What, Who and Why?
by: Samantha Rojas
Change Agents usually take a different twist on things; it seems their nature. So, this is a story about Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI); and it is a story about doing business as (dba)… -a small, but growing offshoot movement of the AEI that is turning heads and making waves. Who knew? Ry Nielsen did; which is exactly why he signed up for Broward Cultural Division’s technical assistance program, Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute, in 2012. Although signing up for AEI has good reasons, all of its own…Nielsen did it to get to dba…
doing business as… is an annual exhibition that follows each AEI summer class; where artists and curator(s) are selected from the latest AEI grads. Neilsen wanted the curatorial and networking exposure and experience from that exhibition particularly, and this he says has been phenomenal for him in the area of opportunities created for his own artwork; and for changes in the working mechanics of dba…, and also, changes to himself.
For seven years, the Broward Cultural Division has been bringing Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute to the County, and in that time more than 400 artists have graduated with numerous success stories as a direct result of this advanced academic institution for art’s careers.
Apart from the numerous benefits that participants gain from AEI, and the exemplary points of note that graduates continually espouse, dba… is its own special experience. Even so, Nielsen could not initially find a partner to coordinate the curating of the dba… exhibition. It seemed to Nielsen that it was not a popular thing at the time he undertook this adventure. In seven months he made several adjustments to the program. In one critical change he moved the exhibiting months from January/February to March/April, after running into much opposition by artists due to the holiday time of year. “Artists were busy,” says Ry. “We really had to juggle to convince people that this was a career move. However, when they did eventually show up and participate, they were thrilled with the outcome. dba… is a career move, felt Nielson. As it turns out, so is curating it.
Focused on getting former coordinators together, Nielsen organized and compiled a dba… reference guide, so that new curators of the show were not reinventing the wheel, year after year. Every coordinator applies for a grant for the exhibition to come, and that becomes part of the learning curve. The new March/April time frame also fell into accordance with grant approval timing, which comes in October, giving curators more time to work with the knowledge that the grant has been approved and that this money WILL be forthcoming. Nielsen compares Broward Cultural Division’s Creative Investment grant program application process to applying to graduate school. “When I was applying for graduate schools a couple of years earlier,” he remembers, “I wound up only applying to two. I opted out of the third, because it became so laborious and paper-work heavy. After that, the dba… and grant application procedures were a breeze,” quips Nielsen.
Artist Ry Neilsen,
Artwork, All Three Wonky
The other thing about coordinating shows, Nielsen found, is that he really got a clear understanding why it takes all types of personalities to make things happen, and that a huge element in any production …is collaboration. “As an artist, a sculptor, I find that curatorial work and my artwork, now feed each other,” he says. “However, it’s imperative that I keep remembering WHY I am coordinating exhibits… it’s not because of the glory, or the thrill, or the social connections…it’s because it creates opportunity; and change.”
Nielsen found AEI to be extremely helpful in showing a broad perspective of who is making art within this community. Of 62 participants in his class, 40 were visual artists….the rest were performing artists, musicians, poets…and he found this really enhanced the whole interconnection for him; and then was inspired to change the dba… format as well. Where previously, there were between nine and 11 visual artists selected, in Nielsen’s year, he selected 10, of which three were non-visual; bringing music, performance art and poetry to the texture of the dba… exhibition.
He credits AEI with teaching artists where they may fit into the ‘whole diaspora of the Cultural Division and the Broward cultural community,” and how they can use the services to improve themselves, their craft and their arts business. He also credits AEI, with teaching him what he didn’t know that he didn’t know; as well as throwing him into a network of people that are polar opposite to him in style and personality, from whom he learned so much. He found AEI to be uplifting because he felt it put the responsibility on each individual to make their world happen, within their own personal design; while giving real time examples of how this is possible. “It’s a psychological course,” he says. You retool.”
With a 26-year background in business, Nielsen understands how important it is to constantly retool. Art always being his passion, he has a Bachelor’s degree in sculpture and history from Cornell University, before taking on the side road of running his father’s nursery business – a business that he has run now for more almost three decades, and to which he credits with teaching him to morph with the times in order to stay afloat.
Over and over he found the message from AIE to be, that if you pay attention and keep morphing with the market you will survive and thrive. Many artists, he says, have a problem with morphing with the market; they feel that it discredits their individuality. But Nielsen feels that as living, breathing organisms with cells and molecules that change daily, we have to adapt with all the stimuli that comes to us. This may also be an inherent trait of a Change Agent.
And lastly, he champions the fact that AEI and dba… also taught him how to get help in things that he didn’t want to do. Learning how to decide what those things are, and then find others to collaborate with them. He found that if others like to do those other things passionately, then you have a working model.
“I wake up and I am ready to rock and roll,” Ry Nielsen says. “Let’s not tell our stories of struggle over and over again. Let’s make a small change, every day.”