I am an Artist and… an Interview with Guy Ventoliere

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post
Does an artist have to starve in order to make a life in art?
In this series of interviews, I am asking people who have, by their own definition, a successful creative career.  They have built a life around conscious choices and values that looks very different from the standard idea of what an artist is.
What their lives look like may surprise you:  they are artists in studios, part of city agencies, owners of manufacturing and real estate companies, artists-in-residences in all kinds of places.  
What is common to all of them is this: they are happy.
I believe there is great wisdom behind the in flight safety message that instructs you to put your oxygen mask on yourself first.  In this situation, you clearly will not be able to help anybody else if you cannot take care of yourself first.
The same is true in life.
You cannot build a successful creative life if you do not take care of yourself first.
Guy Ventoliere is an artist with a unique and successful career path that has earned him the name of “the theatre whisperer”.
He has harnessed his skills as an actor and in many other areas of theatre and business to grow a successful artistic career and now helps others do the same.
How do you self-identify?
“You are at a cocktail party and someone asks you who you are. What do you say?”
It depends on who I am talking to. I usually say I am the Director of Sales for a large audio visual company.
“How do you answer that question for yourself?”
I am a Renaissance man. I want to know how to do everything. A lot of artists will say things like, I can’t do numbers and taxes… I’m an artist.


As Lopakhin in “The Cherry Orchard”

For me, the opposite is true. I can do anything because I am an artist. I direct, act, and I know most of the technical elements of theatre like lighting. I have built sets and props for many plays for places like Lincoln Center. I know fundraising and development and how to direct children’s theatre. The paintings on my walls I have painted and the furniture throughout my house I have built.  And I have had a very successful career in large enterprise account management and sales.
I started out as a stage carpenter with very little experience. I was teaching kids, doing my carpentry, acting and directing. Then made a drastic turn and became the director of development for a nonprofit in the arts. I didn’t know anything when I started but eventually managed to double the budget. How did I do that? I communicate well with people and I’m not afraid to fail. That is so important.
Acting and art is about honesty. About being truthful on stage and in life.
I hate the term “starving artists”. Many people have more than one job to make it. Artists can also supplement their needed income to survive. Sometimes we have to embrace a life of multi-careers so there is food on the table. You don’t have to starve. Look, I’m an actor and a sales guy. I do different things because being an artist allows me to think creatively and critically, embrace the diversity around us and to do the variety of jobs one may need to do in order to survive. And being an artist allows us to do these things well.
When I was in telecommunications, I was the top sales guy with a higher client retention rate than all my other coworkers who had more education and experience than I. My boss threw a surprise party for my 40th birthday where she wrote a note about me that read, “Thank you for reminding me to always hire sales people with an arts background.”
Many artists close themselves off, they don’t have a lot of world experience and they stay isolated with their art distrusting things like corporate America, stock brokers, men in suits, and CEOs.
My experience in corporate America has been different. My last CEO was an opera buff. He was so happy to see that he had an actor and a director in his employ that he allowed me and my girlfriend to expense tickets to DC to see a production of “Romeo & Juliet” with him and his wife. This CEO loved and appreciated the arts. I have never come across people in business that looked down on me  because I was an artist.
I have always been able to direct and act on the side while holding down a full time job. I never wanted to be a waiter so I could go on auditions and wait for my big break. I wanted to work 9 to 5, have health insurance and stability and have my nights free to rehearse theatre. Feeling secure allowed me to have the finances and freedom of mind to explore and explode artistically.
There was a time I was given an ultimatum by one of my bosses to attend a conference in the summer during the Hip to Hip Theatre season that I was involved in. I was saddened by this but did not hesitate to choose theatre. Management grew to understand doing this theatre work was important to me and only enhanced my capabilities at the job. I am always one of the top sales people at my job, the top out of about 200 during my heaviest season of theatre actually.
Now, I use the various aspects of business that I have learned and what I do to help other artists and arts organizations. This past month I facilitated an interview with the Public Theatre for our dramaturg at Hip to Hip and provided the needed equipment to the American Bard Theatre’s production of “Visionary Voices”. I also got them an intern to help with costuming. I helped transform a cafeteria into a theatre for Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company while also playing the cat in “Suessical” along with all the pre-season work that needs to get done for Hip to Hip including meeting with several possible interns for our upcoming season.
What are the benefits and challenges of being an artist and…
One of the benefits of what I do is the extreme diversity of communication I have with all kinds of people, from CEOs to inner city kids. People come to me as an “idea guy” because of my varied experiences in the corporate environment, knowledge of art and theatre. They know I can step in and help. Someone at The Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company once called me the theatre whisperer”. The term stuck.


