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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Charity Meet Artist, Artist Meet Charity. Now Go Change the World.



Working in both the arts and in a charitable non-profit, I’ve come to realize that self-producing artists and non-profits are very much alike. Each has a small but passionate staff (if any at all), each has a lack of basic resources, and each is often strapped for cash.

Frankly, I’m surprised those two entities don’t pair up more often. Both have something the other needs and desires—the biggest is social proof, a principal that Dr. Robert Cialdini writes about in his New York Times Best Selling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

  • Social Proof. People show themselves to more willing to take a suggested action if they see evidence that others are taking that same action. A charitable organization looking to replenish their older donor base with a younger one might try to align themselves with a hip, new artist. If hip, new artist endorses the charitable organization, then the organization can use that endorsement as social proof in marketing materials and will be more successful in bringing in younger donors. On the other side of it perhaps the hip, new artist is looking to reach a new, older demographic with the impending release of their newest studio album. Charitable organization happens to have a constituency base that reaches some of that desired demographic. By endorsing and playing a concert for charitable organization; hip, new artist gets its own endorsement from the older crowd they wished for and can use this to show other groups of older audiences that their music is worthwhile and enjoyable.  Charitable organization and hip, new artist both create a buzz around their respective work and they both win. 

For charities, a supportive artist can be a dance troupe, a semi-famous actor, a writer, a painter, a sculptor, a chef, or a aerialist.

For artists, your alliance with a charity can pulled directly from the relevance in a theme in your work, or you can choose to ally yourself based on a personal passion. 

A lack of fame does not preclude either the charity or the artist from offering themselves as a partner. However, the further down on the proverbial totem pole you are, the more difficult it can be to get an organization or an artist to pay attention to you. But don’t be deterred. As long as you’re doing great work, your heart is in the right place, and persistence is an active component of your mission statement; you will be rewarded with some semblance of success for your efforts.

Artists looking to align with organizations,find out which charitable organization your friends and family support. Do any of them have sway inside of the organization? If you’re looking to get involved on a deeper level, you can look at www.boardassist.org, or www.boardnetusa.org—two organizations designed to help emerging leaders find a board of directors with which to serve on.

Charities should start locally with their pursuit of an artist alliance and then branch out globally. A dance troupe, a local actor, a writer. Set up Google alerts for people talking about your cause, specifically celebrities. Reach out to their agent or publicist with a well-crafted pitch. Hope for the best, and plan for the worst. Rinse and repeat.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The i'Mpossible Project …According to Natasha Shapiro (37)


This is the thirty-seventh edition of The i’Mpossible Project: A series where anyone can share a personal story of inspiration or an event in life where they overcame tremendous odds. Everyone has a powerful story to tell and something to teach the world. (See HERE for guidelines on how you can write for The i’Mpossible Project.) Here we have Natasha Shapiro with A Calling or a Choice?
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A Calling or A Choice?

This has always been a thought provoking question for me: Is the identity of the Visual Artist a "Calling" or a "Choice”? Do you make a thought out conscious decision: “I want to become an artist”, or do you figure it out as part of who you are: “I am an artist.”? The first concept is more intellectualized, and the other more intuitive. To me, the question “who are you?” has, since I found out I was an artist, involved the answer, “I am an artist.” It has become a fundamental part of my concept of “Self” and thus not a choice, but indeed, a calling.

In actuality, my road to becoming an artist was quite circuitous, unusual, and involved a lot of synchronicity. Unlike many artists who early on knew they liked drawing and painting and got praise for it, I stopped drawing at around age 7.

As a child, I did not have any particular ambitions or notions of career at all. I just knew I didn't want to be a lawyer like the rest of the family. I was in a position of defining myself through "not me”. In high school, I enjoyed acting and creative writing, also photography and Latin. I also loved reading fiction and learning languages but did not feel drawn to a particular field. In college, I chose my “concentration” (same thing as “major”) based on wanting to learn to speak Russian and liking Russian literature. I had no desire to use my knowledge of Russian language and its poetry and novels to do anything. 

