May 24, 2016

5/22/2016 – Capacity Build with Gina Reichert

Artist: Gina Reichert

Location: Laika Dog @ UFO Factory


GR & SRS – Coffee (cream/black); BLT Omelette & Waffle Dog Duo (PB&J sauce/Raspberry Creme sauce)

It was a real thrill to get to sit down with Gina Reichert, one half of the duo behind Power House Productions – kind of a celebrity force of art infrastructure around these parts. But with great exposure comes great risk – Detroiters, like most humans, fall easy prey to the notion that just because your project has some visibility, it is a successful money-making enterprise.

In some ways, we support this idea by promoting an illusion of success. We are not supposed to acknowledge our struggles. It is not enough that we get all the things done; to be really successful we additionally have to make it look easy (and if you’re a woman, you also have to have your hair done nicely and weight 125 pounds). This leads, I think, to a fracture between person and persona, and serves to demoralize everyone around us, who wonder why they can’t get something going for themselves.

That’s why it was refreshing to talk to Gina, who was very open about the struggle within success – especially in the context of the grant cycle for PHP, and the wider systemic issues with foundation money. Like most kinds of big business and government, policies are designed by people who never use them. There is a complete disconnect from end users. Every grant asks for feedback about how to make it better, and this is typically the recipient’s cue to kiss the ring and offer fealty to their process. It’s not that we aren’t grateful when we receive money to support our practice. It’s that art as a full time enterprise is not very well understood, and foundations love to pay for outcomes, but not process. Unfortunately, art is almost entirely process, and one which is reinvented every time, if it is to be good, innovative art.

So Gina and her partner Mitch find themselves in a mo’ money, mo’ problems situation. “Geez, I would love to have those problems,” you think to yourself. No, you wouldn’t. Being wedded to grant funding increasingly relegates someone in your organization to constant admin work – applying for grants, tracking budgets, documenting outcomes, and reporting. This is antithetical to the reasons many of us became artists in the first place. If we wanted to be corporate drones, I would have stayed in advertising and Gina would have stayed in boutique architecture, building luxury vacation homes on Long Island. It certainly pays better and offers more security than being an artist (tbh, I’m pretty sure a lemonade stand would pay better than arts writing). Folks like Gina and Mitch and me are driven to intervene with the world and create something we’d like to see there, not because there is a big payday in it – but ironically, the work we do is very much of value to many industries that leverage arts communities as placemakers. Foundations aren’t stupid – they know that if they want to lend value to places (either philanthropically, or because they have other types of investment in those places), attract businesses and new residents, and change the narrative about a place, there needs to be something happening there. Artists are often a little simpler than that – we are trying to find a way of being in and processing the world that feels right to us, and in some hyperbolic cases, prevents us from going completely fucking insane. I was miserable in an office. Absolutely miserable. I literally thought about dying every day. I don’t like to struggle, I don’t like to worry about how I’m paying my bills, and I absolutely fucking hate having to constantly run down meager freelance payments that make the crucial difference between me eating and putting gas in my car or not…but I like all that more than I like the feeling of my time escaping me, one highly-compensated minute at a time.

Gina and I also talked about press – because PHP received and continues to receive a great deal of media attention, and it never seems to quite turn out the way they’re hoping. Alright, Detroit. Here are some things you need to know about the media (and I say this as someone who categorically does not operate this way, but understands what’s happening when the narrative gets turned on you):

  1. Figure out what you are doing press for – This is a tool. Reporters/publications are trying to get the best story they can, to drive sales or clicks, or whatever. What are you doing? Do you want visibility for a project? Are you trying to put out a call to action? Would you like to shine a light on someone totally other than yourself who can’t attract media attention? Think about it, before you go in.
  2. Develop your talking points – Once you know what you are trying to say, figure out the best way to say it. Literally spend some time thinking about how you want to shape your message. Get some help, if you need it (I know there’s an arts writer around who will literally have breakfast with anyone who invites her; bish is crazy and she might be a good person to talk to about that).
  3. Stick to your talking points – STICK. TO. YOUR. TALKING. POINTS. Listen, I know this isn’t fun. I don’t like talking this way, and that’s why I don’t operate like a normal media professional. I want to have a real conversation, and I am not looking to trick you into saying something dumb and then printing it. But everyone else is, that is what they are doing. So you need to think about what you are saying and then JUST SAY THAT THING. Whatever the offhand comment you throw in, the unplanned remark…that will end up being the thing they seize upon, and you will be frustrated.
  4. Journalists can be lazy – And even if we aren’t, we are also under-compensated and under crushing deadlines. If there is a message you want to get across, make that the easiest message to hold onto. Send quotes via email, so we don’t have to transcribe recordings (bonus: you get a chance to really shape those, instead of freestyling). Send images that you like, instead of leaving it to some crappy snap from someone’s phone. When they ask you off-topic questions, take a breath, do your best series of Nicki Minaj rapid blinks, and go right back to your script. It’s your show; run it! To that end:
  5. Don’t waste time on FAQS – Every journalist wants exclusive content. When you’ve done as much press as Mitch and Gina, you become understandably fatigued saying the same stuff over and over. So don’t. Write up answers to your frequently asked questions, publish it on your website, and direct journalists there when they make their initial inquiries. It will help them get backgrounded easily (see #4), and result in better questions!

Hope that’s helpful, and that there are more BWTAs with Gina to come – she is refreshingly honest, hyper-powered, and inspiring in her struggle. You’re not doing it wrong, Gina. You’re doing it real. Keep shining.

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