Julia Baca and the 3 Creative Entrepreneurs

Catherine Oppenheimer

New Mexico School for the Arts

Creative Entrepreneurship: SMU Interview

JB: What was your process when coming up with up with NMSA? Did you make a business plan, or did it just morph and grow?

CO: I started exploring the idea, and I thought what do you do if you’re from New Mexico and you want to be a singer but have no access to the lessons? It’s a state known for arts and culture and kids don’t have a lot of access to that. It was identifying a problem. We did a lot of research about existing schools and decided to go to the legislature. It took three years to get legislation. They put us with the charter schools because audition-based meant it couldn’t be public. We wrote the charter application; 100 pages about the kind of school, the governing body, raising money, organizational structure, etc. and got our charter.

JB: Do you think that having a business plan is really important? And what are the challenges going into that?

CO: Finding the right people, finding a business manager who is willing to help you do that business plan—absolutely doing a business plan is key in managing. You want a plan that will tell you where you want to get in the next three years. Then you can work with your staff and have an end goal. When everybody knows where you’re going and the goals, then people can share the vision, workload, and willingness to get there. It’s not just for the person leading the company, but for everyone.

JB: What are three pieces of advice aspiring arts entrepreneurs?

CO: I would say have a sense of longevity. Make sure you really love your idea and feel deeply passionate about it. Things don’t happen overnight. We are in a culture that likes instant gratification and things take time. Make sure your back office is strong. By back office, I mean your accounting, human resources, and have insurance because you can do great in the community but not having insurance and not paying bills will take you down. Surround yourself with wonderful people. Sometimes people get very competitive and maybe don’t want to have anyone around them. I want to hire the smartest people and give them the leeway to do their jobs.    

Douglas Cardwell

Douglas Cardwell Percussion

JB: When did you feel you needed to make a business plan or did [the business] grow into itself?

DC: [I didn’t make a business plan right away]. It really grew into itself and it grew more after I bought real-estate, and then from there is when I got into the business. There is always a learning curve with the business. I had to learn from other people after I was out of school and pick business people’s brains about different methods and then apply them to a private studio. 

JB: Once you got settled did you wish that you would have come up with a business plan sooner or do you think it was necessary at the time? 

DC: Because it was small at the beginning, I don’t think it was so necessary. It could always be of some help, but because it was so small [3 students at the beginning] it was so easily managed, but after a while I had to get help from business-minded people.

JB: Do you have any pieces of advice for aspiring arts entrepreneurs? 

DC: Always ask for help. Have people who know more than you do from the business side of things. It can get tricky. My studio has grown into the size of having independent contractors. When it comes to hiring, you want to be able to groom them but also they have to have a good work ethic and be willing to learn as they go. You have to play/work for someone, not just say you can do it and not be able to. You want to hire someone who can do your job. You want to hire up not hire down; meaning you want to hire someone who knows more than you do if you can. You need to be with like-minded people. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be musicians or artists. Connect yourself with people who look for solutions and make multiple plans about all the details, everything you can think of. 

David Felberg

Co-Founder of Chatter

JB: What was your process going into Chatter and how did you know you wanted to come up with that idea? Did you start with a business plan or did it grow into itself?

DF: Eric Walters and I were both at a point in our careers where we wanted to come together and combine our conducting and composition. We decided Chatter was going to be a contemporary music group. Our first concert was paid for with credit cards we decided to form a non profit with no real long-term plans. The hard part about [business] is balancing between performing and administration. We did 2-3 new music concerts a year. We didn’t have a great plan, we just did things we kind of felt like doing. After my friend, Felix, founder of Church of Beethoven [a classical music organization I helped with] passed away it seemed right to merge the two. So, Church of Beethoven became part of Chatter and we merged the two. There is no old Chatter, nor is there Church of Beethoven. [The merging] process has happened over a process of 12-13 years. That’s the bare-bones outline.

JB: So now that you are well into the business, do you wish that you had started with a business plan or do you think it was even necessary at the time? 

DF: In hindsight, yes. But on the other hand, I would not have accepted it. I didn’t know anything about business really. I just knew about music and I had a passion for that. Things would have been ten times easier, but sometimes it’s also important to screw up royally in the beginning and learn from that. We’re still screwing up, but it’s a lot more calculated. In some ways things would have been a lot easier, but we got a feel for every moving part of the organization.

JB: What are three pieces of advice that you would offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

DF: I would say be extremely observant. Go to every performance that you’re involved in as an administrator and look at the audience reactions. Have the courage to take chances and believe in those chances and not apologize. Invite really smart people aboard your organization. People who are opinionated and come from a similar background, but also are willing to look at different points of view. And have fun! Once the administration is done, you can bring people together. Chatter is about community building. We are a unique entity. There’s not a lot of groups in the country doing what we’re doing. I think it’s really important to have a plan, but to be open to the fact that it might not be the plan [you] end up with.  

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