Innovating Through Artistry

Posts Tagged ‘success’

Seed Grants to Student Arts Entrepreneurs

In Art, Author: Linda Essig, Creative Support, Creativity and Innovation, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Music, Networking, The Idea, Theater/Film on November 13, 2009 at 1:40 am

Last week, I got to do the thing that I enjoy most in my job (I also got to do some things I enjoy least, but discussing those would be digressive). My colleagues and I made six seed grants to student arts entrepreneurs. If I ever feel down and out about the future, I can go back and read the 24 letters of intent and 8 full submissions to our p.a.v.e. program in arts entrepreneurship we received this October. Reading through these proposals makes me feel that the arts are relevant, vibrant, vital, and sustainable.

Students have some of the coolest ideas. With their permission, I’m sharing some information about the six awardees with you all. Yes, it’s a little bit of bragging, but it’s also sharing some of the interesting ideas that we’ll be mentoring and supporting in the months to come. (And, yes, there were a few proposals that just made you roll your eyes, but those were very few.) A lot of proposals were for projects that could be termed “social entrepreneurship” as much as “arts entrepreneurship,” a combination I find both interesting and hopeful.
With that, I bring you the Fall 2009 p.a.v.e. awardees:
join cast clipartJoin and Cast Ventures: Two Art (Intermedia) students, Jennifer C. and Catherine A., are producing a field guide to the downtown Phoenix arts scene that is itself a work of art.
radio healer clipart copyRadio Healer: Led by Arts, Media Engineering (AME) graduate student Christopher M., Radio Healer presents mediated performances that foster intercultural dialogue in Native communities.
daht clipartDance and Health Together Awards: Led by undergraduate Dance major Mary P., the DaHT Awards is a combination of dance recognition award and fundraising enterprise benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

coop films clipartCo-op Film Productions – Film and Media Production/Marketing student Chelsea R. and her team are creating a support infrastructure for student collaboration across arts and design disciplines.
different from what clip artDifferent from What? Film Festival – AME graduate student Lisa T. in collaboration with Education student Federico W. is producing a film festival focused on films by, for, and about adults with disabilities.

scrath theory clipartScratch Theory – Filmmaking Practices major Chris G. and his collaborators are developing a software/hardware interface that will first notate and then play back via synthesizer DJ scratching.

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Staying Healthy in the (Financial) Storm

In Author: Linda Essig, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 31, 2009 at 12:32 am

weathering the storm

I’ve been doing some research lately on measures of the fiscal health of not-for-profit arts organizations, especially theatres. This got me thinking about the factors that support the fiscal health of individual artists and arts entrepreneurs. In a 2001 article, Mark Hager examines four measures of fiscal stability – of the ability of an organization to withstand the kinds of economic shocks we’ve experience over the last twelve months. (He adapted these from some earlier work by Tuckman and Chang.)

The four measures are: equity balance, revenue concentration, administrative cost, and operating margin.
How can we translate these four organizational measures into something useful for individual artists and arts entrepreneurs? Here is some of my preliminary thinking:

1. Equity balance. It’s always nice to have some money in the bank. From a practical standpoint, having a cushion in the bank can help support the artist in lean times. Building up that cushion during lean times is difficult but should be a priority during the fat times. I even think there’s a story about that somewhere regarding Joseph and a pharaoh’s dreams.

2. Revenue concentration. It’s much easier for an arts entrepreneur to withstand the sudden withdrawal of one client if they have more than one. So, if you’re counting on that one big commission, you may want to backstop that with several smaller commissions as well. Multiple revenue sources guard against permanent damage when any one of those streams dries up.

3. Administrative costs. Believe it or not, studies (Hager’s and others) indicate that it’s worth investing in the people and equipment necessary to run your arts-based business. Doing so has two positive effects on financial stability: 1) solid administrative capacity and 2) there’s somewhere to cut if the times get really really lean.

4. Operating margin. Pretty simple – don’t spend more than you earn. If you do, you’ll need to dip into that equity balance from item one, further diversify your revenue, or sell off the new copier/scanner you purchased to support your office operations.
It all sounds like common sense to me and I’ve been glad to find out that that common sense is actually backed up by empirical research!

A Rose and A Thorn

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Risk on October 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

Karma. Murphy’s Law. Tommyluck. There are lots of names for the concept of “When god closes the door he opens a window”. I’ve been experiencing this first hand this week and it has reminded me that no success can be earned without struggle.

