5 With: Amanda Lovelee

March 26, 2015

I'm really excited about the art made by Amanda Lovelee! She works conceptually in a variety of mediums, creating events, spaces and physical structures. You might know her name from her piece, Balancing Ground, which won the Creative City Challenge last summer. I've been particularly excited by her participatory event-based pieces. For instance, It's Always Someones Birthday, which brought people together to enjoy cake and write birthday cards for a local nursing home, and Call and Answer Project, which used square dancing to encourage hand holding and physical connection. Here she discusses how parenthood has changed her practice, her path towards the work she makes now, and the challenges of having an art-related job. Thanks, Amanda! 

Describe your current creative work and how you came to make it:
My current work focuses on creating spaces and tools for gathering. I am interested in reimagining how we use public space. The mediums that I use shift depending on the project: some pieces are event based, and others physical structures. I am constantly asking questions, researching the world around me, and testing my hypothesis in the form of projects. I really hope that over time my work creates genuine connections between people.  

I started my artistic career as a photographer and spent my time in graduate school focusing on media installations. I have always been interested in people's relationship to each other, the environment, and play. I know these things sound disjointed (and at times my work can look that way), but conceptually I just want to weave connections between people, build a utopic society, help the environment, and tackle these large ideas in playful and engaging ways. 

I have gotten to this point in my career through building relationships, moving slow while making a lot, dreaming large while embracing the possibility of failure, and with the help of many amazing people. I sometimes wish there was a more direct route to being an artist, but I'm also so grateful for all the steps that have grown the work I now make. Most importantly, I do not give up easily and work really hard and maybe too much. 

What are your biggest creative challenges?
Time. I feel like I am constantly thinking up ideas but there is not enough time where I can focus on developing them. I try to sort out a few and then start applying for grants. Whatever gets funded gets built. That process is slow and shoved between working and raising my son. I dream of a month away from packing lunches, washing clothing, writing emails, and applying to things-- which makes me think I need to make time to apply to a residency. I have also been amazed at how my son has slowed down my practice, while making it tighter in a good way. I am bolder, more vulnerable, and have no time to waste. I think I just really miss the time to daydream-- not planning, solving or writing, but just being. In the whole tide of life I do try to keep in mind that this is just now. Maybe I will have more time again?

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you?
I try to weave them together, because it was too much mental work for me to silo my life. Now I have a job where I work as an artist. Much of my work is thinking about gathering, public space and play.  I find myself at public playgrounds every day with my son playing. I know I am lucky to have a job that pays my bills and where I get to make my work. Working as a City Artist in Residence is a constant research position as well. 

Before this job, I worked multiple jobs at the same time-- adjunct teaching, babysitting, and assisting other artist. There are advantages to both situations. When I make art as my job, it makes it hard to come home and still want to make work and generate ideas. A great friend once told me you just have to pick what you are going to be good at that day-- you can’t be great at everything every day. 

I left a full time job with benefits in 2008 to get my MFA. It took until this year to have paid sick days, health insurance and a salary close to what I made them. I also now have a large bill from my MFA...

Give some advice: what resources that have been most helpful to you?
+ Travel: Get out and see the world; live in other countries. You will see new things, but you will also see where you come from and yourself in new ways. Make sacrifices and work hard to get the chances to see new places and things!

+ Go see art: I love books, but I have been a museum geek since a young age. I love science museums, history museums, natural history museums and art museums.  

Favorite Museums that shaped me at different points in my life:

What other artists have been inspiring you lately?
+ I have always been in love with Ann Hamilton. Her large, site-specific installation gives voice to a space's history. I really enjoyed hearing here speak at the MIA last year-- her words are just as poetic as her spaces.  

+ The work of Future Farmers is something I have been watching for last few years. I love how each of their projects has so many layers and engages with the community. I am amazed by their project Soil Kitchen!  

+ Other things that I have been reading, looking at and considering are some of the interesting work of landscape architects, architects, urban planners, and environmental scientists. It is exciting to see how different fields think about the building of cities. I have been researching Copenhagen recently and how artist/designers are creating innovative projects that are both atheistically beautiful, but also working toward making the city more eco friendly. I never knew my career would veer towards and civic spin but I am really excited about where it is going!

[Find more about Amanda and her work on her website. Read more 5 With interviews here.]

