5 With: Craig VanDerSchaegen

January 28, 2015

These words from Craig VanDerSchaegen are so inspiring (and full of good resources) that I think we should all read them at least three times for good measure. I recently read this post from Austin Kleon about the trickiness of making a living doing what you love, which I find really accurate. It reminds me of what Craig does so well-- making a living from his creative skills, but still finding plenty of ways to make his art for himself and to stay continually open and curious. Thanks, Craig!

Describe your current creative work and how you came to make this work:
My current work is all over the map, which keeps me from getting bored and burnt out on any one thing. I have a photography studio where I do headshots; I travel for personal/documentary photography; I do web development/consulting and have recently started making music again. 

I was a drummer for most of my life and took up photography while I was a software engineer in my thirties. About 8 years ago my younger brother died of a brain tumor and that plunged me into a deep depression. I did a lot of work to dig my way out because I saw life taken in a blink and knew I had to make the most of mine. From then on I’ve worked for myself and try hard to only do things that energize me.

What's your biggest creative challenge?
My biggest challenge is focus. Having lots of creative outlets is sometimes hard because I feel like I never dive deep enough into any one thing. Because of that, I suffer a little from imposter syndrome, which keeps me from sharing a lot of my work. That’s something I’m working on.

How do you balance making money and time for passion projects?
I’m very fortunate to have a few steady web development clients, and I’ve worked part-time with Minnesota Fringe since I quit my day job. It’s been a wonderful part of my life that got me through the first several years of running a photography business, which were very lean. 

I’m also fortunate that I love headshot photography. It pays and makes me feel good. I love working one-on-one with clients who are as motivated as I am to end the session with a great photo. It’s a nice compliment to my personal photography and web work, which is very solitary.

When I make time to travel, I book shoots to offset the cost of the trip. This works best in Los Angeles, so I go there the most.

Give some advice-- what resources have been helpful to your work and growth?
I’m very into self-care. Three of the consistent things that work for me are exercise, meditation (using the Headspace app) and a mindful diet. That combo really helps with anxiety/stress and I think of it as an investment in my future. Also, going to the gym gives me an excuse to listen to rap music every day, which I’ve been doing since I was 10 and find really inspiring.

I’m also obsessed with podcasts. I subscribe to nearly 30 of them, mostly conversational shows with comedians and photographers. I find lots of value in hearing about how other creatives work and live. I’ll share a list of them in a blog post soon.

Yearly planning is also important. Each January, one of my best friends and I have a “Masterminds” day where we recap the previous year and set out intentions for the coming one. I was resistant the first time, but now look forward to it. It helps so much.

Books: Brené Brown (Daring Greatly) and David DuChemin (A Beautiful Anarchy & How to Feed a Starving Artist). And the first book that flipped a switch in me was The Four Agreements. It might not be for everyone, but it was exactly what I needed several years ago when I was stuck in an anxiety loop.

What’s inspiring you?
I’m working on vulnerability this year, both in sharing my work and in personal relationships. 

There are two big things I’m excited/scared about this year:

1. I’m going through all of my archives and trying to make sense of my personal work and who I am as a photographer, with the goal of creating a new website.

2. I’m starting a personal project working with cancer patients. It will be something long form in a documentary style to help share these patients' stories and inner lives. That’s something that I wished I could have done for my brother, but didn’t have the strength for at the time. I can’t talk about this without noting how much Jim Mortram’s Small Town Inertia project has inspired me to dig in and do meaningful work, even if it’s tough. 

Also, I’ve started taking photos of my dad in a more serious way and have been experimenting with in-camera double exposure. It’s challenging and fun.

[Find more of Craig on his website and tumblr, or on instagram and twitter. Find more 5 With interviews here.]

5 With: Alyssa Baguss

January 21, 2015

A huge perk of working on Open Field was meeting a bunch of new (to me) and awesome artists. Alyssa Baguss regularly collaborates with the Walker's Education and Community Programs department in a range of capacities. For this summer's Open Field, she and printmaker Jenni Undis put together a cursive writing activity that helped us all brush up on artistic terminology-- you could learn and drink a beer and chat with a friend at a picnic table! Oh, the magic of Open Field... Anyway, it was a total treat to work with Alyssa and I'm so happy to share her perspective on making a career as an artist.

Describe your current creative work & what drives it:
My creative work can be split into two fairly equal parts: Full time arts program coordinator at Silverwood Park in St Anthony, Mn and my fine arts practice that involves drawing, works on paper, installation and community engagement projects. The line between these two roles is very blurry as both contain similar themes: nature, art, science and play. Sometimes my work at the park inspires my work in the studio and visa versa. 