The good news is, that Blue Damen Pictures’ film “The Visionary” recently won Best Experimental Short film at the Illinois International Film Festival! We couldn’t be more proud and are delighted to receive this recognition. I like to consider this my rose for the week- something special and rare and difficult to cultivate without investing a lot of work.

But like all gardeners know, you don’t get lovely roses without suffering some thorns and this week has been full of those as well. On Monday my apartment was broken into while I was at my day job, but nothing seemed to be stolen so while it was disruptive it wasn’t the end of the world. On Thursday, however, my apartment was broken into again and my computer, filmmaking tools, and emergency cash was taken. I’m trying very hard to avoid thinking that this was something personal- after all, it wasn’t ME they were after, just my stuff. On the other hand, they were very selective about what they took, and what they took were all my filmmaking tools, and it is hard to not take it personally when someone very carefully and specifically takes away the tools of your trade.

But this story does have a happy ending: everything was insured, after all, so now it’s just a matter of replacing the lost items with new and better ones. I was also able to save my data on an external hard drive which I had taken off the computer and taken into the office with me the day after the initial break in. So while I’ve lost my tools I haven’t lost my footage or the cuts of my previous two films or all of my archived artwork. I have never been so glad for my insurance until now. I have never been so grateful for all the tedious hours of backing up my work on a separate drive until now. My work has been disrupted but it hasn’t been stopped and while the thieves may have only been looking for a good score they have given me something much more valuable without even realizing it: the assurance that I am prepared even for this and the increased drive to now finish the work that was interrupted.

So the moral of the story is: pay for insurance even if it seems stupid because when you need it you’ll be glad you have it, and ALWAYS back up your work and records especially if they are digital. You may lose some of your work, but better to lose some of it than to lose all of it. Lastly, remember that roadblocks are a pain in the butt, but they will make your work better in the end, so don’t take them personally, just accept them and turn them into stepping stones and keep soldiering on.

Cultural Capital

In Author: Linda Essig, Creative Support, Creativity and Innovation, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on October 13, 2009 at 1:42 am

I’m participating in a symposium this week entitled PARTNERSHIPS FOR PURPOSE: INNOVATION, CULTURAL CAPITAL, AND RESILIENCE. The panel I’ve been asked to facilitate is organized around the question “How should the university contribute to the development of cultural capital/talent in the region?” “Cultural Captial” isn’t a phrase that I use very often, so of course I looked it up. I was surprised to find that it’s a common sociological term, taken to mean (and I’m broadly paraphrasing from multiple sources), the non-economic “worth” of a family, an institution, or a society, often associated with educational attainment and socialization. This, of course, is not how the conference organizers are using the term or they wouldn’t have invited a museum director, a public art director, me, and others to be on this panel.
Cultural capital as I envision it for the purposes of my panel is a two part infrastructure made up of people and institutions. And, these people and institutions have BOTH economic and intrinsic non-economic worth. In a city such as Phoenix with only one large (public) university and several community colleges, the cultural capital of the city is inexorably intertwined with the university.
It is a fact not widely recognized that universities, especially public research universities, indirectly support arts and culture nationally by providing institutional homes — and the salaries and benefits attendant to them — for creative artists. Cultural institutions such as Actors Theatre of Phoenix, for example, draw regularly from the “human” capital of my school. Because the faculty ranks at universities include the artists, designers, directors, etc who create the work we see at the museums and performing arts venues throughout a region, the region is richer for the presence of the university (and, I would add, the faculty have an outlet for their creative work).
To build cultural capital, existing institutions need to be supported and new ones created. That’s why I’m so proud of our p.a.v.e. program in arts entrepreneurship. Through that program we’ve seed funding and mentorship to students with great ideas for arts-based ventures. Some of these, like the Phoenix Fringe Festival and the Sustainable Symphony are already making their marks on the regional cultural landscape in Phoenix.

Don’t Walk, Run

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Current Events on September 29, 2009 at 1:52 am
 The Elgin Film Festival Trophy- Made by the same company that makes the Academy Awards.

The Elgin Film Festival Trophy- Made by the same company that makes the Academy Awards.

This past Saturday was the first annual Elgin Film Festival, and if you were unable to attend this year I recommend that you mark your calendars RIGHT NOW for next year because this is the film festival to attend.