01/50 a hobby, a project, a something

March 25, 2015

I'm not very good at hobbies. Even cooking, which felt like a pretty safe bet, has been relinquished to Ben (I like it, he loves it-- and now I'm used to having dinner prepared for me every night...which is really nice it turns out.) I like yoga, but is exercise really a hobby? I've also considered drumming lessons, but have yet to act on this in any serious way. Crafts take patience. My plants are all dying, so I think gardening is probably out. 

I love this excerpt from a talk that Molly Wizenberg gave, which I'm sure I've mentioned before. She talks about reasons for blogging-- how it can give space for reinvention and learning to tell our personal story in new ways; how it can force us to show up and do the work, and keep us excited about writing. I like that even though Molly's blog, Orangette, has led to book deals and a stream of restaurant patrons, she still works to keep it something that she writes for herself. I think that's probably the definition of a hobby: something you do largely for yourself

Molly's reasons are many of the reasons I've continued to write, and when I've really dug in, I like what's resulted. Blogging has helped me document projects and interests in hopes of figuring out what I like and what I'm good at, to find a way to start making dances again, and to create community around creative challenges. It's helped me discuss the hard stuff, and then discover that the hard stuff is universal-- it's just often not talked about openly. 

Somehow over time I began to feel less permission to write about what I want to: just because. The voice of self-censorship got louder. Writing felt more like something I should do to improve my business or promote my art or because it was helpful to others, and less because it was something that could help me. And hobbies? I think what makes them great is that they're a gift for ourselves-- we're not doing them for anyone else or out of obligation. 

I've discovered that it's easy to make space in my day for work (bills need to be paid) and easy to make space for things that seem "necessary." You know, I don't forget to make time to brush my teeth or go to the grocery store or even exercise. But, carving out space to do something creative just because I want to seems almost like an indulgence. Except that I know it's not-- it's vital. 

Ben's been working on his podcast. I've been inspired by watching him dive fully into the process, without too much hesitation or over-consideration. (A lot of that is the looming deadline of our spawn's arrival-- if it doesn't happen now, it might not happen for a while. Puts a little fire under the ass!) He's worked on the podcast during work trips and late at night and early in the morning; he's put personal funds into it. He's not doing it to better his business or strengthen his artistic resume or to get noticed-- he's doing it for himself. He's doing it because it's feeding him in some way. Isn't that enough?

What I like about just because endeavors is that they usually require a bit of letting go and a willingness to try something new. We usually don't expect just because ventures to be really GOOD, because that's not the point. As a result, they can lead us to really cool places that we wouldn't have arrived otherwise. 

I'm up for going to cool places and learning to let go and try something new....just because. My life feels like it's changing a lot lately, at least based on what I keep seeing in the mirror and the tiny hand-me-down small clothes that continue to arrive on our porch. I have a feeling that creative endeavors that exist solely to soothe my soul might be more important than ever before. And in that vein, I'm committing to making my next project about writing regularly for me-- not for my career or business or because something might be useful. 50 posts: a nice number. Too many to get precious with the assignment or overly consider what I'm writing; too few to get daunted. These posts can be 3 sentences or 1,000 words, but they're for me. Also: no deadline. I'm not in need of any more of those.

What's your hobby, your project, your something? 

[photo by Steven Cohen for Open Field-- Lydia Liza and I participate in Don't You Feel It Too?]

5 With: Toussaint Morrison

March 19, 2015

When I think of the term ‘creative entrepreneur,’ Toussaint Morrison quickly comes to mind. It’s not that he centers his projects around making money (often quite the opposite), but that he seems to be continually making work and finding ways to push his various projects into the world. He wants people to experience, purchase and share what he makes; audience is a big part of the equation. Anyone who has seen Toussaint perform can attest that he has loads of talent and a captivating presence. But, it's his unapologetic belief in his work that sets him apart-- even with the usual set of doubts and challenges that every artist has. I'm reminded: if we can't get firmly behind what we make, how can we expect others to? 

Describe your creative work and how you came to make it:
I write and create performance art and distribute it online. This includes singing and performing music, acting, rapping, comedy and slam poetry. 

In 1999 I went to go see Bao Phi at the Minnesota Poetry Slam at Kieren’s. I wanted to know how I could do that. Three years later I was on the Minnesota Slam Poetry Team going to nationals, scored in the top 20 in the country and kept progressing after that. I feel like spoken word is my sword. It’s a muscle: if you leave it, it atrophies; if you stick with it, you get better. My technical training is in acting. When I was 12 or 13 I had a big crush on Christina Ricci and wanted to be an actor like her. I started acting with the Brazil Theater Company, and really found my love of Shakespeare. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would love it.

