My Head is Exploding in a Really Good Way!

by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko for The Dance Journal

One day after my company, Kosoko Performance Group, closed a successful premiere run of a new work entitled Or Maybe My Mother was An American Chameleon? commissioned by the 2010 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, I was on a train heading to Washington, D.C.   A new chapter in my career as an Executive Producing Director and Arts Management professional had begun.  I was accepted as one of ten Fellows in the DeVos Institute for Art Management at the Kennedy Center, a renowned program that attracts talented arts managers from all over the world.

Photo by Steve Maturno (KPG Dancers: Zachary Svoboda & Kristen Shahverdian)

So that’s the good news.  I have employment for the next 10 months with a consistent stipend; I have basic health coverage; I’m working with the best fundraisers, marketers, and strategic planners in the field. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I’m doing exactly what I should be doing.  Right?

But there are a number of reasons as to how and why I got here.  For five years, I worked consistently in Philadelphia as a full time dance artist splitting my time as best I could between five companies: Dance/UP, Headlong Dance Theater, Leah Stein Dance Company, Kate Watson-Wallace/anonymous bodies, and of course Kosoko Performance Group.  When possible, I’d take on projects with Pig Iron Theatre Company as well as some NYC-based companies like Keely Garfield Dance and Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People.  For over five years; I toured with these groups; I wore dresses; I danced on moving vehicles; I created original roles for myself in new productions; I fucked furniture; I improvised; I became whatever they wanted me to be and loved every minute of it. Then suddenly the funding wells ran dry, the economic climate shifted, I was beginning to feel the great recession.  I knew I’d be in need of an opportunity or I would end up making hoagies at Wawa.

So, I pulled up my straps and started researching.  I must have applied for at least six grants within a three month period.  None of which were successful.  Then Kim Cook of the Nonprofit Finance Fund and an alum of the Fellowship program, sent me an email about the DeVos Institute.  My eyes widened.  My mouth watered.  My heart began beating a bit faster.  I might have even gotten a hard on.  (Don’t ask me, ask my therapist. lol)

Photo by Lois Greenfield (KPG Director: Jaamil Kosoko)

No matter the physical response, I knew what I wanted. With recommendations from a few cultural leaders in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and help from Danielle Currica (my assistant at the time), I applied and was invited to interview for the program.  So here I am attending board cultivation events, writing briefing reports for future donors, attending leadership seminars, etc.

It’s not easy though.  Abrupt life transitions, no matter the amount of inherent growth, are innately difficult.   Whenever an arts professional leaves his community, he runs the risk of being forgotten, losing vital relationships with peers, funders, donors, and audience.

I now see that for the next several months my work is two-fold.  I have to maintain relationships and ties in Philadelphia, while also building new connections in other cities, which is an integral exercise to any healthy arts initiative.  As an arts professional, I’ve learned that I must continuously seek new ways to diversify my artistic and developmental portfolio.  It is my primary job as an Executive Director to do this work.

If I’ve learned anything while being in DC, it’s that, as a producer working in the dance field, I must engage in marketing and not just programmatic marketing, but institutional marketing. (I’ll talk more about this concept in my next column.)  This idea is problematic in Philly, as only a handful of companies on the grassroots level engage in successful institutional marketing plans.

I’ve also made serious strides to increase my fundraising skills:  P.S.S.S.! This includes prospecting, strategizing, soliciting, stewarting, and then I must repeat the cycle again and again as long as my art shall live.  Without a strong fundraising plan, my company simply will not grow. I’ll be recreating the wheel instead progressing forward.  Fundraising requires real creativity to execute well.  There are a lot of ways to do this kind of work and it’s up to me to manifest my organization’s mission by finding ways to execute development systems that coalesce with my values.  There is no one right way to fundraise.  It depends on the style of each artists and company.

I know that all this is certainly much easier to say than do, as many companies in Philly are singularly led, founder driven institutions that are operating in “in between time.” This is the time in between teaching, in between catering events, in between dancing for someone else’s “in between time” company.  As I look to the future, with forthcoming projects in POST OP at the Painted Bride in January 2011 and the New Moves Festival in Pittsburgh in May, I am also brainstorming creative ways to practice what I’m learning.  My eyes are widening.  I am pulling up my straps, and, with the same dedication and fervor it took to get here, I’m strategizing a plan to implement all this talk into dance action.

In my next column I will give a couple concrete suggestions for pulling our art out of the “in between time” as well as some brainstorming tactics for strategizing institutional marketing plans.   Stay tuned.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko is the Founder and Executive Producing Director at Kosoko Performance Group, an interdisciplinary company that offers cultural programming, consulting, internet marketing, and design services.  For three years, Kosoko worked as a senior member Program Associate at Dance/USA Philadelphia where he created the organization’s logo brand Dance/UP and co-produced major events throughout the Greater Philadelphia Region.  These events included projects for the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, nEW Festival, and the 2009-10 Philadelphia Dance Showcase.  He holds a B.A. in Literature and Performance Studies from Bennington College, VT.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko
moving visual performance forward!

Next For Kosoko Performance Group: click for tix: AMERICAN CHAMELEONS: A Performance Showcase January 22 at 9PM & January 23 at 5PM presented in partnership with The 2011 POST-OP Festival / Painted Bride Arts Center BUY IT: Animal in Cyberspace, a poetry book by JAAMIL OLAWALE KOSOKO

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