As Richard II in a Nicu’s Spoon production

Another benefit is happiness. I am always performing, I am always involved in a play, I always have an outlet. In the past 2 years, I have done 8 plays. Money is never a challenge for me. I am always able to help others and to donate back my stipends when working with a struggling theatre company.
One challenge I have always faced is that work sometimes interferes. For that reason, I have always sought out jobs that allowed me to work around my theatre and my art. Not waiter jobs. Good old 9-5 jobs.
What are you working on now?
I recently became the Chair for the Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company and I serve on the board of the Unity Stage Company. In addition to all that, I am the Managing Director for Hip to Hip Theatre and I am proud to say that we have been successful in reaching our goal of performing in every borough. In our first year, we had an audience of 600 people. We now serve 8000 people per season in 14 parks citywide. Our next goal is to increase that to 10,000 people.
I just closed “Cows of War”, an adaptation of “Peace” by Aristophanes as part of the Hunter College MFA Playwrights. This past summer I did “Hamlet” at the Brick Theatre and “The Tempest” for the Shakespeare Forum and Identity Theatre in Manhattan. I am currently working with the Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company’s (RTC) production of “Suessiscal”. RTC is ranked one of the top 8 children’s theatre companies in the country.  I have also started preparing for the role of Cassius in “Julius Caesar” in May and have had several meetings and read-throughs for an original play called “Sweet Sixteen” that will be appearing off-Broadway the last quarter of 2017. I am also slated to perform in a series of plays this summer for a very well-known and prominent theatre company but I am not allowed to speak about it until it is announced.


In the role of Doctor Caius that won Best Supporting Actor for Queens Kudos

I am working on my graduate degree in drama which is both theory and criticism. Next semester I have a reading list of about 1000 pages in of very dense critical theory, 31 plays from Greek to contemporary genres. I am required to submit five 750 page responses, a 10 page paper with a presentation, and a 20 page paper. And that’s for 1 class.
Where can people see more of your work?
Managing Director/Actor – Hip to Hip Theatre Company – http://www.hiptohip.org/
Board Member – Unity Stage – http://unitystage.org/
Chairmen of the Board – Nicu’s Spoon Theatre Company – http://www.spoontheater.org/
Advisor/ Teaching Artist – Riverdale Children’s Theatre Company – http://riverdaletheatre.org/
Acting Member – Identity Theatre – http://identitytheater.com/
And my future website currently in development – Simplyguy.com
What advice can you give to emerging artists and people with an inner artist?
Don’t be scared about your next meal. Go for it. I was so concerned about working to make money it inhibited me from really going the distance.
On the flip side, it has allowed me to do what I want to do, and that is good too.
Pitch in! Help where you can.  There is no room for STARS. Help out and paint something, sew costumes. This is all about collaboration and teamwork. Pitch in other areas.
I can’t stand actors who don’t contribute in other areas when they are working with a group that is already understaffed or underfunded. For younger artists, knowing all the aspects of your profession can only help you.





Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

I am an Artist and… an Interview with John Michael Shert, dancer



This article originally appeared in Huffington Post

John Michael Shert began his career as a dancer with American Ballet Theatre and Alonzo King LINES Ballet and is now the Visiting Artist and Social Entrepreneur with the University of Chicago Booth School of business pursuing ideas around the creative process, as practiced by artists, and how it can be integrated into other sectors of our society.