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Art making is one of very few things in the world that still consistently makes me happy. Through a series of internships, fantastic professors and a bit of pure chance I ended up in the arts programming world. I’ve always enjoyed strategizing, managing people, learning and engaging the public in creative activities. 

I try to be myself and do what I like. If I do this, I’m usually having a good time and have no trouble with inspiration and motivation. I have some pretty strong interests and I just try to own them: no apologies.

What is your biggest creative challenge?
Time. I never seem to have enough time to do everything that I want to do. I’m a workaholic and always have around 5 – 10 projects or project ideas bouncing around in my head…which can be good and bad. Because I’m a coordinator I am good at maximizing what I can get done in a short period of time, but I feel strongly about giving something my undivided attention-- being a good listener and doing quality work. 

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you? 
I’ll be honest: I don’t balance anything very well. I play as hard as I work, don’t sleep enough and regularly forget to eat. I’m not motivated by money and often find myself engrossed in projects that I’m passionate about that have little to no funding. I’m hustling all of the time to find revenue sources: artwork sales, commissions, teaching gigs, freelance programming, grants and more often than I’d like to admit, not so glamorous art jobs. I do what I can to keep the factory doors open and along the way meet some really amazing people.  

Give some advice: what resources have been helpful to you? 
Other artists are some of my greatest resources! Hang out with people that you admire-- whether it’s their work ethic, artwork, ideas, whatever. I learn so much from my brilliant friends.

What's inspiring you right now? 

Balloons. I have a serious crush right now on hot air balloons. I’m certain my family and friends have reached their thresholds for conversations regarding my love for them. I’m working on a few 2015/16 projects that involve helium balloons and/or hot air balloons. Stay tuned!

[Find more of Alyssa on Twitter and her website. Find all 19 mini interviews over here.]

Move, Then Observe

January 19, 2015

19 days into the year and I've been thinking quite a bit about my word for the year: motion. For starters, it's been about physical activity after a rather sedentary fall. I started regularly back to the gym in December and it was a huge mood booster (no surprise) and energizer. I mostly walk the track at the Y, thinking or listening to podcasts. Then I take a weekly yoga class or two and a Latin dance class (total entertainment since I lack rhythmic nuance) or I go into the studio to improvise. On days when the gym doesn't fit into my schedule (or into our car sharing schedule), I do quick yoga sessions at home. It's all become a good, nearly daily, habit. It's a relief to let my brain wander and rest from projects, and to manufacture some endorphins (HELL YES). And as I've experienced in the past, getting physical activity makes me more productive in other realms of my life...for instance, artistically.

Over the 3 plus years that I've been writing in this space I've been wrestling with how I want art  to fit into my life. In 2011 I was pretty sure I wanted a permanent break from art making-- it was feeling lonely, exhausting and expensive. In late 2012 we had our first Small Art, and I got excited about how these events were creating community, giving artists an opportunity to cross-pollinate audiences and ideas across disciplines-- and how these events required minimal funding/space/technical equipment. This led to making and presenting my own work in a similar way in 2013 and 14. But when I got done with my Small Dances project (March of last year), I was pretty tired of running rehearsals and heading up both the artistic and producer ends of things simultaneously (it sounds like such a great idea to switch venues for each performance, until you're rigging lights and worrying about spacing and sight lines each night, oh and selling tickets..). Open Field was just the break I needed: a chance to focus on presenting other artists, rather than my own artistic work, and (more importantly) an opportunity to work with a big team of people on making something happen. Resources outside of my own! Heck yes.

I've written that I wholeheartedly consumed the Open Field kool-aid. Working on a community-centered, participatory art project made me reconsider the importance of traditional venues and performance forms. Instead, I became more hooked on finding inclusive ways to bring people together and actively engage them around ideas or experiences.

So I've been thinking a lot about where participation and performance come together. This is a hard thing to research-- it takes time and money...and doesn't give you money. I have a lot of ideas as to how it might happen, but nothing concrete yet. So meanwhile I've been trying to focus less on obstacles and specifics and just get to work making something. Again: motion. This month motion has meant diving into rehearsals for BLUEPRINT PROJECT (which actually won't be performed until November), and making a little experiment for this month's 9x22 Dance/Lab. Rehearsals mean that something is happening. Even if I'm not doing my best word, I'm doing work. It's so good to move this muscle rather than wait to come up with a genius idea/project, because making art is nearly impossible: there's nothing neat or linear about it; it takes loads of practice. At this point I'm not making things with a focus (necessarily) on career; I'm making it because I like how hard it is, and how different it is from everything else I do in my day. It's like doing a crossword or eating broccoli.

