The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

“Crowdsourcing” Your Next Production October 8, 2010

Crowdsourcing is not a new concept.

According to Wikipedia, Crowd Sourcing is

the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.

The term has become popular with businesses, authors, and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.

Basically, artists, in these days of dwindling funding, are turning to crowdsourcing as an option to fund their projects. Crowdsourcing engines like Kickstarter are based on the concept that many small donations can add up to a lot of money. People pledge what they can, and ONLY if the project meets its entire goal within a specified time frame, does the company get all the money. If they don’t make their goal, no one donates.

I’ve been interested in exploring this idea as a funding concept, but crowdsourcing engines like Kickstarter in the States or Fundbreak in Australia have not been available in Canada until recently. A new crowdsourcing engine called IdeaVibes has just come online.

I recently interviewed Kathryn Jones, a #2amt colleague from NYC. They have recently hit their goal with Kickstarter, and are moving on to produce their project.

RC: Can you tell me a bit about your project?

KJ: Better Left Unsaid is the first of its kind, interactive live streamed play.  A cross between a play, an online video and a live streamed event, Better Left Unsaid will be shot with multiple cameras, mixed in real time, and streamed live to the internet so that anyone, anywhere in the world with a computer can watch the show and interact with it.

The play itself is  a complex roadmap of a play that begins in Central Park on a strangely warm, foggy day in November. We follow eight characters as their paths twist and turn in unexpected ways. Better Left Unsaid is a story about how our lives are affected by the pieces of information that we choose to withhold from the people we love. Sometimes the same secret that protects one person damages another.

Better Left Unsaid.  8 LIves.  8 Secrets.  How well do you know the people that you love?

RC: Why did you decide to go the Kickstarter route to get it produced?

KJ: I have been working in online video and social media for more than four years so I have been aware of Kickstarter since the time that it launched although initially projects seemed to be raising a few thousand dollars.  I thought the idea was wonderful, but the projects I was developing required more money than it seemed feasible to raise on Kickstarter.  This  past spring, however, I noticed that people were  beginning to raise significant amounts of money on Kickstarter.  When Joey and I began discussing live streaming her play Better Left Unsaid- using Kickstarter seemed like a great way to initiate our fundraising campaign.

RC: How does using a crowdsourcing engine like Kickstarter affect the amount of work you have to do to fundraise? Does it make it easier, or harder?

KJ: Fundraising is a ton of work and crowd sourcing didn’t lighten the load, but it did provide a platform from which to launch our campaign and stay in touch with our backers.  In addition, Kickstarter’s all or nothing policy added a level of urgency to our campaign and ignited our audience with a certain level of suspense as to whether or not we would make it or not. There were a lot of people checking our Kickstarter page the last few days to see how we were doing, and a few even upped their donations as the campaign neared it’s deadline.  While I don’t think we could have possibly have raised so much money in such a short period of time without Kickstarter, as the deadline to our campaign approached fundraising is basically all we did, day and night!

RC: What kind of “marketing” materials did you create for your Kickstarter campaign?

KJ: The first thing we did was build a web site so that people who visited us on Kickstarter could get more information if they wanted it.  Then we built our facebook fan page to which we add content on a pretty regular basis.  Then we created a video for our kickstarter campaign.  We also created a press release and a one sheet- and used all of these materials in various ways as our campaign progressed.

Our video is also on youtube, and can be found here…

RC: To what do you attribute your successful campaign?

KJ: I can’t point to any one thing that made our campaign successful, except for our determination!  We used every tool (except for snail mail) at our disposal, from  twitter, to personal facebook profiles, to our facebook fan page, to facebook notes, to facebook events, to phone calls, to personal emails, to mass emails, to a fund raising event at my partners house (we consolidated the donations and had one person contribute the money to our kickstarter campaign) to networking and one on one drinks.  No one method was a silver bullet.

Even when it started to feel impossible, we would go back to our kickstarter page and see that 40, then 70 then 100 then 120 people had backed us and we were determined not to let all those people down, until finally we closed with 161 backers.

RC: Thanks, Kathryn! Very exciting project–keep us in the loop of when the project airs, and we’ll be watching!