Who are you? How do you self identify?

I am a dancer, artist for life, producer, business school professor, public speaker, and booking agent.

Working with Trey McIntyre, I built other skills which all became part of my identity. I realized my aptitude and added skills as an entrepreneur, booking agent, managing staff and board to my identity and to my title.

As I move through the world as an artist, I am clear about the skills that define what I am up to. I talk about what resonates, I have different versions of myself.

I have the ability to make something from something, to be a dancer and to become a business school professor and public speaker.

It is a creative process to make a life.

Tell me, what skills do you need to be both an artist and an administrator?

I had a series of mentors.

Alonzo King, a great American choreographer, taught me the creative process of being an artist, how to process the unknown constantly, listen, perceive and acknowledge the world around you.

To do this requires equal parts listening, telling and doing. To know is to accrue. We overvalue the product, the outcome. The means is more important than the end.

What are you working on now?

I am a business school professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

I am the executive producer of the Treefort Festival in Boise, Idaho.

I am a public speaker and a consultant on how to better understand the creative process, leadership, nonverbal body language.

Where can people follow your work?

In terms of reaching me, here is my email and Twitter handle:

Below are a number of links to past presentations I have given, my page at Chicago Booth, stories on the work I have done and a published piece in Dance/USA.

Lincoln Center Global Exchange
Chicago Booth
Financial Times
Talks at Google
Dance/USA — The national service organization for professional dance.
John Michael Schert becomes a Visiting Artist and Social Entrepreneur in Chicago – UNCSA


What advice do you have for people who make art and/or make art happen?


Pursue mastery. Perfect your craft, technique. Go deep.

Pursuing one life, one career is an old idea.

In the pursuit of mastery you find greater awareness of your process. When you are at the top of your game, think about how to transfer all of your creative process skills, systems, awareness to what’s next, the next adjacent possibility.

It may be risky and uncomfortable. It is a bell curve. When you reach the apex, let go and open yourself up to a new version of your life, your 2nd or 3rd career.

Pay attention. One version will end, one will begin.

Transfer all of your generalist, specialty skills, worldview and values.

I guarantee you have the wherewithal.

There are many careers you can take your creative process into.

For example, my interest in nonverbal, body language has value in other sectors. I teach body language and awareness building classes in the corporate and service industry, to law students.
I translate universal awarenesses. I coach entrepreneurial teams how to use body language to tell stories. In the corporate world I teach how unconscious signals are being perceived, how these skills can be of greater value.

935 of communication is verbal
7% use words
55% is body language

The dominant form of communication is through the body. This is not addressed in education.
By stating the vitality of the creative process we become more valuable. It is an emerging trend I see that when I go out to speak about this. It helps others understand, it triggers their awareness.

Sadly, artists are often saddled with expectations, they feel disenfranchised and like outsiders. Many millennials look at art as social change.

In the information economy, we can be our own agent and connect directly with our audiences. This affects what it means to be an artist.

Everyone has a creative process. We tend to focus on analytics, not the creative. It is better having an awareness of your creative process.

Artists are technicians and work in a way using a certain part of the brain. A better use of this part of the brain is to be in service to the community.

I feel fortunate to be a recognized professional dancer with the ABT. When I was there I wondered, “Is this it?” I realized there’s more.

Many dancers and artists look at the wrong metrics.

The creative process is a balance between process and outcome. The creative process encourages a greater tolerance for risk. A new identity allows you to iterate rapidly.
We are better off measuring the process, not the product.

As you work on your project, your project works upon you.

As you work on your worldview, your worldview works on you.
My world view is process over product.

There was a child drawing a picture.
“What are you drawing?” asked the teacher.
“I am drawing God,” said the child.
“No one knows what God looks like,” said the teacher.
“They are about to,” said the child.