Almost every creative person I know struggles with the balance between big picture and small, thinking and acting, grant writing and throwing themselves into the process. The thing that's been helpful for me to remember is that if I'm thinking too hard, I should probably just act. You know, when you're circling around and around an idea and not really landing just right on a solution? Just take some kind of action. It doesn't have to be the thing, it just has to be something. Move, then observe-- don't try to do both at the same time. 

5 With: April Sellers

January 15, 2015

I always look forward to seeing the dances of April Sellers because she's constantly committed to pushing the limits and boundaries of her work, so I know I'll see something really exciting (and at least a little controversial). Her latest dance, Big Baby, was no exception-- a really satisfying and hilarious combination of movement and text, drag and gender-bending. I'm grateful to have April's voice as a part of this series because she's great at telling it like it is. In the arts world, where we often makes assumptions that other people have it easier (or more funding or connections), it's refreshing to be reminded that everyone has their share of doubts, and that hard work and persistence are always required.

Describe your current creative work and how you came to make it: 
I am a choreographer. The current underbelly of my work is questioning what feminism is now and more importantly what my generation’s role in feminism will be-- what we will have contributed. I have been working on developing these tools in my recent body of work: the integration of text and movement, crescendo, improvised text based structures, allowing myself to repeat structures from previous dances in hopes of improvement, and non- linear development. I am also very interested in ensemble and making work that is specific to the ensemble, so that the work is an exaggeration of their experience or some part of their personality. 

My work changed pretty drastically right around 2010. I was recovering from an injury and questioning where I was going in dance, because at that point I didn't feel like I had reached the success or stature that I desired. I also wasn't having fun, and I had no money. Giving up dance wasn't a possibility for me, so I decided to change something about my creation process to make it fun again. One major shift in my work has been using text. I found that I had some skill and some tools for writing text and timing humor. I had always made serious, abstract work with a strong point of view, and I hope that I have now found a way of maintaining that point of view while delivering it in more enjoyable way for the audience.

I don't wake up every day anymore wondering if I will be a choreographer-- I just am.  It’s what I do everyday for work, and how I got here was through a lot of fucking hard work. I still feel I haven't even come close to what I want to achieve.

What are your biggest creative challenges?
+ My process takes a long period of time - it’s not cost effective. I have to live with a work for a couple of years to fully realize it, and take time to build relationships with my ensemble members and to build an ensemble sense of timing so they can anticipate one another in our improvisations. 

+ I work with an ensemble of four or five and typically don’t perform in my own work, so it can be very expensive to tour or move a piece around.  

+ I struggle to build relationships in my artistic community because I am kind of afraid of everybody. I have strong, bold opinions and speak directly, and am actually really reclusive.

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you? 
I have no balance; there is no such thing. I think of it as a moving scale and I am always running up and down the scale and the shifting is constant. Over time, the work I do for money and the work that is creatively satisfying have come closer together.

That said, I fail a lot, I don't pay all of my bills on time, I end almost every show in the red and I am dependent upon the generosity of others to support my work. I try to keep my bills to under 1,000 dollars a month or less because I feel like that’s how I can survive as an artist. Living a frugal life leads to more creative riches, and I am very good at not having any money.  

What resources have been helpful to you? 
The one thing I feel has more powerful than anything else in the creation of my life as an artist is mentorship, and I have been very blessed with a small handful of amazing mentors: John Munger, Judith Howard, Colleen Callahan, Patrick Scully and Laurie Van Wieren. These mentors have collectively guided me through everything from how to sharpen my choreographic tools and communicate with dancers, to how to write a press release. They’ve given me feedback about my work and helped console me when I failed. I am constantly grateful. 

What's inspiring you right now? 
I don’t feel a magical or grand sense of inspiration; I am always on the heels of one dance and precipice of another. I am making a new work with Judith Howard that will premiere in June.  And I am desperate to get back into the studio with my current ensemble that I created my latest work, Big Baby with. I feel like I have just scratched the surface of the pot of gold we can create together.

[Find April on mnartists and on twitter. Find more of the 5 With series here.]