I have an interview request into IdeaVibes, but at the time of publiciation, they hadn’t yet responded to my questions. Perhaps for a future blog post.

H/T to Kate Foy.

 

No Starving Artists August 20, 2010

Filed under: Attitude,Business of Arts,Cash flow,Finances,interview,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 6:32 am
Tags: ,

A little while back, I was having an email conversation with my friend Paul. Now, I’ve known Paul since the time we shared a tent at a cabin on Mayne Island during our younger days, but in the past few years, I have become very proud of his accomplishments.

Paul, a former Registered Massage Therapist, started a business where he sells well-researched and written articles to folks who are trying to take more responsibility for their health. His business is called SaveYourself.ca, and it’s doing pretty well. So well, in fact, that Paul retired from the massage business as of January 1, 2010, and now writes for a living.

Our discussion was around getting paid to write. After all, if we are writers, don’t we get intrinsic value from writing? So should we always be getting paid for it?

Paul’s response stopped me in my tracks:

“Cold hard cash” value has been waaaay more satisfying for me than the “intrinsic” value thing (which I did in an impoverished way for 15 years). I’m particularly fond of the cash-generating approach since it’s now inevitable that I will soon be able to turn my attention to full-time creative writing.

Plus I found subject matter that I find personally interesting AND profitable to write about. 😉 That’s probably the real win: I wouldn’t be happy just writing anything I could sell. The challenge is to focus the writing on something that is both relevant to your bottom line AND your heart.

I asked him if we could continue the conversation for you, on my blog, and he said yes.

RC: For me, this whole debate we’ve been having is about values. The value of money versus the value of artistic expression/creativity. We live, as artists, in a world that believes that choosing the artistic or creative lifestyle means also choosing a life of poverty. Even more so, if you do become successful as an artist, you are often branded as a “sell out.” However, I would like to believe that I can be artistically fulfilled, and not have to live in a hovel and eat Kraft Dinner every day. Call me crazy. What are your thoughts on this?

PI: Life’s a tough place. A lot of humans don’t have clean water or a life expectancy much better than a poodle’s. I really believe that the idealistic artist lifestyle — both rewarding and remunerated — is a fantasy. It’s a healthy fantasy, but just an impossible goal for most people, even in rich nations.

It’s not just “the world” that believes that doing art means surviving on Kraft dinner: a whole lot of impoverished artists believe it too. I know dozens of impoverished artists, and many who quit because of it. And of the few successful artists I know, most are successful in large part because they had some major economic advantage to start with. It’s a hell of a lot easier to write a great book when you don’t have to worry about paying the rent!

It’s not impossible to make art pay, of course, just terribly difficult. Any individual artist has the potential to pull it off. But the pie is just not large enough for all of us, and most will fail to get more than a nibble. The few who start poor but get a satisfying bite in the end have got some serious game: not just craft, but exceptional perseverance and business savvy. And nearly all of them compromise.

In short, nearly all rags-to-riches artist success stories are achieved by diluting the purity of a dream with smart compromises and entrepreneurship. That’s certainly my story.

RC: Okay, I’ll bite. What’s your story?

PI: I guess I have a “success” story, which I’m starting to enjoy and still getting used to.

I started out as a creative writer, but I got weary of poverty and decided to get more entrepreneurial and started picking projects with some profit potential. About six years later, I write almost exclusively about health science (in a creative way), and I publish online and make a decent living selling e-book guides for patients about common pain problems. But the amount of money is not the best part. What really makes it a success story is the residuals. I have an stable and unusually passive income — my ebooks sell automatically, with basically no day-to-day work required. I’m not in a high tax bracket, but I have more income security than a Hollywood divorce lawyer, and more holidays. With a little updating now and then, my books will pay my rent for the rest of my life.

So I’m not yet 40, but I actually don’t really have to work any more. Sure, I’m still pounding away at my business, but mainly because I like it and I want to buy a few more toys, and maybe a house someday.

RC: Is what I’m hearing you say is, find a way to make your art business profitable, commercial? And then do the “fine” art, whatever that is, for yourself?