Children are not encumbered about getting it right. You still need rigor, training, logic. You have to balance your perspectives, to make sure your intrinsic self is in touch and in balance with your extrinsic self.

The distance between these 2 selves, and between people is a story.

The creative process is like storytelling. The point is not to replicate a sequence of events but to trigger a sense of possibility and then figure out the shape of it, what could be, to trigger in another person an awareness.

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Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

I am an Artist and… an Interview with Karesia Batan, dancer

This interview originally appeared on Huffington Post.


If I ask you what kind of person comes to a place, identifies a market and creates a product to fill it, what would you say?

Business person, entrepreneur…


Artists work in ways that blur these lines when their work provides new ways to generate income, validation and connections to the community.

The moment Karesia Batan pointed her toe at Queens, she looked for other dancers. Where were they rehearsing, making work, hanging out? The challenge of finding a community of dancers in the place she now calls home led Karesia, Choreographer/Producer, The Physical Plant and Director, Queensboro Dance Festival to create the Queensboro Dance Festival.

Who are you? How do you self identify?

I am a dancer, choreographer, and producer. I consciously make sure I identify as a dancer first and foremost, to remind myself to keep my artistic practice a priority throughout all my administrative duties.

It’s definitely a constant effort to maintain a happy balance between my artist side and administrator side. I often try to find ways for the two sides to support one another directly— for example, while I am founder/producer of the Queensboro Dance Festival, which presents only Queens-based choreographers, I also choreograph and perform to be a part of that community as a Queens-based dancer myself. I think of the other choreographers’ festival experience first, to make sure their needs are being met and the festival makes a difference in their artistic endeavors and career building. I also want to make sure the festival is serving the public audience. So once the season’s programming is in place, I try to participate as an artist as well. It actually also informs me of what the festival is like on the performer’s end, so I can make improvements to the program for the following year.

“Karesia, you are an entrepreneur, an artist entrepreneur.” I said, because as a funder, I am always delighted to support something that an artist creates that are born of generosity and brings transformation.

Howard Stevenson’s definition of entrepreneurship as work that pioneers a truly innovative product, devises a new business model, creates a better or cheaper version of an existing product or targets an existing product to a new set of customers.

(Howard Stevenson is known as the godfather of entrepreneurial studies. Thomas Eisenmann, “Entrepreneurship: A Working Definition,” Harvard Business Review, January 2013.)

Tell me, what are the benefits/ challenges of being both an artist and an administrator?

It is a daily, conscious effort to make time and mental space for both sides. I knew the festival would be a lot of work and I could easily be overwhelmed. What pulls me back to center is when I start saying No to what I love. For example, I was recently asked to be part of a festival in Martha’s Vineyard. I already had an idea for it and the person I wanted to collaborate with wanted to do it. It was therapeutic, ripping ourselves away from the computer to our practice, to congratulate each other for being in the studio, to look at each other and say,”Yay! Let’s go make stuff. How are we even doing this?” We made time to make a piece. You have to fight for what you want. We need to constantly stimulate our creative side.

Being able to see both sides, to have a 360 degree view, to be transparent about how both sides work together is a benefit. To sit on both sides of the mirror and see how to optimize both sides especially working on a festival where I can serve the community and participate as an artists. It creates a platform to share work. This is a benefit that is satisfying and challenging.

For me, the community comes first. There are 2: the community of artists and choreographers and the community that is the local public and the art appreciators. Theirs is the greater need and it comes first.

My organizational, multi-tasking, and time management skills have to consistently be on point, to make sure I am upholding all my duties as an arts administrator while making time for myself to still take dance class, and get in the studio to create. A main challenge is to make sure administration doesn’t take over my schedule, as it’s very easy to get bogged down with tasks and computer work. Taking time for dancing and creating cannot feel like a task the way sending e-mails or writing grants does. It’s two different energies. I have to be committed to both sides and be able to switch modes. The benefit of being both is that I can find creative ways for my various skill sets and networks to keep advancing my dance and performance career, while still serving my Queens community. Feeling happy and fulfilled is an important gauge in everything I do.