In my second year of college, I had a few life changing experiences that kind of collided or coincided in several “epiphanies”. For one, I started going to therapy with the vague idea that it would help me deal with feeling unhappy with myself, insecure, empty and kind of aimless and depressed. At the same time, I decided to take an Introduction to Drawing class taught by Alfred DeCredico, a visiting artist from Rhode Island School of Art and Design. This was very random. By then, choosing classes not in my “concentration” had a sort of impulsive feel. Beginning Drawing involved choosing between very rigid realistic style and this “other” opposite kind of “Zen” approach. Decredico was a big guy with an imposing presence who liked rather than criticizing things to point at something and say, “Why do I like this?” or to shoot down very boring but perfect looking shaded realistic drawings. I walked in with no idea that I could make drawings or other art, not really sure what I was doing there except that I was sick of the typical classes involving words, papers and exams. From day 1, I entered an alternate universe where we were told to find 10 sticks and put them together and bring them to the next class. In the next class, big paper and dark black ink was passed around and we were instructed to make drawings using our sticks creations as the “brushes”. Wow. I had no idea this was something you could spend a couple of hours doing at an Ivy League University where everything seemed to involve competition and way too much thinking. The class was like an art therapy experience for me. I had no idea what was going on or what I was doing or even why, but I was really enjoying it and something in me seemed to be awakened.

I ended that class with encouragement from the teacher and one of the teacher’s grad student assistants; it matched what I was learning from my first real therapy experience, that maybe my life long interest in wearing bright colors and strange clothes and dying my hair every color for “visual” attention had more to do with some inner desire to be an artist that I was totally out of touch with than just being “loud”. I never had the feeling before of someone looking at a picture I made and saying that it was good. My therapist helped me discover my artist self and also give myself permission to think of myself as an artist. At the end of that second year, I went to take my year off from college, toting a sketchbook everywhere with me and making lots of awful garish drawings mostly of ghoulish faces and abstract scribbles. Doing all this art on my own was actually also an epiphany for me, as I realized that I got something out of it that nothing else in my life had given me thus far: the feeling of filling myself in some soul directed way and realizing there was something in me I had never before come so close to and felt that it was completely mine. No matter what these drawings looked like, and it did not really matter, nobody could take this away from me. This was the beginning of the next 25 or so years of my life as an artist, from then to now, of making marks on paper and other kinds of creations, of having a daily habit, somewhere between an addiction, a primal need and some sort of soulful “medication” as well as a form of meditation… I have kept up my “sketchbook/journals” ever since.

Probably this time off was the transitional period where the work in therapy helped me realize and “hear” my calling to be an artist: the beginning of a lifelong quest and discovery of what I wanted to make, what I was drawn to making, what I was compelled to make, that continues to this day, as I work on a large watercolor quilt, a graphic novel, a handful of altered books, small detailed black and white drawings and mixed media dolls in different sizes.

Natasha’s websites:
Art Therapy website: http://tribecahealingarts.com
Facebook Art Therapy Page: http://www.facebook.com/TribecaHealingArt
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Why is this "The i’Mpossible Project?" 
Inspired by Josh Rivedal's book and one-man show The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah. Gospel (non-religious) means "Good News" and Josh's good news is that he's alive, and thriving, able to tell his story and help other people.

On his international tour with his one-man show, he found incredible people who felt voiceless or worthless yet who were outstanding people with important personal stories waiting to be told. These personal stories changed his life and the life of the storyteller for the better. 

Josh's one-man show continues through 2015 and beyond and he is looking for people in all walks of life, online and offline, to help give them a voice and share their stories with the world.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sneak Peek #6 From (the book version of) The Gospel According to Josh: A 28 Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah


Hey hey hey, 

So this is probably one of the last two sneak peeks into the book before it's September release. This is right after I receive a small inheritance from my father after he's passed. I hope you enjoy!!

