Shortly after finishing her studies at Victoria University, Chessie Henry put her MA in creative writing to good use to produce a book – not just any book, though; a deeply personal one exploring, among other things, the impact of the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes on her family.
We Can Make a Life was published in 2018 and, the following year, won the E.H. McCormick Prize for General Non-fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
Henry, 27, has since travelled to literary festivals around NZ and Asia.
We Can Make a Life is the inaugural Book Club book at next month's Womad Aotearoa Festival.
The true-life story helped raise awareness of the effect on the mental health of first responders in tragedies. Henry's father, Chris, a GP, was in Christchurch when the 2011 earthquake struck and crawled through the wreckage of the burning CTV building searching for and helping to rescue survivors.
The 2016 Kaikōura destroyed the family home.
But Henry says We Can Make a Life might not have been written without crowdfunding website, Boosted. Now a content specialist at Christchurch communications company Brown Bread, she is championing the relaunch of the country's only crowdfunding platform which raises money for home-grown arts and literature.
Brown Bread founder and director Jo Blair says the six-year-old Boosted website needed to be refreshed to handle the growing number of projects artists were posting and make it more user-friendly for artists and donors.
A $120,000 donation from entrepreneur and arts philanthropist Chris Parkin and his wife, Kathy, has allowed for its relaunch on Monday. Parkin, former owner of Wellington's Museum Hotel, says they like donating to specific projects. Last year, they gave $1 million toward a national music centre in the capital, and sponsor the annual $20,000 Parkin Prize for drawing.
"I'd supported campaigns on Boosted in the past but was not aware of how big and important it was in terms of raising money for arts projects," he says.
"I was looking to be involved with a specific project – one that was very targeted – and when I learned how well Boosted works, it ticked all the boxes."
Since the Arts Foundation of New Zealand launched Boosted in 2013, it has raised just over $6 million from 50,715 donations to 970 artist projects. High-profile campaigns include last year's fundraiser for the late Nancy Brunning where 571 donors raised $82,820 for life-extending medical treatment which allowed the former Shortland Street actress to direct and see the debut season of her play Witi's Wāhine.
That more artists are turning to the crowdfunding website is not surprising given research released last year by Creative NZ and NZ On Air which revealed many of our creative professionals struggle to make a sustainable living from their main art form.
Close to 1500 people took part in the A Profile of Creative Professionals survey, the first of its kind in nearly 20 years. It concluded those employed in creative professions often juggle jobs, rely on "safety nets" – like another job or partner's income – to survive and are frustrated they can't spend as much time on their art as they would like.
It's something Henry relates to. She wanted to raise $5000 so she could give up fulltime work to concentrate on her book but the Boosted campaign made nearly $9000.
"I was a fulltime copywriter and found it tricky to go from working all day in front of a computer and using my 'writing brain' to doing it on weekends and early in the morning trying to write my own story," she says.
"The book was feeling very pressing and I feared it would lose its sense of urgency if I didn't write it that year.
"I felt 'icky' about asking for money but with Boosted, it was very arts-specific, you had to apply and have a project approved so it felt as if it had mana."
Reducing her hours allowed Henry to complete and publish her book.
"I couldn't have created this book in the form that it is in without those donations," she says.
"I am a most passionate advocate for the site. I think people want to see art happen; this allows those who aren't artists themselves to be able to support someone by giving what they can."
Those already planning campaigns on the rejuvenated site include comedian/writer Tom Sainsbury, who hopes to raise $30,000 to make a psychological thriller/horror film; Whakatāne's David Poole, who wants $27,500 to build an art gallery in a shipping container for local artists to showcase work; Jah Tana, who's seeking $20,000 to create sculptures and eco-art wall murals in Otahuhu; and Nelson dancer Laeticia Austin, who needs $25,8000 to accept a place at the London Russian Ballet Company.
• New Zealand's only crowdfunding platform which raises money for arts and literature projects re-launches on Monday.
• Since 2013, it has raised $6 million.
• The most money raised was $377,390 to save Christchurch's Isaac Theatre Royal after the Canterbury earthquakes.
• Reopening Katherine Mansfield House overshot its target by the highest percentage ($500 was sought; $2464 raised)
• The most common donation since 2013 is $50 but the average donation is $120.
• June to August are the peak months for giving.