What are you working on now?

Of course I am working on several things as both an artist and administrator, ha! Right now I am collaborating with a fellow Queens-based Filipino dancer to create a modern take of Filipino folk dance storytelling, which we will show in this year’s Queensboro Dance Festival in October (which I also produce). I am also working within my neighborhood to help curate outdoor public dance programming for several existing land/space use projects for artists, with the goal to better engage the local residents with art. As a dancer, I’ll be collaborating with a local visual artist this season as well in a live performance project, which could potentially be part of the outdoor public dance programming I’m working on.

Where can people follow your work?

My personal website is www.karesia.com, and the festival websitewww.queensborodancefestival.com. Here’s a preview video of the festival. I’m also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

What advice do you have for people who make art and/or make art happen?

Be clear with yourself on the purpose and meaning of what you do. As an artist, personal meaning and purpose is important, and we can choose how we want to communicate or share this with an audience; we can choose how we want to be understood. As a producer or administrator, it’s always helped me to focus on what the mission is. It keeps the trajectory of growth clear; it guides how the program should develop and expand. Make sure it is fulfilling a public (audience or artist) need that is currently not being met.

And believe in everything you do!

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Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

Make Art or Make It Happen: The Rise of the Artist Administrator – an interview with Kendal Henry


Kendal Henry

Have you ever found yourself waiting on line to get a book signed by an author you love and wondering to yourself, “How did she create her book, her career and make a life doing all of that?”

I think about that all the time.

When I talk to artists about what their biggest dream is and what their biggest challenges are, this is what I hear:

“I want to make a life that I love around making art.”

“I don’t know how.”

This is not good. For the artist or for all of us in the world who need artists.


The path I followed, which I do not recommend to anyone without a trust fund, led me through a master’s program in piano performance from which I emerged with a framed diploma and 32 Beethoven Sonatas committed to memory.

As an artist, I struggled to make a life as a musician.

As a grantmaker, grant reviewer and employer, I cannot remember a single time when a person’s education degrees influenced my decision.

The other path I followed I do recommend:

Unleash your inner artist administrator – Tweet that!

I am the Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts. It dawned on me that I was more than that a few years ago when I was unexpectedly asked by Marion Godfrey, from the Pew Charitable Trust to play a Willie Nelson song. “Could you play ‘Crazy’? Bob isn’t around and I need a pianist.”

Her request may sound like not such a big deal, especially for someone who has been playing the piano all her life, but it was. And it made me mad that I had let my practice lapse to the point where I really wasn’t confident at all about saying, “Sure, I’d love to!” Especially in a room where everyone was an arts administrator looking forward to relaxing after a full day of conference sessions. Everyone except Bob, the Executive Director of Americans for the Arts who, I discovered later, plays in a garage band. Yet, they were playing, singing and letting their musician flag fly. And afterwards, many of them told me that they considered themselves artists first. The path they chose as administrators in arts organizations was intentional: a way to support their art making and as a way to make art happen.

I had an opportunity to talk about being an artist administrator with Kendal Henry, an artist and curator who is currently the Director of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program and adjunct professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

As an artist, he has worked public art for over 25 years, creating art as a tool for social engagement, civic pride and economic development.

“I am an artist.”
“My discipline is collaboration and my intent is to show people how to work together.”

For Kendal, the art he makes is an experience. “The art itself is an artifact, the result of the experience.”

Kendal believes that the most successful public artworks start with the question, “What is the artwork to achieve?” and takes into account the audience and surrounding environment in the creation of that artwork.

He begins his process with a conversation among everyone who is a partner or collaborator. This includes the artists, people from the community, the municipality or council, other organizations. The question that he poses is “What do you want to do?”

Wearing both his artist and administrator hats, his process is to go into new communities to get a sense of how they define themselves, what are people thinking, what is the energy on the street like.