PI: I don’t really want to do “fine” art and creative writing “for me” — I want to do it for an audience. I want to succeed as an idealistic artist just as much as I did when I was 18, gunning for commercial success and critical acclaim. The difference is that now I can afford to pour myself into writing novels and short stories, thanks to the compromises I’ve made for the last ten years — which just don’t feel much like compromises now that they’ve paid off!

Should every artist do it this way? Probably not. There’s wiggle room depending on your goals and how much Kraft dinner you can stand eating. If you can you live with the odds being seriously stacked against you, then great, take that “high” road.

But few artists are really up for that. Most want to eat better and have a robust career. If that’s what you want, find the common ground between idealistic goals and what’s actually marketable and practical. Do that vend diagram! And then get to work in the overlap. Most artists won’t do it because entrepreneurship is too alien, because the compromises seem too extreme, and the pay-off is too distant. But that’s just what it takes … and the alternative is to NEVER have the time or resources to do what you really want to do.

RC: Thanks, Paul!

Both Paul and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Go!

Paul Ingraham blogs sassily about pain and injury science at SaveYourself.ca (twitter, facebook). A former Registered Massage Therapist, he now calls himself a science journalist. Most of his passive income comes from a pair of best-selling ebooks, one about muscle knots (trigger points), and the other about a nasty knee problem that runners get, iliotibial band syndrome. It’s worth visiting those pages just to see an example of a profitable ebook presentation. Paul works in a downtown Vancouver home office with his wife and an editor cat.

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State of the Fringe: Jeremy Banks August 6, 2010

Welcome to the final installment on my series on the State of the Fringe. This week, I’ve talked to Ian Case and David Jordan, who run the Victoria and Vancouver Fringes.

Today, I interview Jeremy Banks, who has acquired the title this summer of “UberFringer.” I met Jeremy in the spring, and he told me he had this crazy idea: he had just bought a Flip cam, and wanted to travel across Canada, visiting all the Fringe festivals, working where he could and blogging and shooting video. You can follow along with his travels at Fringetastic!

I caught up with Jeremy via Skype in a coffee shop in Calgary.

RC: How many Fringes have you been to so far?

JC: I piloted the idea at Uno Fest in Victoria, but my Fringe journey started June 10 Montreal. Since Montreal, I’ve been to Magnetic North, the Toronto Fringe, Winnipeg, and Calgary. I will check into the Edmonton Fringe, will perform at the Victoria Fringe, and will do some videography at the Vancouver Fringe.

RC: Who is Jeremy Banks? How did you come up with this crazy idea?

JB: I went back to school and finished my theatre program recently. I graduated from Malispina University in Nanaimo, a town that is better known for  a dessert bar than theatre. With that in mind, I thought I’d try to get a sense of the bigger world–to contextualize what I had learned in school. I contacted Fringe festivals, and was able to get some work with my theatre skills.

I’ve been interviewing lots of people: Executive Directors, actors, technicians, to get an overview of what the Fringe is about.

RC: What’s the state of the Fringe in Canada right now?

JB: It’s hard to describe. It’s an artistic expression of an entire culture. And it’s not just about theatre. It’s theatre people, but it’s not just for theatre people. It’s an entire cultural celebration. Because you get people from every arts discipline coming out to participate in the Fringe. Some Fringes have that as a bigger component than others–here in Calgary, for example, there are multi-disciplinary performances on stage, in Winnepeg and Edmonton, there’s a huge outdoor aspect, which makes it great for families. It needs to be valued and realized as a cultural capital in Canada. Each Fringe is so organic. Each Fringe is unique and they are all connected, and there is definitely a through-line going through all of them. But because each one is connected to their community, it makes each one different and growing.

RC: What’s been your favorite moment so far?

JB: I don’t know yet. My journey is not yet over. Right now, it’s really hard to have perspective on what I’m doing while I’m still in the process. Sometimes you go and get this material, but you don’t know what it’s going to be until you’re finished. I might not exactly know what it is I’m trying to accomplish, but that’s okay. I have faith in the process.

RC: What are your plans for your home Fringe?