What is your biggest creative challenge?
Self-esteem. When I’m broke as hell, I think very lowly of myself- that I’m a failure. And then I’ll have brilliant moments when I sit down at the coffee shop and write some crazy awesome stuff and think “I don’t need this system; I don’t need money.” So I think the biggest challenge is not equating my funds with my success as an artist.

Right now you're supporting yourself as an actor, but many of your projects aren't as profitable. How do you balance the two?
I recently got hired to do ghost writing [of music] for social media moguls in LA- they pay $500 a song. It’s kinda fun, but not necessarily the work I feel proud of; it’s me writing for someone else. I’ve found very quickly that the work I do isn’t as profitable, but I keep doing it because its what represents me and keeps me going. There’s something authentic about it. Paid work is nice: it’s a means of eating. Creative work is better because it’s a means of breathing. I need to eat, but not as much as I need to breathe. 

A lot of my skill sets can be highly marketable, but it’s up to me to put it out there. I just did two spoken word shows and they were recorded, and then they’re going to be put online. That is huge for me, because there's a big market for spoken word work. 

What resources have been instrumental to your success?
My mother: She let me live with her for 4 years. That was pretty shameful, turning 30 and living with my Mom, but I made 5 mixed tapes over the course of that time, and would not have been able to make those without living with her. And doing those mixed tapes, I was able to say to myself “ok Toussaint- if you had the world within your reach, what would you write? what would you say?” So I wrote my ass off and traveled and did whatever I could. 

+ Serving tables: Getting a job like that every now and then is really helpful.

+ Having product online and learning wordpress: I've made thousands of important dollars that pay my bills because people buy my products online. I learned Big Cartel and Wordpress and built all 3 of my websites. They look great. Without Wordpress, there would be no professional representation of what I do. Using Bandcamp has also been huge for me-- it's f'ing cool and the user experience is so crisp. I made $200 off of a blend album in 2 days because it’s so functional. 

What are a few other creative entrepreneurs that you’re excited about?
+ Cecil Otter: I'm fascinated by the lack of work he puts out. He has Guns ‘N Roses syndrome and then bartends and I find that interesting.

+ Drake and Justin TimberlakeIt’s not them, it’s their production. Drake has a guy named 40 [Noah Shebib] who does his production. Justin Timberlake’s production team is called The Wise. 

+ Mike Nelson: He's a director I work with. He’s a young Quentin Tarantino. He's specific, knows what he likes, knows what he wants. Just his vision and what he does-- I’m constantly baffled in the best way possible. 

+ Ice Cube and Aerosmith have always been near and dear to my heart.

Find more of Toussaint online: 

Find 21 other 5 With mini interviews here


March 13, 2015

The sunshine brought great productivity our way this week! Now to push through and get to our weekend tax party. Here are some things that we've been making + doing:

  • A new business website! We're really excited to be able to share updated work samples and content. Our business has shifted a lot since we made our old website in the fall of 2012, and this site (hopefully) captures what we do much more accurately. 
  • Some blog organization: I updated the 'about' page with a list of favorite posts on creative entrepreneurship, AND a list of some of my favorite books for artistic stuck-ness. 
  • A podcast! This is Ben's new project, and it launches really soon. There are fewer things more awesome than seeing your partner really excited about something. Also: it's going to be great.
  • Discussions: Tomorrow marks the beginning of the third trimester of my pregnancy, so all of our projects and ideas feel very time sensitive. It's probably a good thing-- get 'er done! It also means that we spend most of our free time having Very Productive Conversations. Sometimes I would like to take a break, go to our neighborhood watering hole for a beer and only discuss things like whatever episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt we're on. Which is probably why I cried when we left Puerto Rico-- I have a bad case of adulthood avoidance going on. Which is why I need a hobby that doesn't involve our business, art making or reading birthing books. One big topic of discussion is how to work from a tiny home with a new baby. Right now Ben and I both work from home. If you have opinions on this or experience with working from home with a child, I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm guessing we will need to get an office.
Eat some spring foods! Drink an iced coffee! (Better yet, drink a gin & tonic and tell me all about how great it was. Really.)