In a temporary art project he completed in Vladivostok, Russia, he gathered people to have conversations about what was important to them.  There was great frustration around the development and construction going on in the city and the people said, “Give back our sky.”

Working with the community and materials that were easily accessible and plentiful, Kendal created hammocks for people to relax in and look up at the sky.

“Community building is the art.”

His approach is always that of a visitor, or an invited guest. As an artist or as a facilitator, his ability to listen and to understand what people are saying is crucial. “To listen for what is not being said is also very important.” These skills are what create true impact whether you are in the role as an artist or an administrator. “I apply my artist skills in my work as an administrator.”

“I like to create art festivals.” Festivals give Kendal a chance to collaborate with artists. For example, he was invited to be an artist-in-residence in in a town near Melbourne, Australia where he created a festival. The role of the festival was to introduce a community to public art and launch a public art program. 17 artists participated, each receiving a $1,000 fee and materials. True to his process, the festival began with conversations where the collaborators talked about their desire for a public art program, their frustration in reaching local artists, problems plaguing their community such as drugs, police brutality, homelessness. The festival became a platform where many of these conversation points could become visible.

“The act of organizing the festival was the art.”

At one point in the process, some of the artists wanted to create pieces around these issues that were potentially offensive. Moving seamlessly from artist to administrator, Kendal suggested ways to engage people who were not happy with the art and address their concerns with short and long term solutions. A better way to describe his role is “catalyst”. As a catalyst, his art is to get people to talk to each other.

“Coming from St. Lucia to New York at the age of 14 gave me the perspective of an outsider. Knowing other cultures make you a better person. I work in many third world countries and industrial places and the work always comes back to the most important things – what is is to be alive, being safe, being loved. I am humbled every time I am in a place where things we take for granted here do not exist. This becomes part of my approach – to build collective knowledge that allows people to do something about this with an art practice, using what you already have.”

“I don’t separate my artist skills from my administrator skills. It was a ‘Eureka!’ moment for me when I realized that I didn’t have to.”

“At my day job at DCLA, I work with artist/finalists who are about halfway through a 6 week process to create a proposal. I like to learn about the artist. To encourage them to create a proposal that relates to their body of work. Very often, once an artist is told they are getting $100,000 to create something, they go into shock and try to make something to please other people. I am there to tell them what we want is the ‘authentic you’. Here my role changes: I am acting in the role of an administrator with the sensibility of an artist.”

This, in a nutshell, is how I summed up the artist administrator ratio for Kendal:

Administrative skills is knowledge to get art stuff done – Tweet that!

As an artist, 80% is art, 20% is administrative.
As an administrator, 80% is administrative, 20% is art


“My next project is the the Art Prospect Public Art Festival in St. Petersburg. I was invited as an administrator and became an artist. Contemporary public art is new in Russia. The idea of 50 artists taking over a community is unheard of. This year’s theme is “Dialogue”. We will connect with other groups such as consulates to bring artists from all over the world. There is a 10 day artmaking process and the festival itself takes place over a weekend.”


“It was becoming all about me. The guy who just got here, the guy from New York. I’m more of a behind the scenes person. I wanted everybody to stop promoting me.”

For those of you who are curious, here are 2 examples of Kendal’s recent work:


Global Art Lab Workshop



The Papua New Guinea Arts Incubator


“I have a young person working for me who has interests in lots of different areas. I told him that if he can’t find a job that he likes, make it up. There is a lot of theory out there. I get impatient with all that speculation and what ifs. Just do it and see what happens.


image by Hugh McLeod

Write your own name tag, your own story, your own narrative before someone else does it for you.

I am working on creating new names for myself with one of my artist friends. What I came up with is, ‘cultural engineer’.
What do you think?”

For me, the name I like for myself is “keyboard strategist”. That covers everything I do from playing late night jam sessions to writing. Stay tuned.

Can you see yourself as a cultural engineer or another new name that best describes you?

Think about all facets of what you do to make your art happen. When you look at yourself as an artist, what you may see is an administrator.

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Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.