5 With: Max Wojtanowicz

January 7, 2015

I'm thrilled to be kicking off the final batch of 5 With interviews with my friend Max Wojtanowicz. I've known Max since we were in college, and it's been a total joy watching him take what he loves and make a career out of it. I'm especially impressed by his ability to balance performing in the work of a wide range of Twin Cities theater companies with launching his own work as a writer. You can find Musical Mondays, the monthly cabaret series that Max cofounded, at Hell's Kitchen on the first Monday of each month, and keep up with his performance schedule on his website over here

Describe your current creative work and what drives it or inspires you: 
I'm a performer, mostly. I'm most interested in how to use the voice to communicate a message, not just with text but with music. I really believe (in musical theater especially) that no actor is "also" a singer, nor that any singer is "also" an actor. When the two are never mutually exclusive, but truly blended, you have magic onstage. I love exploring how you can blur the lines between speaking text musically and singing music with an emphasis on the word; it's in those in-between spots that I've been most inspired by performers. I've always thought this, but it's only in the past few years that I've been able to articulate it, and it's taken all that time to experiment and play with this idea. I'm certainly nowhere near done!

I've also start to write in the past few years, particularly lyrics in conjunction with a few composers. The art of lyric writing is something I've started learning about from a few mentors and a lot of trial and error. A great lyric is a thing of beauty to me.

What are your biggest creative challenges?
As a performer-- remaining focused on the work and not the business of it. Being fully present in a rehearsal room or onstage can sometimes provide challenges when you're thinking about your other jobs, your family, what you need from the grocery store, etc. Keeping the distractions out so you can be clear and truly engaged in the room with your company is something that takes a lot of work, no matter how disciplined you think you are.

As a writer-- staying motivated! Writing is a very lonely business, and even when you get the joy of collaborating, there's still so much solitary work to be done that requires great concentration and motivation. 

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you? 
So far in my career I've found ways to make these one in the same. I've found acting work that pays well enough that I can occasionally take work that doesn't. I also work several other part time jobs -- coaching, teaching summer camps, singing at a church, commercial and voice-over work -- that supplement that income. I try to fill my spare time with writing and developing other projects, which will hopefully lead to more!

Give some advice: what resources have been helpful to you? 
Some tough love from a few college professors proved very helpful: they balanced motivation and encouragement with nuggets of harsh truth: "The world doesn't require you." "Make yourself necessary." "How are you more qualified than everyone else your type?" "What makes you different?" No other resource has been more helpful than the constant pursuit of my voice and my viewpoint: seeing all the theater, concerts and movies that I can, and constantly encouraging and engaging in dialogue about them, has been my greatest resource. You never know who will have wisdom that resonates with you. 

What's inspiring you right now? 
At the beginning of 2015, I officially launched my new theater company, The Catalysts, which focuses on inventive musical theatre through social justice teaching and sustainable playmaking. This is a venture that's really inspiring me right now -- it's one of those I have to pee I have so many ideas! type of things. We're developing a few new works and putting together a season for the coming year, so I'm looking forward to a creative and motivated year of making it go!

[For more Max, go to twitter or his website or The Catalysts' website. For more 5 With, head over here.]

Just Start

January 5, 2015

It's the first Monday of the new year, which makes it everyone's start day: start work, start into that resolution, start a new project. I'm back to work and rehearsals today after a very leisurely couple of weeks, and I'm half excited and half daunted-- the usual. My work for the year is 'motion', and I'm thinking about it in several ways. The first and most obvious is about simply acting-- moving forward first, thinking later (which is better advice when it comes to creative projects than human interactions/behaviors) in hopes of finding a groove and figuring out next steps. 

I'm remembering these things:
  • There's no better way to start than to start
  • Aim for progress, not perfection
  • Set reasonable expectations
  • Break it down into doable chunks
  • Doing the Work is the only cure for roadblocks
I'd love to hear what you're doing and making and attempting in the new year!

[And on a related note, Broccoli for 2014]

2014: it's been real

January 4, 2015

Right after my car stalled on my 32nd birthday, which was probably symbolic of...something.
One more reflection-- with feeling!

2014 was the year of THRIVE! This means that I tried to figure out what this word means for me -- how to prosper and flourish at my own life. I will say that this is no small task, and I maybe (just barely) carved off the tip of the iceberg or whatever that phrase is. 