Do it, Do it

March 9, 2015

Yesterday the thaw hit, and I'm crossing fingers that its the real deal. You can just feel the collective joy of Minnesotans everywhere! Special bonus brought by an early thaw? All the energy. I hope you feel it, too. I chose 'motion' for a word this year in hopes of inviting the energy to do all the things (with breaks for walks and a 20-minute nap), at least for the first half of this year. Let's make big things happen this week-- it feels so good

Also: big things often involve just a small move-- writing an email, setting aside 20 minutes a day, approaching a potential collaborator, breaking down the big project into small steps and then acting. It's the small stuff that pays off in the end. And once you'll start, the momentum will carry you. Write me an email and tell me what you're working on. I'll share what I'm cooking up soon (not just this watermelon).

The Longest Shortest Time

February 27, 2015

This winter has been pretty tame for Minnesota, but I'm far less tolerant than I was during last winter's infamous awfulness. Maybe it's that last winter was full of distractions - moving and starting a new job and Small Dances - that prevented me from being able to fixate for more than a few minutes on how cold I was. Or maybe it's that this winter's project, also known as Gestating a Small Human, has made the cold (specifically, its effect on my muscles) and the need to bundle in 6 layers (increasingly challenging as I get larger) more annoying. This is why I've escaped to the tropics. Last July, when Ben suggested we plan a winter getaway, I shrugged off the idea. That's the trouble with July in Minnesota: you forget about February, the longest shortest time. You forget about how sad and vitamin D deprived everyone looks as you meet their eyes at the grocery store. I'm very glad to be on a break from Minnesota.

There are many different kinds of travelers, which is what I learned when backpacking in Europe with various friends after college. It just so happens that Ben and I are the same kind of traveler. We opt for wandering neighborhoods and sitting at coffee shops and bars in favor of most of the typical tourist spots. We like a nice mix of energetic activities and chilling out on our itinerary, and just a touch of structure. Mostly we walk and eat and hunker down in our Air B & B to rest. Eating in this island town is slightly tricky, because restaurants close whenever they like (and regularly go out of business). Also, there aren't any legible street names, so finding some great place that you've heard about is hard unless you are good at following landmarks. That's ok- sometimes its more fun to grill up your own tacos and stare out at the sad, sad view from your one-room cabin that is bright blue skies and turquoise waves and palm trees. You know: a touch rustic, but with wi-fi (the delightfully irregular kind that makes communication with the outside world feel very optional.)

I like to think that I'm the best version of myself when I travel: spontaneous, anxiety-free, positive and easily delighted by the smallest things. I'm more present, and when I'm not I'm musing over the big picture life things that get shelved during the day-to-day. It's a big perspective check, easier when the lists disappear and you're in a place where no one knows your name. I can generally feel just as at home on an island as I do in my small house in Minnesota, and when I return to the latter, everything feels like a clean slate. 

Perspective is something that I've particularly craved in the last month. It takes 40 weeks (well, technically 36 by the time you know you're pregnant?) to bake a small human, which is simultaneously forever and no time at all. It seems evolutionarily brilliant that a million small changes happen along the way to this big change. In the first few months I slowed way the heck down out of necessity for maybe the first time in my adult life, which felt like a pretty shocking (and surprisingly awesome) change. Now I'm back functioning at mostly full speed, but I've found myself with this strange body that I hardly recognize in the mirror, that moves totally differently. (Also: what does a person do with this much boob?) On one hand, I'm totally impressed with my body's ability to know what to do and where to put things-- to make these dozens of tiny changes. On the other hand, I find myself in moments where I feel completely confused: wait a second, where did the old boobs go? I was kind of fond of them! Or at least familiar with them. And I'm used to knowing if a pain is a stomach growl or something I should be alarmed about. And used to knowing approximately how much food I can eat in order to feel comfortably full, with enough space to still easily walk. Everything is a little bit different. More so every day, and my sensitive self goes back and forth-- one minute fully embracing each change with pride, and the next feeling awkward and concerned. It's like puberty all over again! LUCKILY (says my inner self-help guru), I have the next 14-ish weeks to learn to flex and stay open to both the goodness and challenge, because I hear this is a skill I might need to hone. 