JB: I’ll be performing in Victoria, Big Smoke by Ron Fromstein, which won the 2006 National Playwrighting award for Theatre BC. I’ve never performed in a Fringe before, so this is a new experience for me, but I also have this background knowledge of “Fringeness.” After Victoria, it’ll be time for me to look back and start to try to put the pieces together. This has been a great adventure, but in order for me to finish, I need to find the thruline. I also need to find a niche where I can continue working on the project in a a sustainable way: a concrete goal, financial support. I love the idea of creating a fringe show about the fringe.

Everywhere I go, everyone has a different story, not just about fringe, but about life. The gbiggest thing I’ve learned is that fringe and theatre are about connecting and sharing stories. Fringe creates an avenue for you to express yoruself however you want to, under the excuse of theatre. And that’s what makes it valuable.

RC: Thanks, Jer. I look forward to catching up with you again when you’re home, and seeing what you come up with!

Click here to listen to our conversation in its entirety.

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State of the Fringe: David Jordan August 4, 2010

Today, in the second part of my week-long series on the State of the Fringe, I interview David Jordan, the Executive Director of the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

RC:
Tell us a bit about the Vancouver Fringe.

DJ: This is our 26th year for the Fringe in Vancouver. It’s our tenth year on Granville Island. There are 83 shows and over 600 performances over 11 days.

RC: Who is David Jordan? And how did you end up here?

DJ: I came to Vancouver fresh from graduating with my Master’s degree in Directing. The Fringe was my first job here in

Image Courtesy of HereInVancouver on Flickr

Vancouver. I worked there for about a year and a half in various capacities, and then when the ED job came along, I applied for it, and here I am. This is my fifth year as Executive Director.

RC: How does this year’s Fringe compare to previous years?

DJ: Last year, there were 68 shows, so we’re up by about 20%. The trend that we’re seeing with the Fringe is that there are more BYOVs and found venues. For example, Boca Del Lupo is doing a show out of their office with an audience of 14. Someone else is doing a show on a pedicab. Origins Coffee has kindly let us use their space, and we are converting it into a 60-seat venue. We also have a professional development series: talks, and a Clown Conference. Our goal is to make Granville Island explode with theatre.

RC: How were you affected by the first round of cuts last summer?

DJ: We were lucky. We were in the first year of a three-year funding agreement. That money was originally taken away, but they restored it. So we have some time to plan and restructure. This government has systematically replaced operating funding with short-term project-based funding, so we have to seriously look at ways of running our organization with less funding from the government. As the Provincial Government proved to us over the past year, we can’t rely upon them for support.

RC: How have subsequent cuts affected you?

DJ:
Our BC Arts Council funding was cut by 60%, down to $12,700 from $32,500. Basically, by 2012 we stand to lose $70-90,000 worth of provincial funding. That alone is the cost of running our venues, which is something that can’t be cut. Our greatest challenge will be to maintain critical mass in the face of all these cuts.

RC: Despite the current cuts, it looks as if the Fringe will go ahead as normal this year?

DJ: Yes, we are in fact finding room to grow a bit. That’s what keeps me hopeful in the face of arts cuts. We were born out of needing to find a way, and we will always find a way.

RC: How about future Fringes? What kinds of plans are you working on?

DJ: Next year, there will have to be significant changes. We don’t know exactly what it will look like yet, but we have to cut expenses and increase revenues. That’s hard to do. We are a very efficient organization as it is. Maybe site specific work in MLAs offices…?  One thing we are considering is introducing tiered fee structures. Right now, all artists pay the same fee, whether they are in the Waterfront (300+) or a smaller venue of 50. We may start charging more for the larger theatres, less for the smaller ones.  Operating venues is a huge expense for us, so we are looking at ways we can create more site-specific, outdoor venues and found spaces.

RC: Final words?

DJ: We did a survey with members of the community, and the feedback that we got was clear: the Fringe is necessary. Not just for emerging artists (although they are a very important part of the Fringe), but also for more established companies who have moved beyond the Fringe. Some companies want to do new stuff, edgy stuff that they maybe can’t take to their core audience, so they come to the Fringe. The Fringe’s roots come from a place of flexibility and experimentation. It’s artist-driven. And those are all things that we will remain true to as we move forward into the future.