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Billy Rae’s Famous American Meth Lab

Every so often during my daily fantasy about winning the lottery, I wonder if the people who’ve actually won big money are significantly happier after hitting their lucky payday. Each of the major television networks has done their own version of “The Lotto: A Special Interest Story” about some interchangeable idiot named Billy Rae Jinkins who won hundreds of millions of dollars playing the Powerball only to go bankrupt in ten months after blowing all of his winnings on lavish trips to Burger King, his needy neighbors, his brother’s girlfriend’s uncle’s autistic cousin, ten Porsches, a gold plated Hello Kitty toilet, and an Olympic sized swimming pool in the shape of Telly Savalas’ head. 

Billy Rae, now destitute, ends up selling his only granddaughter into slavery so he can keep up with his diabetes medication. Subsequently, he opens a Meth Lab with the very last of his cash only to get busted by the Feds and then thrown in jail. In his exclusive prison interview with Diane Sawyer, Billy Rae stifles back tears and with great conviction says, “I’ve never been more miserable. Dagnabbit, I wish I’d never bought that winning lotto ticket!” 

In the days and weeks following the settlement of my father’s estate, I was feeling a little like Billy Rae after winning my own $60,000 Powerball (minus the Hello Kitty toilet, of course). After dividing up my father’s things, including his money, I thought his death and the direction of my life might actually start to make a little sense. But having this money was like a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over my head. Was I supposed to spend this money or get rid of it? This financial endowment was the only remotely positive memory I had of him that didn’t involve his lack of social graces or one his many famous pratfalls due his partial blindness.    

This money was the nicest gift my father had ever given me outside of not aborting me, feeding me, and occasionally throwing a football around with my younger self. He could have left everything to the church or some right-wing militant Christian organization, but instead he chose to give me something that didn’t come with a card signed by my mother, who had carelessly forged his signature. 
This conundrum of what to do with my money had me leafing through my Bible for the first time in over a decade. I was reminded of the Biblical Parable of the Talents as told by Jesus (the Jewish carpenter of yore, not the Dominican baseball player). 

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Thanks for reading!! And as always feedback is welcome :)


-SeƱor Josh




Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Interview in Progress...Well, Kinda :)


Friends, loyal readers, well-wishers; you loving and supportive bunch—this week I did an interview for "Underneath This" a blog by University of New Hampshire psychologist Sean "Sem" Moundas. He asked me a few questions on the GATJ, arts, and social activism...and I willingly obliged (come on, I love to talk). 
Thanks for reading and next week we go back to our regularly scheduled program...we're due for something funny. Stay tuned :)
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Please describe your path to becoming an artist and educator.
My desire to work professionally as an artist came first. I’ve been singing since six years old, and television practically raised me. Initially, music and acting were used as an escape from an undesirable childhood and poor self-esteem. When I started to work professionally in music and theater at the age of 19, I enjoyed the creative process behind what I was doing. Playwriting soon followed because I wanted to be more in control of the finality of the creative process. Being an educator came much later, but it was a natural progression. Teaching and engaging with the student is an art in itself. I use theater to educate on suicide prevention, mental wellness, bullying, and black history. I also educate arts professionals on how to manage their careers as a business. The way I educate is a perfect amalgamation of my interests: sociology, writing, performing, teaching, social responsibility, business, and marketing.
What has it been like performing such personal and emotionally vulnerable experiences in the “Gospel According to Josh?”
It’s been one of the best experiences of my life. The show and everything surrounding it has given me so much. I wrote the piece over a six month period, in 2009-10, only a few months after my father’s suicide. It helped transform me as performer, writer, and person. I think you might be asking if it’s been difficult to perform on a consistent basis, a show that includes my father’s death. This is a question that I get a lot. I would say, in general, the piece is difficult to perform because it’s me on stage for more than sixty minutes, I’m playing 30 characters, and the mood of the play ranges from poignant to comedic to perseverant.
How have audiences (family and friends included) reacted to your performance?
Have there been any surprises (in any direction)? The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Family was difficult to perform for because the story is so personal. They have different opinions than I do on the subject matter and if we were all playwrights, we’d each have a different play. However, they were very supportive of my work. The press reviews have also been favorable. Surprises? My old self may have been surprised that so many people have come out of the woodwork to help me get the word out about the show and spread its message. But in my current mindset, I believe that I’ve manifested the goodwill and support from others by working hard at my art, but more so being someone who actively works to help others without keeping score. It’s a delicate karmic balance that I don’t wish to interrupt or jinx by calling too much attention to it.