When I decided, at the age of 12, that I wanted to be a filmmaker I was especially taken with the photographs in magazines of the gala film premiers with lots of glamourous celebrities and bright lights. Even when I learned the reality- that independent filmmaking is a lot of tedious paperwork and a collossal effort balanced on a dental floss budget- there was still some nugget of hope that if I stuck with it I would someday have the opportunity to stand in the bright lights and to make all of it worthwhile. This past Saturday I had that opportunity.

The first annual Elgin Film Festival, hosted by film critic Dean Richards of WGN was a little bit of Hollywood glitz right here in the midwest. The judges and the filmmakers of the five short films that had been chosen as finalists all arrived on a red carpet (my very first time doing so!) and were ushered into the Hemmens Cultural Center with great fanfare. The Hemmens Auditorium is a vast theatre space designed for large crowds and quickly filled up with over 800 guests, which alone was a thrill. To put this in persepective, the second largest audience we’ve ever screened any film for was a total of 75 people. The five short films that screened were:

“The Visionary”
“Crossing The Line”
“The Erogenous Zone”
“House of Cards”
“The Booby Trap”

All of these were excellent- at one point during the screening my Associate Producer leaned over to me and whispered “We have some real competition here!” and we did. “The Visionary” placed third out of the five after “Crossing the Line” (second) and “House of Cards” (first), but I found that I didn’t mind so much that we hadn’t taken first. It was an honor to be among such quality films to begin with and I felt that we held our ground and could stand tall with what we had done.

But the point I would like to make over all is that while every festival that we screen a film at is important to us THIS festival will stand out for months, maybe years to come as being something special. The feeling of having the film screened before an audience of hundreds reminded me why I wanted to do this in the first place and, even if it was just for one evening in Elgin, Illinois, we all genuinely felt like celebrities- like our work was worth celebrating and was being celebrated.

So next year when the time comes, don’t walk, Run! to the Elgin Film Festival and let it remind you too of the reason that you do what you do.

You Fail! But Are You Doing it Right?

In Author: David Cutler, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Outside Your Comfort Zone on September 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

Most artists I know are terrified of failure. They beat themselves up for each mistake, and suffer bouts of depression with each rejection. Failure is viewed as the enemy, and one to be avoided at all costs. So they play it safe.  Really safe.

But everyone fails. This is a simple fact of life, and there’s no way to avoid it. The important question—what kind of failure are you experiencing? 

  • Type A Failure stems from action. You try something, give it your all, but it doesn’t work out. 
  • Type B Failure stems from inaction. You do little or nothing, even though it’s important to you.  Often this is because you’re paralyzed by the prospect of (ironically) failure. 

Disenfranchised artists have typically experienced few Type A failures. Expecting a near 100% success rate, they view each bump in the road as an omen. When something doesn’t work out, it causes them to retreat and become a little less ambitious. These individuals start blaming society, the educational system, government, a lack of personal talent, or even the art itself for their disappointments. As a result, a Type B failure of the largest order is suffered. Their career doesn’t work. Their income doesn’t grow. Their dreams aren’t realized.

Successful artists have typically experienced an enormous number of Type A failures. Expecting a 1-5% success rate (one triumph out of approximately 20 to 100 attempts), they are shocked and delighted when the results are anything better. Each bump in the road is interpreted as an opportunity or necessary step in the process. When something doesn’t work out, it fills them with determination and ambition. In fact, some successful artists actually proudly maintain rejection letters as badges of honor.  After all, they’re out there working to make things happen!  And by lighting that many fires, some will surely catch. As a result, their career, income, and dreams build momentum. 

Everyone hates Type B failures.  They may not have the immediate sting of a Type A, but they’re much more damning in the long run. The resultant sense of helplessness and deep dissatisfaction takes a devastating toll over time.  

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Nobody likes Type A failures either.  It’s always nicer when things work out the first time. But success can be really hard to achieve when you place all your eggs in one basket (or no basket at all!), especially in a field as competitive and challenging as the arts.

On the other hand, the more failures you allow to accrue, the more successes will likely be picked up along the way. And success begets success. So allow yourself to fail. Hundreds and hundreds of times. Maybe more. With those kinds of numbers, I bet you’ll be impressed with the results.

If you really want to succeed, be willing to fail. 

 —–

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Is Creativity Really The Answer?

