Giant Steps: So much food for thought, my brain has a tummyache. In a good way.
What is Giant Steps? Giant Steps is a remarkable one day conference for creative entrepreneurs of all types, founded by Susan Campion of Camponovo Consulting and M.anifest. It brings together creative professionals, artists, foodies, business owners, consultants, freelancers, nonprofit and/or arts administrators, musicians, dancers, photographers, filmmakers, and anyone else who wants to be at the table.
Better put: it is a fountain of insight from people you normally might not think to or have the opportunity to interact with in a professional way. The variety of background and experience of people on the panels and as participants ran the gamut, from hip hop artists, to a eco-and health- conscious sex shop owner. From Robyne Robinson (Fox news anchor, jewelry artist, recent political candidate, former gallery owner…), to a guy who started painting athletic shoes for fun as a teenager and turned it into a business. You see a professional dancer on the same panel as the owner of a company two people big that makes bitters in Milwaukie. Local spoken word artist Desdamona moderated a panel that included photographer Wing Young Huie who has documented the everyday faces of Lake Street, Frogtown, University ave, etc, along with Sameh Wadi owner of Saffron, a middle eastern restaurant in Minneapolis which has now branched out into the food truck biz. Another plenary included stories from David “TC” Ellis about growing up with Prince, being on the streets, and eventually getting sober and founding “Hip Hop High.” On the same panel we heard from May Lee-Yang, a Hmong writer and theater performer who made the excellent point that when people say Hmong actors aren’t as good as Guthrie actors, she responds “Yeah, no shit!” because the Hmong community doesn’t even have a long history of written language, much less have a history and background of theater to build from. You start where you’re at.
What you take away from listening to these incredible people fills the spectrum: Perseverance. Humility. That it is possible to accept failure and move forward from it. You can push through, and be a better person for the obstacles you’ve gone through. Finding balance. Staying true to your needs and vision. Figuring out when to say yes, when to say no, and when you need a contract in writing. How to do your friggin’ taxes. How to think about currency, assets, and value in a new way. How to get famous using the internet (apparently; I didn’t actually go to that breakout session, ha). How to share your message. How to explain why your message and project matters – who cares? Why here, and why now? Building relevancy. Finding a collaborator who will push you to get to the next level, rather than just giving you praise & validation. Making something together that’s better than what you could have made individually on your own. Maintaining vision. Remembering infinite growth is probably not really your goal. Think more about slow growth. Local growth. Growth doesn’t have to mean expansion; it can mean digging in deeper to what you’re already doing, like Danny Schwartzman’s decision to literally dig in and build a garden behind Common Roots café and start a catering service out of their Lyndale Ave. location instead of expanding to a whole new restaurant in St. Paul.
Other highlights & quotes:
“Take the leap because sometimes that freefall is what you need.” -I’ve actually lost track of who said this; I think it was either Robyne Robinson or David “TC” Ellis
Hearing TC Ellis talk about trying to get Prince to give him a hand getting into the music biz by rapping in his face every time he ran into him at the club.
“Every time I thought I was bored I was actually really afraid of something [that I needed to do].” – Dawn Mikkelson. This one hit me so hard! So true. She went on to say “I’m scared of it, that means I need to do it.” I was having a lot of insight like this in the spring. It’s so easy to become complacent again, or to move forward but then get caught up in things and lose focus or direction.
Many quotes from Robyne Robinson: “I got 240 rejection letters before I got my first job.” “If nobody wants this I’ll take it and make it into something incredible.” “Fear is the mind-killer.” “I did everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door.”
“One of the challenges is I have too many passions.” – I Self Divine
“You’re blessed if you know what you want to do early in life. And you’re also cursed because then you have to do it.” –Wing Young Huie
“Inspiration is for amateurs.” – Chuck Close, quoted by Wing Young Huie
“When you’re saying ‘I need money’ maybe what you really need to say is ‘I need barley.’” – My awesome friend Noah Keesecker from Springboard presenting with Betsy Altheimer, warping our brains about how to think about assets, value, and currency exchange.We were asked to create our own “dollars” that represented one item or skill we could share, and then find someone in the room who would either buy that thing/skill with a real dollar bill, or trade their own invented “dollar.” I traded “one funky drawing that doesn’t make sense” for “supporting verbage: a good reason or rationalization for doing something.” We were then asked to shout out our perception of how much value we held in our hands after everyone traded; answers got up well into the hundreds or perhaps above a thousand.
Anyway, continuing with quotes from the day:
“I don’t get out of bed without a contract.” – Nick Kosevich (the guy who makes bitters)
(Paraphrased) “You have to figure out how to get taken seriously even though you’re talking about buttplugs, and at the same time remember not to take buttplugs too seriously.” – Jennifer Pritchett, owner of Smitten Kitten
Also, ran into friends & colleagues I knew would be there, but also artists I’d never met in real life before (like Kate), as well as someone I’d met 9 months ago at a Springboard community art projects workshop who I also ran into again at Seward coop two days after the conference, and lots of new people who I hope to reconnect with in person and online in the future.
I think my brain is still digesting. Which is okay; I don’t want it to fade away too quickly. I’m content with ruminating on all of this for a long while.