This all might sound ungrateful or at least persnickity, but it has little to do with my excitement for this new chapter or any kind of ambivalence I feel about parenthood or this very conscious decision to have a child; that's not the issue. I'm always like this when it comes to change: I equally crave it, love it and am challenged by the growth and stretching it requires (ha- literally this time). I'm too emo and sensitive to handle it all. I mean, Ben and I are the kind of people who get nostalgic for a meal we cooked last week. Throw a big transition into the mix and we feel all the feels (and then promptly change something else- because we can't get enough or something).

Strangely, when I think of the small human (who I refer to as "The Passenger") being here in the flesh or the big labor rally it necessitates, I feel surprisingly calm and even reassured. I am stoked to confirm that it's a person, and not the reptilian creature its movement often resembles. I'm looking forward to dozens of sentimental things that I will save for listing in my diary, other than to share one: Ben, who's adopted, has never seen someone who shares his DNA. And how cool will that be to watch? I'm saving up my tear stash as best I can.

I'm also saving up my stash of ocean zen, sleep and uninterrupted quiet. I hear they might be in short supply. Meanwhile we've almost made it to March. Nice work, winter troupers. 

5 With: Scott Artley

February 11, 2015

In these interviews it’s felt important to gather a group of people for whom the words “artist” or “creative” or “freelancer” mean different things, and people who have various relationships between their creative work and their income stream. I'm really happy to introduce Scott Artley and his awesome work as a curator and artist organizer, who talks about approaching administrative and curatorial work as part of his artistic practice, and making art is less traditional forms than, say, a painting or monologue. We're downright lucky to have great people spearheading artistic programs that strengthen our communities here in the Twin Cities, and Scott is certainly one of them. 

Describe your current creative work and what drives it or inspires you. How did you get to this place in your career? 
My background is in theater, but I would say that I'm a dabbler at heart. In simplest terms, I'm a curator and cultural producer. I'm very focused on process and on identifying the assets of an artist or a community, and shaping those assets into some tangible reality. I'm the Performing Arts Curator for Patrick's Cabaret, where I develop curatorial platforms to present artists working on the edge of culture, whether because of radical content, experimental form, or cultural marginality. I also own an independent creative consulting practice where I unite my background in nonprofit management and community arts entrepreneurship. Everything I do is united under a desire to support community-driven creativity. 

What are your biggest creative challenges?
I've struggled with the idea that I'm not really an "artist" in the traditional sense. My strengths are in organizing people and processes, and those are skills more commonly attributed to administrators. But I have increasingly accepted that being a "creative" is less about the form that your work takes and more about the way in which you do it. In my case, the way I do my work augments those around me, however they need it, and that is an intensely creative role. It's satisfying and full of rewards, but sometimes it's a challenge to reconcile that doing my work really well means making my contributions seemingly invisible while someone else gets the acclaim. In the end, I struggle with my own ego more than I'd like to admit.

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you? 
My administrative and consulting work is what really pays the bills, but my creative activity feeds my ability to approach that work with intelligence and insight. I regularly engage in projects that I know will produce little or no financial impact because I know that it's valuable for me and/or my community. When you do something with passion that improves people's lives, that's the kind of magic that you can't buy. So even when my shoestring projects are full of mistakes and don't look as great as my original vision, it's the impact on people that matters and what they remember. When you divorce creative activity from money it lets you do the stuff that's more interesting, and the more interesting stuff is what makes you gain a reputation for producing something of value. That said, there comes a point where you have to declare what that value is--and sometimes that means walking away from creative projects that aren't netting the opportunities or connections you need them to produce. I'll also point out that the only way being so opportunistic is plausible is that I work all the time: a typical week is 50-60 hours, with about 20-40 actually generating income. Finding balance there is something I've never successfully achieved.

Give some advice: what resources have been helpful to you? 
I was at a gathering once where Peter Howard, co-founder of Cornerstone Theater Company, which does process-oriented plays created in partnership with communities, was asked how he measures quality in his work. He paused, and said that he knows he's doing good work when he's uncomfortable--that if he's doing it right, he should always be steeped in the unfamiliar. That, more than anything, has guided my own work.

What local artists are inspiring/exciting you right now?
I am endlessly inspired by the folks organizing local movements around racial justice right now, specifically the Black Lives Matter and Million Artists movements. The most interesting theater is happening in the streets, and there's a lot to be learned there.

[Find out more about Scott's work via his consulting website or LinkedIn or company Facebook page. Find more 5 With interviews here.]

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