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, The Idea on May 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm

As much as I hate to admit it, I am not convinced that Creativity is The Answer. This is heresy, I know, but when you get right down to it just how useful is creativity anyway? Creativity is like gunpowder; incredibly powerful- and dangerous- stuff, but largely  useless without a structure to contain it, a system to measure it, and a culture that respects it.

Structure

I didn’t learn me no grammar in grammar school. There was a movement during my grammar school years in which creativity was emphasized over structure.  In essence, we were taught that it was more important for us to write creatively than it was for us to write well. I didn’t know what a participle was until high school when I elected to take college grammar. It wasn’t the most boring, tedious, mind-numbing class on the electives list and the books we used were so old they were out of print. (When the class was over we had the option to buy them. I did.) Of all the classes I took in high school, College Grammar was, without a exception, the most valuable.  I have always enjoyed creative writing but it wasn’t until I took a grammar class that I learned how much my writing sucked. No one cares what you have to say if you can’t structure a proper sentence. Creativity is all about content, but content needs to be contained. The rarest and most exquisitely complex wine in the world is useless without a glass.

Measurement

In the real world what we really care about is how much we produce, not how creatively we produce it. When it gets right down to it we care more about quantity than quality. Given $100 for food we’d rather eat three square meals a day of boring cafeteria food than eat one five star meal once a month. As a natural extension of this we measure our success by our productivity. We ask “what have I done with my life” much more than we ask “did I do it well”. What does Creativity produce? In itself, not much. Can we quantify it? Not really. How do we prove that Creativity is useful if we can’t quantify its usefulness? Creativity is useful when we apply it to how we work; a creative workspace can make a job easier, faster, or more pleasant  even though the product remains unchanged. A prime example is the assembly line: the model T that was produced on an assembly line was no different from the model T produced  by hand except that now it could be produced faster, more easily, and became so affordable that even the workers on the line could eventually buy one.

Culture

In the end, though, it isn’t about money, it’s about culture. Returning to the gunpowder analogy, where one culture sees it as a weapon another culture sees it as a tool and another sees it as festive entertainment. Largely, Americans tend to see creativity as festive entertainment; a luxury rather than a necessity. As an artist I have lamented that no one buys artwork unless it “matches the couch”. When I use my creativity to produce fine art (because production = key to success) I create a pretty commodity. Fine art, like entertainment, is not considered a necessity. So is all creativity doomed to uselessness? Not necessarily: even our western culture recognizes that creativity can be an effective tool when trying to communicate (ex: a commercial illustrator creates drawings to illustrate an art director’s concepts to a client) and is useful problem solving (ahem, Henry Ford).

In the end, the question remains: is Creativity “The Answer” to becoming successful? No. Not by itself. Creativity has the potential to make life easier, richer, and more successful but it is only a tool. Like all tools, the key is how you use it.

On Apologies

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Risk on May 12, 2009 at 7:21 pm

The second most important thing that I have learned in life is how to apologize, and it’s the kind of thing that is so important that I wish they taught it in schools. Life is a risky business, and with all risk there is as much potential for mistakes as there is for success and sometimes more. The greater the possible success, the correspondingly huge the potential failure. So for this blog I am offering a quick “how to” on apologizing.

The first part to apologizing is recognizing when one is needed and being clear about what you are apologizing for. Sometimes this is easy, especially when I realize that I have done something wrong, and sometimes it is difficult, as when I can see that someone feels they have been wronged, but I am unable to take the steps to make that wrong right. To my mind, it is always appropriate to apologize to someone who feels they have been wronged, whether or not you agree with them. Now I’ve been told that a simple “how-to” isn’t effective unless I can show a personal example of how it actually applies, so by way of example: I once was working with a woman on a project when we had a misunderstanding about a contract and when payment was due. It turns out that she expected payment at the time we were working together instead of as a deferred payment which was written in the contract. She felt wronged because she wasn’t able to get money in hand and I felt badly, but couldn’t legally offer her payment sooner than was written in the contract. It was one of those times when an apology needed to be made even though I couldn’t make right what had gone wrong.

The second part to apologizing is to recognize the wronged party’s feelings without getting your own feelings involved. An apology is not the time to lash out or to point fingers. It is not the time to make excuses. It is not the time to make accusations. An apology is not about you it is all about them. An apology is a way of saying that even though things did not go well that you still respect and care about the other person and their feelings and that you are sacrificing a portion of your own pride to say so. So back to the story of my coworker and I and the contract misunderstanding; she felt she had been wronged because her expectations were broken. I could have written “Well, if you’d read the contract thoroughly then you’d know the payment was deferred”, but that would have been counter productive. The last thing I wanted to do was to add insult to injury. She’d made a mistake by not reading carefully and I’d made a mistake by not emphasizing that payment was deferred and while we were both upset, neither of us needed to hear that we were to blame.