How has it been working on the book version of the” Gospel According to Josh?”
Put simply, it’s been the bomb. The book is being published in September 2013 and at that point I’ll have been working on the project for twenty months. I’ve grown so much as a writer while putting this piece together. Four of the book’s first five chapters are similar to the play but the final fifteen chapters go further and expound deeper. I’ve read so much fiction, other memoirs, and a bit of non-fiction as well which has helped me develop my unique style. There are a few things done in this book (i.e. using the fragments of one’s mind and conscience as a set of three comedic and mercurial voices on the page) that I’ve never seen done before. I’ve also come to a resolution on some of the personal matters discussed throughout. I’m a better person because of this book, and I think people who read it will feel the same way (and will find it entertaining as well).
In what ways do your different identities affect your work?
These days, I always want to have an idea of what will sell. If one creates art in a forest and no one is around to see/hear it, is it truly art? If I create something—whether I’m writing or producing a play, musical, or book—I want to know if a sizable amount of people will enjoy it. I’m a professional and I need to make some sort of living at my craft. Otherwise, it’s a hobby, and there is definitely a place in the world for that, but not right now for me. I also try to incorporate some sort of message or overarching societal issue as a theme to anything I write (even if it’s on a small scale). And I try to include a philanthropic or charitable angle when I’m producing a piece of work. It’s always a good idea to align with an exceptional cause.
I commend you for becoming involved in youth suicide prevention. How do you balance humor with more serious messages in this context?
You can’t be flippant about the actual causes and effects of suicide. The humor involved in the work I do generally involves self-deprecation (unrelated to suicide) and waxing philosophic on themes that have permeated my life that other people can relate to. Using humor this way is a carrot of sorts to string along the casual social activist and those who wouldn’t otherwise be involved in suicide prevention. Another point—everyone deals with grief in different ways: desolation, isolation, and even comedy. I, personally try to diffuse difficult situations in my life with humor. That’s my process.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Work harder than you think you’re able to achieve what you want. Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you. Be willing to make certain sacrifices to ensure your success. Be open to constructive criticism without taking offense. Know what success looks like to you. Have clear-cut goals and set deadlines. You may not always meet your deadlines but setting timelines will help you achieve more than you would have otherwise. Learn something about how to market yourself and your work. Be persistent. Be willing to pivot, i.e., if you’re not achieving the level of success you desire, use the skill set you’ve acquired as an artist to find equally challenging and creative employment. Be trustworthy. Follow through on your word always. If you make a mistake, apologize and rectify it. Think about long-term relationships over shortcuts. Be on time. Ask others how you can help them and do it often. Network in and outside of the arts. Be a voracious learner. Read often. Take breaks—Rome wasn’t built in a day.
On what other writing projects are you working?
I’m currently working on writing the book (script), additional lyrics, and some music on a new farcical Spanish language musical Rescatando la Navidad, playing Miami, Florida and Austin, Texas for a five week tour during Christmas 2013. I’m also co-writing a play with music tentatively titled Following the Drinking Gourd which will make its premiere in January 2014. I’m also ghost writing on a few smaller projects!
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