In these turbulent economic times, there’s been a lot of discussion about new models of funding for artists, and better ways to organize institutions so they can better serve the artists, and not themselves. Most discussions on this have approached the problem as if art and business are distinct entities, and their relationship is (mostly) adversarial. Rarely do you find someone advocating inserting more business language into the creation of art—yet that’s exactly what Manuel Zarate and the HBMG Foundation try to do.Creativity in Capitalism
Primarily funded by Zarate’s technology corporation, HMBG, Inc., the HBMG Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Austin, Texas. The original goal of the Foundation was to “focus on the support and development of creativity and collaboration in all artistic disciplines.” And when they say “all artistic disciplines,” they mean it—Zarate likes to call artists “creative entrepreneurs.” Conversely, he sees tremendous creativity in successful businessmen.
“We don’t view creativity as being the exclusive property of the arts,” Zarate says. Through its programs, the Foundation strives to use non-linear methods to create advantageous connections between business and art—while empowering artists and institutions to do the same, breaking them of the grant/donation habit. “I started thinking there’s got to be a better way for non-profit theatre organization to secure its funds other than having to go out there and beg,” Zarate says, talking about what moved him to start the Foundation.
“There was a CEO of a nanotechnology company that also happened to be a painter and he was incorporating nanotechnology into his painting,” Zarate explains. “And it was exquisite. It was making people gasp.”
The Foundation then partnered with the Austin Museum of Art to host the exhibition. At first the museum was reticent, as they didn’t know what the response would be. It turned out to be one of the most successful first-time events they’ve ever run; plans are in the work to do it again, and perhaps expand it to other cities. “It exposed the museum to a whole level of a community that they’d been trying to get to, to break through in a simple methodology—and now the community’s saying ‘Hey, we like this, we want to do this again,’” Zarate notes.
Zarate’s larger point is that people will give money to causes they believe in and can be seen as directly impacting them. Loyal theatre lovers will always give money to theatres. But by creating an event that celebrates and promotes businesses, the Foundation was able to give something directly to those businesses, who now view the non-profit as having a direct impact on their success. “The conversation changes,” says Zarate. “They look at us, the Foundation side, and say ‘Well, wait a minute—you’re basically trying to help my business. You’re trying to help my exposure of my business. Dang. So, wait a minute, how do I make sure you continue doing this?’ And I think that you can see how the conversation goes after that.”
Management staff probably have an easier time accepting the idea of traveling in business circles to fund artistic endeavors— but trying to get artists to wrap their head around that idea is a different conversation. To help that conversation along, Zarate and the Foundation started the ArtSpark Festival.
Originally an eight-week new-play competition the Fest has grown in recent years to encompass more disciplines—music, visual art, video game design and marketing (yes, marketing). Teams of artists (who can apply as a team or individually) are given a “spark” at the beginning of the process (a previously existing piece of art, or a partnership with a local business) and asked to create a fully-realized work based on that spark by the end of the program. Last year the HBMG Foundation awarded $15,000 in prizes to the two winning Creative Teams.
This year the Festival will be longer than ever—17 weeks—and add the disciplines of dance, film and entrepreneurship.
“Artists have been creative entrepreneurs for centuries. They’ve just never thought of themselves in those terms,” Zarate says. “Some of these individuals that come in and view themselves strictly as artists, as they go through the ArtSpark program, they begin to realize that they have value beyond just what they perceived of themselves. In other words, they don’t have to be working at a restaurant.”
By teaching artists what their skill sets are, and how to talk about them in business terms, they gradually let artists realize more of their own value—they no longer view themselves solely through the lens of a society that doesn’t value art. In a counterintuitive way, teaching artists how their art is vital to business allows artists to claim more control of their own artistic work.
The ArtSpark Festival includes courses on intellectual property, project management, time management, financial management, fund raising and marketing. The increased length of the Festival this year will give more time for artists to get used to the new tools and language and will enable the Foundation to offer more classes than just “Marketing 101.”
But make no mistake, the focus of the Festival is the creation of new vital, work. Teams are given an office space and equipment to work with during the Fest as well as their own rehearsal space, all available 24/7. Teams are required to produce a fully-realized show by the end of the Fest, with a few limitations.
The Festival is open to artists from places other than Austin, but Zarate would rather partner with them to start an ArtSpark Festival in their own community.
“The ArtSpark Festival is really about how artists can become known in their community,” says Zarate.
And it’s paramount in this philosophy for artists to be engaged with their community—it’s the only way to know how to give them what they need, so the community sees the artists as valuable, and supports them.
|< Prev Article||Next Article >|