The third part to apologizing is doing it. This is the hardest part because invariably it needs to happen during or after a moment of conflict, when the only thing that you want to do is to run away from the problem and to hope it will go away on its own. For myself, I find it is best to apologize as quickly and early and sincerely as possible. In the co-worker incident I sat down and wrote an email to her that very night. Conflict makes me agitated and anxious and the only thing that reliably calms me down is taking action even if that action is just typing an email to say what needs to be said.

The last part to apologizing is up to the recipient: whether or not to accept the apology and whether or not to forgive the person who is doing the apologizing. Some people accept apologies with supreme grace and move on quickly. Some people refuse to accept the apology until they feel they are “even” with the other person. Some people never accept the apology at all. This is up to the wronged party in the situation. When you are receiving an apology it is important to remember that someday you will be the one apologizing to someone else and it is important to respond in the way that you would want your own apology responded to. It turns out the episode with my coworker ended up with her leaving and us letting her go. It wasn’t an ideal situation but we both preferred to part company rather try to work with that kind of tension between us.

Once you’ve apologized, all you can do is wait, but you can wait knowing that you’ve done everything possible. The proverbial ball is now in their court and they will either accept the apology or they won’t. Apologizing is a humbling experience, but it is so for a reason: to remind both yourself and the person to whom you are apologizing that with risks comes mistakes and that no one is perfect. It is a way to recognize that other people are human beings even though you differ from them. And it is a way to work through differences in order to build a stronger whole.

Truth, Success, Etc.

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Creativity and Innovation, Emotional Intelligence, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Theater/Film on April 3, 2009 at 6:43 pm

INT. SCREENING ROOM. DAY

GWYDHAR, a young film director sits in a workshop at the Kent Independent Film Festival in Kent, CT. She is hoping to glean some tips on how to make contacts in the industry. Her notebook is blank except for the date. Slowly a quote bubbles up in her memory:

J. MICHAEL STRYCZNSKI (Voiceover)

Never follow somebody elses path: it doesn’t work the same way twice for anyone… The path follows you and rolls up behind you as you walk forcing the next person to find their own way.

GWYDHAR makes note of this and tries to think of a way to incorporate it in the blog that she is supposed to write before Wednesday.

EXT. CHICAGO SIDEWALK. DAY

GWYDHAR and BLUE DAMEN, a manifestation of her conscience, walk side by side on the way to GWYDHAR’S day job.

BLUE DAMEN

So did you find what you were looking for?

GWYDHAR
Yes and No.

BLUE DAMEN
What do you mean?

GWYDHAR
I was looking for an answer about what the next step towards success should be and I didn’t get one, but maybe that was the answer after all: that trying to figure out what the next step should be isn’t a problem that you are ever supposed to solve.

BLUE DAMEN
Give me an example.

GWYDHAR
OK, So I submitted our film “Persephone” to the Kent Film Festival and it was accepted.

BLUE DAMEN
So that makes you a success.

GWYDHAR
But hardly anyone came to see it- I think maybe a total of 17 people in two showings. And 3 walked out.

BLUE DAMEN
So it was a bust.

GWYDHAR
But it did win an award for Best Experimental Short.

BLUE DAMEN
So it was a success.

GWYDHAR
But no one bought any copies so we didn’t make any money off of showing it.

BLUE DAMEN
So what are you trying to say?

GWYDHAR
I’m trying to say that as an artist there are two kinds of success: the kind that makes money and the kind that wins awards.

BLUE DAMEN
And you need both.

GWYDHAR
Everyone needs a little bit of both but the proportions are different from person to person. Some people need more financial success and some people need more artistic success. The thing about filmmaking that is so discouraging is that there is no “right” way to do it. There is no single path to success and the people who are successful at it are just as mystified about how they got there as the rest of us.

They arrive outside GWYDHAR’s day job and GWYDHAR fumbles for her keys hoping that she didn’t forget them, again.

BLUE DAMEN
No mystery how we got here- we walked. All 17 blocks.

GWYDHAR
Well, hard work is the first step…

BLUE DAMEN
And the first step is hard work. Yuk yuk yuk.