Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OURGOODS: Be your own boss!

I co-founded 2 barter initiatives in 2009/2010 that became my part time jobs in 2011 (we just received $120,000 in grant money!). I also now teach 2 undergraduate courses at Parsons, but I don’t have a masters degree and I went to a college that was tuition-free. How did this happen?

SUMMARY

1. I know what I want and I work towards it.

2. I do A LOT of research before I ask for help.

3. I reach out to people who can mentor me.

4. I show up on time and work my ass off.

5. I demand respect (perhaps because I grew up with privilege).

6. I refuse to go into Debt for school.

7. My policy: be nice to everyone.

  • 1. SELF AWARENESS: There’s not too much I can say about this, except that you need to have clear intentions in order to pursue your dreams. Here’s two questions that help: What does success look like for you? What can you not, not do? (a.k.a. What MUST you do?) Meditate, go on long walks, try things out, talk to people who have careers that you think you want, whatever you need to do to be more self-aware and clear about your goals. Some people say reading this book helps: http://www.amazon.com/What-Color-Your-Parachute-2011/dp/158008270X but I’ve never read it.
  • 2. RESEARCH: I’m all about doing online research to find mentors in your field of interest. Mentors are great because they share your enthusiasm but have more information and connections in the real world than you do. Most of these people have personal websites, or you can find their email at the school or business where they work. Luckily, the Internet exists, so you can introduce yourself to potential mentors without waiting in line after a lecture and/or socializing at a party! This helps me because I’m a good writer (my mom taught me that) BUT I’m not comfortable schmoozing or promoting myself at parties. I’m also a woman who doesn’t conform to a lot of norms for “serious professionals”: I don’t do my hair, paint my nails, wear girl-y shoes/clothes, shave my body, or wear make-up. Basically, I think it’s best for people to learn about what I’ve done (and how it related to their past work and research) without seeing what I look like. If they respond to my initial email, perhaps we will meet in person, but then they already know that we share common interests and/or goals, so it’s about WORK and not what I look like.
  • 3. REACHING OUT: See above. Also, learn to write really well, in many different styles! How can you do this? Trade time with an editor, writer, or other proof-reader on OurGoods.org, or find a friend who will help you improve your writing skills. When you write an email to a potential mentor, use “affinity jargon.” I use the term “affinity jargon” to describe the language or style of writing your mentor uses. Find an aspect of this style or “jargon” that resonates with you, and use that style/jargon when writing to your potential mentor. For example, when I wrote an email to Lewis Hyde, I opened with poetry because he loves poetry. After catching their attention by communicated in a style that they understand, your job is to demonstrate your research and connection to their work. Once they understand that you know who they are and respect them, you should demonstrate your value to them. What have you done that they might care about? What are you about to do that you’d like advice about? Make a clear connection between what they do and who you are.
  • 4. RIGOR: Take yourself seriously. No one cares about your work more than you, so do a good job. You can’t say “it was my client’s fault” that it looks so bad. It’s up to you to make your work as great as it can be, and to present your best work online (or in an attached .pdf in your email) in a way that people you reach out to will understand. If you work hard, and continue to take risks despite all odds, you are rigorous.
  • 5. PRIVILEDGE: I went to a private high school and I’m white. Yes, my dad grew up without running water and was the first person in his family of tobacco farmers to go to college, but he became a doctor and that upbringing means that I’m considered “polite, reliable, confident, well spoken, well-rounded, energetic, pulled-together, with a good resume, references, and a high GPA” because I was taught upper-class manners and “standard” English, had expensive dental work, health care, and vacations as a teenager, was able to focus on my studies without having to support myself or my family, was told I could do anything, and grew up with connections to people with money. I volunteer for the grassroots economic justice group SolidarityNYC, and they help me have hard conversations about inequity. Cheyenna Weber gave me this book Classified for more information about class priviledge, and it me realize that “discrimination erases individual identity by assuming that everyone in the group is the same and deserves to be treated the same…privilege erases group identity by assuming that everyone in the group is a unique and special individual, that their uniqueness entitles them to preferential treatment.” (p/ 8 http://www.resourcegeneration.org/resources/publications) So although I do work hard, figuring out how to interact with wealthy people and to demand respect is very much related to the way I grew up. If you didn’t grow up that way, you should remember (and remind anyone who discriminates) that you too deserve to be treated as a unique individual, and that no dream is too big for you. On top of that, you might consider finding a class-ally (like me) who can talk to you about unspoken codes of conduct.