RC: Thanks, David!

Read David’s interview with The Georgia Straight.

Read the Vancouver Fringe’s Press Release

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State of the Fringe: Ian Case August 2, 2010

Last month, an article in the Georgia Straight caught my eye. It was an interview with Ian Case, who runs The Victoria Fringe Festival. They have been hit hard by cuts to the arts, to the tune of $42,500.

I emailed Ian and asked him if I could interview him, and he kindly agreed. Then I thought I’d also interview David Jordan, the ED of the Vancouver Fringe. Then I thought about Jeremy Banks, whom I met earlier this year, and who has spent his summer traveling to many of Canada’s Fringe’s this summer.

Welcome to Fringe Week at The Art of the Business.

Here is my interview with Ian Case.

RC: Tell me a bit about the history of the Fringe in Victoria.

IC: The Fringe started in Victoria 24 years ago. It was started by a group of folks who wanted to see more local production and to take advantage of the newly established trend in Fringes popping up across the country. The festival has been very successful and grown significantly over the years.

RC: What has been your involvement with the Fringe in Victoria?

IC: I attended the second year of the Fringe when I was at University and was hooked. Since them I’ve produced and directed shows that have appeared at the Fringe in Victoria. I was hired 7 years ago as the General Manager for Intrepid Theatre, the company that produces the festival. The company at the time had a budget of roughly $250,000. While I’ve been working with Janet Munsil the Artistic Director, the company budget has grown to over $800,000 per year and the Fringe has more than tripled in size.

RC: What was your background prior to the Fringe?

IC: I am a UVic grad with a specialization in Acting and an BFA in English. I had run a student newspaper while at College and went on to found a private tourism based publication in the Okanagan Valley. I was hired as the administrator for Theatre Inconnu in 1991 for their first Shakespeare Festival in Market Square. I stayed on as General Manager at Inconnu for 4 years then went on to become one of the co-founders and administrator for the Victoria Shakespeare Festival. In 1998, I founded my own company called Giggling Iguana Productions which produced three shows in the McPherson Playhouse then went on to produce over a decade of site-specific work at Craigdarroch Castle. Iguana continues to exist and I recently produced and directed The Importance of Being Earnest on the lawns of Craigdarroch Castle.

RC: What is the Fringe looking like this year? How many participants, how many shows, etc?

IC: The Fringe this year is looking really exciting. We’ve secured 7 full time venues and a record number of artist driven Bring Your Own Venues. We have over 60 companies involved this year and will present over 350 performances. The festival will be the largest Fringe we’ve ever produced and build on our massive increase in attendance last year of 40%. This year is bigger and better than ever!

RC: What was the impact of the first round of cuts in Aug last year?

IC: We tightened our belt a lot this year. We ended 2009 with a provincial government enforced deficit of $30,000 when we were denied Direct Access Gaming funding. We were able to reduce the size of Uno Fest and our presenting series, two of our other programs in order to make our budget balance in 2010 and to safeguard the Fringe which is our flagship event. We have taken on increased fundraising initiatives and worked on developing our donor base all of which has been quite successful.

RC: What is the impact of current cuts?

IC: Less funding will mean less art. It’s as simple as that. We run a very tight ship here. Our staff is already overworked, under-remunerated and smaller than a company doing as much work as we do during the year should be. The average full time working artists in BC earns in the $24,000 per year range which is ridiculous. The only place we can afford to cut, without impacting the quality of the work we present and the work we do in our community is to simply do less. Uno Fest will be reduced again in 2011 if we are unable to secure additional funding to support it. Our presenting series will likely be further impacted. In the past few years we’ve been able to present some of the best and most exciting touring work available from around the world. We will not be able to continue to do this and will scale back the kind of work we present and the number of presentations we put on. This will deny our region the opportunity to see some of the best work available from around the world and leave our community less culturally rich than it has been.

RC: How are you coping, and how will you cope in the future?

IC: We’re cutting and being very careful with our spending. In the future we’ll continue to seek new sources of funding and work on further developing our donors, sponsor and fundraising activities.

