — an initiative of Explorers Sans Frontiers, a non-profit based in Fishtown.

But, it’s not just about gathering funding for these projects. Hulse said that ActGirard.org can also be used as a way for locals to find projects where they’d like to volunteer their time.

“We can customize it, so, if you’re not looking for money but you need volunteers for a weekend, we can set that up too,” he said. “Or we can set up something that collects books for schools. Or it could just be a project where people can vote for what they would like to see in the community.”

The new website launched last week, and as of Friday, July 15, there were only 10 online projects. But soon, Hulse said, that will grow and shortly the Girard Coalition will be rolling out “widgets” to connect projects to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

For more information, visit ActGirard.org to view the projects and learn more about this new initiative from the Girard Coalition, Inc.

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com

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