  • 6. NO DEBT: Do NOT pay more than $10,000 max. for school. If your parents are thinking of giving you any money at all, use it to get a mortgage on a building or apt. near the school you think you want to go to, and spend the next few years living with students at that school who pay rent towards that mortgage until you own a house and have tons of connections at that school. Cooper Union is free and many masters programs will pay you. Also, live with lots of people so that your rent is low and you can buy food in bulk.
  • 7. BE NICE! Here’s a list of opportunities I have, and how I got them. Most of this has to do with operating form a place of generosity around everyone I know, connecting people, remembering what they need, and assuming their best intentions if/when they are flaky. When it becomes clear that you operate from a place of generosity, people will be more generous to you.
  • 1. I’m teaching a class to undergraduates at Parsons. Pascale Gatzen told her Dean to consider the class. I met Pascale at Mildred’s Lane, an alternative school/residency in Honesdale, PA. At Mildred’s Lane, she heard about Trade School and OurGoods, two independent barter initiatives I’d been working on. I’d been doing them as a volunteer for 10-50 hours a week with 2 main collaborators (see #4) and others for 2 years, and reading tons of books about barter on my own at the same time. I went to Mildred’s Lane because I met the director, Morgan Puett, at a residency I went to straight out of school (Oxbow in Saugatuck, MI). I got to go to Oxbow because I applied (and worked my ass off on the application) and because my college, Cooper Union, sends students there. I got to go to Cooper Union because I applied (and worked my ass off on the application) and went to an art residency in high school called Ox-Bow (in Napa, CA) where I developed a portfolio and because I went to a private high school where I learned how to write well. My mom is also a feminist historian and helped me learn to write more than anyone.

source: Parsons/Pascale/Morgan/Ox-bow/Cooper Union/Oxbow/Wheeler/mom+dad

  • 2. I’m co-teaching another class to undergrads at Parsons. Eve Mosher invited me to co-teach when her co-teacher had to leave the job at the last minute. I know Eve Mosher because I used to work for an artist named Natalie Jeremijenko when I got out of college. Natalie taught me a lot of things about being collaborative and the unhappy speed of a “famous” career. I met Natalie because I told my high school art teacher that I was graduating from college and needed a job, and she told her husband who taught at RISD, and he happened to be walking with Natalie one day and remembered to mention it to her. She then went to my senior show in college and we worked out a deal where I worked for her on a stipend that was paid through NYU (hello, library card!). I’d recommend working for a collaborative artist because I’m still friends with a lot of the people that she worked with, and it wasn’t an isolated studio practice.

source: Parsons/Eve/Natalie/Bruce/Sue

  • 3. I’m working on OurGoods.org, a barter network for creative people. I got to do this because I applied for a grant to support this idea (while working the night-shift at an art studio where I could do whatever I wanted as long as I stayed awake) and got $5,000 to begin the project. I then asked the hardest working people I knew from college (Louise Ma and Rich Watts) to work on OurGoods with me, and the people who gave me the grant (The Field!) introduced me to Jen Abrams, someone who had a similar idea. Rather than rejecting her similar idea, I actively sought to bring her into the team at an early stage. We are now great friends, and she brings 10 years of grant writing experience to the group. She is 40 and we write grants together, so I’ve learned a lot from her. Now, we’ve written over 30 grants together, and just got $100,000 to make OurGoods.org our part-time jobs for our 5 person team! This is a good example of writing grants, not having connections. It’s still all about writing well though.

source: OurGoods/The Field/grant

  • 4. OurGoods.org is in a project room at Creative Time. This is because the curator is friends with another group in the show, Temporary Services, and they suggested he include us. I met them because I’ve researched their work for a long time, and suggested that Oxbow in MI invite them to be guest artists one year. When they did, I applied to go back to Oxbow, and I got in and was able to hang out with them. They are great artists, and so inspiring: http://www.temporaryservices.org/contact.html

source: Creative Time/Nato/Temporary Services/Oxbow/research

  • 5. I pay $250 each month for rent in a 12’ x 30’ studio in a live-work industrial space. This is because three years ago, Chrstine (someone I went to school with but didn’t know well) said “we should organize a studio space together…and my parents can loan us $35,000 to do it!” Why did she trust me? Word on the street: I was reliable. Why did I trust her? I’m an optimist, she seemed reliable, and she had the people and the money to pull off a huge project. Christine brought a bunch of friends who had attended a residency called Skowhegan together to build out the space, and we divided an 8,000 square foot space up into 30 small spaces by building walls, doing the electrical, putting in sinks, etc. For the first two years, we gave everyone who built out the space a reduction in rent, but we didn’t pay ourselves to run the LLC and the space on a daily basis. My rent was $550. After two years of organizing (finding new tenants, collecting 30 checks to pay rent, filing taxes, responding to issues on the spot, etc.) Christine got burnt out and left for grad school. We realized that the people who took a risk (me, Christine, Colin) should get paid! Now my rent is only $250 a month, and I get $25/hr for each hour I spend working on the space. Now we also buy our food in bulk from an organic distributor, which lowers costs and helps us share everything in the kitchen. It’s a BIG commitment to know that my name is on the lease for 3 more years (5 total), and that I can’t leave NY until then, but we keep rent pretty low for a bunch of artists and I met Huong and so many other great people through the space! It’s also how I met my boyfriend of 2 years…

source: Studio/Colin/Christine/Cooper Union

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