For the first part of the year I thought that thriving meant throwing myself into everything fully. It was a packed few months! I began my little neighborhood tour of Small Dances the day before we closed on our new house. We painted everything and then moved, just a few days before I started a new full-time job at the Walker. This meant that I was till searching boxes for proper clothes to wear to work, and then coming home to go produce a show in a new location. And then I faced some  great big personal challenges, smashed between getting settled in a new house and trying to keep up my freelance work in the evenings. Oh, and then Open Field season started in June, and soon we were making over 70 programs happen over 8 weeks, often 8 or 10 at a time. Needless to say, a lot of this time didn't make me feel like I was thriving. I learned a lot from that.

I learned that thriving is not convenient. You don't get employee of the month from it, because thriving people set boundaries and go home rather than picking up extra shifts. Thriving has meant relying on the support of friends, finding doctors (and even a dentist) that I trust, trusting that it's ok to let my goals and lists rest for a while, and opting for sitting in the sun rather than going to an event out of obligation. There's never a good time for these things -- you can wait for your schedule to clear, you have to learn to insert them into your current chaos. The word 'thrive' felt a bit like a bully whispering in my ear for a good portion of months. I thought I'd need to push on through to thrive, but instead I needed to ease the hell up and let go. When I succeeded at that, the results were fairly awesome. No one died and no fires occurred because I was taking care of myself and not conquering mountains-- just in case you were wondering. 

Not surprisingly, as I look back at the year I remember much more fondly the leisurely things I did this year, rather than the more impressive accomplishments. I'm glad we walked our neighborhood a lot, sat on the patio and grilled throughout summer, had really great spontaneous days with friends (one in particular involving cupcake decorating and frisbee throwing), made it up to the cabin a few times (cabins are a Minnesotan thing-- and they usually aren't actually cabins), took a foodie vacation, road bikes around the lake, re-watched all of 6 Feet Under (and cried our faces off). That's the good stuff. 

Other things I got excited about in 2014--

+ Driving stick shift: Not so much because a manual transmission is that exciting, but because it scared the sh*t out of me, and conquering a personal fear (right next to the dentist) feels ridiculously good (especially after failing on multiple occasions over a couple of years). 

+ Eating at Westward in Seattle: Seafood meets Greek food, and we ate these white beans with tomatoes, feta, marjoram and breadcrumbs that I still think about. Also, smashed potatoes with lemon and garlic served with octopus.

+...and Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis: I finally tried Pizzeria Lola, which is easily the best pizza I've had in the Twin Cities. I'm partial to the La Creme, which has cream in with the tomato sauce. This summer they served a special of spring peas and ricotta on toast that was so damn good.

+ Cocktail class: Craft bartending is alive and well in the Twin Cities (and sort of obnoxious, if I'm being honest). Still, I was fairly excited to win a private cocktail class for 4 at Eat Street Social, where I learned the 6 Pillars of Cocktails. I can't remember exactly what they are without referencing my notes, but all cocktails are just a version of these 6, which I  did find interesting. And delicious.

+ Acupuncture: Megan Odell at Qi Nordeast is a gem of a human. She's that magical combination of compassionate and knowledgeable, and I wish there were doctors like her. Also, acupuncture is great for anxiety.

+ Winter: I had a fierce enthusiasm for winter last year-- one of the worst winters I've ever experienced since moving to Minnesota. I'm trying to rally up the same excitement for this year. It looks like the high of the week is going to be 3 degrees. 

+ The things you (and others) make:
        + The blog My Husband's Tumor
        + The books Delancey and Creative Block
        + Evie's tiny letters

        + Serial (I think we all did)

         +  The Mindy Project

       + A lot of the bands/musicians I was introduced to through Acoustic Campfire (the Open Field music series I curated), like Jayanthi Kyle and Alicia Steele (soul), Toussaint Morrison (hip-hop/spoken word), Orkestar Bez Ime (Balkan) and Father You See Queen (experimental/electronica)
       + Levi Weinhagen and Jen Scott's new monthly comedy/music/talk hour That's Fun!
      + Kenna-Camara Cottman's Choreographers' Evening, which was stunning (you should check out a review here)
       + Detroit at the Jungle Theater
       + Laurie Van Wieren's celebration of 100 choreographers
       + April Sellers' Girlywood

+ Collaborations: I remembered that I really like working with other people, and my creative endeavors wouldn't happen without these other people. Thanks especially to...
       + The people who shared on the 5 With series (starting back up this week)
       + And those that invited me to perform Small Dances in their homes
       + And those that took part in Open Field
       + And my Open Field team and Blueprint Project collaborators

Reflection complete. Hellllo, 2015!

[2013's list is over here, and 2011's is here.]

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