13 December 2012

How To

These words are not mine. Well, these words are, sure, of course. But the ones below? The ones in quotes? Those ain't. They're very, very good words of advice about 1. sustaining an organization (an arts organization, in particular), and 2. integrating with a community in a meaningful way. These words, this "How To," if you will, come from Ms. Natalie Brown of Alternacirque and Delirium Tribal Bellydance fame.

I first became aware of Natalie and Anternacirque when high school chum Kate Fox noticed she had two friends (at least) through Facebook who posted pictures of themselves doing things in crazy circus contexts. Since that time I've watched Alternacirque flourish, so much so that it's made me wish I lived a little closer. Today, Natalie was inspired to leave a lengthy post on Facebook about their success, and graciously permitted me to quote it.

This is it, in its entirety, with no editing on my part. Down with form letters, emails and phone calls...

"I seem to be having the same conversation over and over with various people about Alternacirque, Delirium, and our success among the muggle population. And it's pretty basic stuff, really: go invest in your community and they will invest in you.

"And I don't mean send out a bunch of form newsletters or emails or phone calls. Go out and actually shake their hands and put your business cards in them. Go see art gallery openings. Go see shows. Go attend festivals as a spectator and strike up conversations with people holding clipboards or badges. Go to mayoral political debates (especially if they're having one centered around the arts), stick around for the rope line, and then go have a drink with everyone around you to analyze the candidates. Know what your legislators look like, so when you pass them on the street, or they come through your line at the coffee shop, or you're standing behind them in line at the coffee shop, you can tell them what you think or what you need. Know their right and left hand henchpeople, too. When you meet them, get their cellphone numbers. Ask to go to lunch and pick people's brains. Go hang out where other artists, producers, entrepreneurs and people with power and resources drink, and drink with them. Go see the ballet, and local theater, and take the playbill home and friend every single name in it on facebook, from the cast to the stage crew to the marketing department down to the interns. Know the name of everyone working at your local arts council and state arts commission. Do enough research to know which of those organizations are fairly useless and which actually care. Keep up enough to know when things turn over and they might start being useful. Talk about your art passionately. Listen equally as passionately about their projects. And don't stick with your people. Don't talk to just dancers, or just weirdos, or just artists. Talk to restaurateurs and tech people and the organic/urban food movement in your areas. Share advice and resources as often as you ask for it. Make friends. If your community isn't close-knit, see what you can do to encourage it to be so. As you grow and figure things out, reach down to the kids coming along behind you, and see if you can't make their struggle easier.

"Don't be afraid that people will think you're a freak. A few will. But really, you're probably the most interesting and fascinating person in the room. People would rather hear about what it's like to be a bellydancer than about spreadsheets and conference calls.

"Everyone's town is going to have a different pulse, heartbeat, radio frequency. It's your job to figure out how it functions, and join the flow. You can't do that from your living room. It's much more interesting out there, anyway."

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