RC: Final words?

IC: There seems to be a clear disconnect between what we do as an active sector in our province and how the government sees us. Every other industry sector receives massive support through tax incentives, fees, subsidies and other support. We are having this support torn away. This support was already minuscule in size and yet we have been able to leverage into a vibrant and active arts and cultural scene in our province that outperformed every other sector in the economic downturn. Now that we’ve had the much needed support of our province taken away, it seems highly likely that we will start to lose companies, artists and a great deal of cultural vibrancy from our communities. Just like recreation centres and public swimming pools which are subsidized to make them accessible and affordable to the general public, arts and culture requires support and subsidy to make it’s activities available to the widest possible audience. These cuts will take away that possibility and leave our communities the poorer for it.

RC: Thanks, Ian!

In Wednesday’s Part 2 of the series, an interview with David Jordan, ED of the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

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The Decision Tree July 14, 2010

Filed under: Future planning,interview — Rebecca Coleman @ 8:22 am

Sometimes you have to make decisions about your career and your life that can be really difficult and overwhelming. Today, I talk to Carol Ann Fried, a trainer and coach, about a tool called The Decision Tree.

Click here to download the Priortizing Grid

Click here to download the Decision Tree

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Mooooom! I’m bored. June 16, 2010

I few months back, I discovered this new event listing website. As a publicist, I am always looking for new places to flog my client’s shows, so I was pretty excited about this. Then, at a trade show I was doing publicity for in April, I met the gal who started the site, and she’s pretty cool, so I thought I’d introduce her to you.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Anastasia Koutalianos.

RC: Why did you start Nadatodo?

AK: I started www.nadatodo.com out of frustration. I moved back to Vancouver in 2003 and felt like I was out of loop on things to do. Once you’re out of the club scene (which is pretty in-your-face), what does the city have to offer in terms of creative, entertaining events, that are off the beaten track? I had the idea a few years back. While in Montreal over the summer things came together and the vision became reality. Met with some designers (www.elliot-elliot.com) and came up with the look and away it went. Aimed to have it online before the Olympics. Come November 29, 2009, and the site went live. Over time, the site has morphed into more than an event calendar. I also plan and promote (marketing, PR etc.) events involved in the arts. Giving back and getting a ton in return! Ah, job satisfaction.

RC: What is your background?

AK: Pretty diverse I guess. I studied French literature, and History and Political Science at the University of Toronto. Have dabbled in historical research (former Indian Residential School claims), French to English translation, magazine editing and writing, organic farming (my family imports olive oil), marketing, sales, PR, design, taught ESL. Have a cookbook coming out in September (@frmtheolivegrov). A little bit of everything, which has helped with http://www.nadatodo.com .

RC: What is the purpose of the website?

AK: The site serves two communities: the event seeker and the event promoter. With the price of print advertising being so high, it’s a great way to get the word out on any event in the city (play, festival, show, talk, performance)… and for FREE! My goal is for http://www.nadatodo.com to be a one-stop shop for things to do. The site was designed with that in mind. Put all possible events on one site. Pretty simple. That way there can be no more “no fun city” talk in Vancouver. 🙂

RC: If I have an event I am promoting, how can I get it featured on Nadatodo?

AK: Nadadtodo.com is a user-content site. Know of an event that’s not posted? Add it. Got an event you’re promoting? Post it. The more the merrier. Quirky, uptight, too loose, creative, entertaining, boring… whatever and whenever. The purpose of the site is for people to know EVERYTHING that’s going on in town, and to pick and choose where they want to be on any given day or night. Choice is lovely! Simply go to http://www.nadatodo.com , click “Post Event”, register with a valid email and password and you’re good to go. Also, don’t forget you can upload video, pics and comments from any event you’ve attended. Once it’s passed, go to “Past Events” and upload; no registration needed. It’s about sharing, and presenting your events to a wider audience. If something fun crosses my path, I’m quick to let others know. I would love it if people did the same. Plus it’s summertime. No better time to connect and get connected.

Thanks, Stasia!

And the rest of you: no more excuses. There is no longer any such thing as “Nadatodo.”

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