Start Something From Nothing

by Katy Rubin

in Activism,Global Connections

Post image for Start Something From Nothing

(Katy Rubin, Global Connections: On the Road, NYCEDC and NYFA Video/Blog, April 20, 2012)

Today I am the Artistic Director of a small but quickly growing nonprofit arts organization, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. Two years ago I was an individual artist and freelancer, using Theatre of the Oppressed (which I learned in Brazil, working with its founder, Augusto Boal) as a teaching artist in NYC public schools. I was just starting to think about creating “popular theatre troupes” with various communities in New York, and I was in conversations about starting my first homeless theatre troupe with a small outreach center on the Upper East Side.

But how does an artist start something from nothing? I got my BFA in a conservatory program and I certainly learned how to work hard, make mistakes and take risks, all important skills for starting a project or an organization–but I also learned that if I made good art, all I had to do was sit around waiting for someone to notice.  That education, in combination with the vague feeling the “business is bad” which I inherited from a liberal family, threatened to leave me paralyzed at the prospect of starting a project all my own.

At the same time, I came across the application for the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Artist as Entrepreneur Bootcamp, the first of its kind, funded by a new RFP from the New York City Economic Development Corporation. I applied, outlining my professional goals the best I could, and was accepted.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, the Bootcamp altered my path completely. In only five full days of training and homework, we were introduced to financial planning, budgets, excel, grants, websites, social media, networking, business plans, copyright law and more.  None of these things in themselves were new to me; it was the idea that all of these skills together were crucial to the implementation of all artistic and personal goals. I began to see the possibility of starting my own Theatre of the Oppressed organization as a reality.

Two years later, the NYCEDC and NYFA have chosen my organization as a success story, and made this video, featuring that first homeless troupe, now called Concrete Justice.  Although in the video, I say “I made it here in New York City” (that was the script!), I don’t feel as if I’ve arrived, exactly, and I certainly am not yet sure of my ability to survive through my work. However, I have made it to a realization that I can be an entrepreneur, in control of the path of my organization, and that the arts and business worlds have a lot to learn from each other.

Katy Rubin, Founding Artistic Director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, has facilitated the creation of Forum Theatre performances in New York with homeless adults; LGBT homeless youth; people living with HIV/AIDS; and recent immigrants; and has both trained and developed theatre in Brazil, India, and Nicaragua.