This is an episode I’ve so been looking forward to! We speak to one of the most effective grants hustlers I’ve ever met in the performing arts arena, Joan Osato. She has produced shows that have traveled all over the nation, most notably working with performer Marc Bamuthi Joseph whose titles include “The Break/s” and “Word Becomes Flesh”. Joan blesses us here with some fantastic tips on getting your own art up and out there.  We talk about:

  • Managing your career
  • Securing funding
  • Getting into festivals
  • Touring your work!

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Websites where you can find Joan’s work!

Download this from iTunes now for free! And please also rate and leave a comment about the series. Thank you!



Anthem: Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Art of Hustle podcast series. In a minute I am going to be playing you an interview of a recording I had with Joan Osato, who is somebody you’re going to want to know more about. Joan Osato has played a pivotal role in local and national theater for well over a decade and has been a critical part of Youth Speaks since 2001. She served as Youth Speaks manager from 2001 to 2007 and has been a producer, assistant director, stage manager, production manager, and lighting designer with the Living Word project.

She has brought her multiplicity of production and design talents to Living Word project repertory works such as The Break/s, Word Becomes Flesh, Scourge, and Mirrors in Every Corner. She served as director of the Asian American Theater Company from 1997 to 2000 and currently sits on its advisory board. She is the inaugural recipient of San Francisco Arts Commission Artist and Communities Partnership Grant for a project she is conducting through Asian American Recovery Services of San Francisco.

Joan Osato is also a documentary photographer. Her photographs have exhibited at SF Camera Work and graced the album cover designs of iconic bands such as Faith No More. She has been considered for prestigious awards such as the Prix de la Photographie and awarded an Exhibition in The Bay Area Currents 2009. Her work has been exhibited at Meridien Gallery and features in publications such as Koream Magazine and ArtSlant, as the Juried Exhibit Winner in Photography. Without further delay, please do enjoy this super-rich and informative talk with Joan.

Anthem: Okay Joan, thank you so much for being on the show. And for folks who are still new to your wide range of experiences and your history, can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the arts field?

Joan: Well, thank you, Anthem, for asking me to do this podcast. So, I got started in the field initially as an intern. I interned for Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco and I had been outside of that field. In particular, I had never worked for a non-profit, I had done my own business before, but I really wanted to get involved in the arts and theater, in particular, Asian American theater, in particular. So, I interned for them for a production called Sisters Matsumoto by Philip Kan Gotanda, which, you know, went so well and I learned a lot of things on that production that I got hired as the managing director for Asian American Theater Company.

So, that’s how I got my start. I would say everything that I learned about theater I learned from experience. Those experiences, as far as doing production and working with the artists and raising money and handling money and, you know, running a nonprofit, very small nonprofit — it was probably under 250,000 — but had been in operation for something like 30 years, so it had a long history that I could kind of look back at and research. You know, learn a lot.

Anthem: And did those things come natural to you as far as getting into — I mean, that seems like a pretty big position to jump into as managing director. That’s a pretty big responsibility, it requires a certain skill set that a lot of artists don’t have right away, or need to build up to most of the time, so how was that transition for you going from intern into that position? Was it natural?

The Most Important Thing Is Your Sense of Enthusiasm

Joan: For me, it seemed natural, but it’s kind of like, you know, all the skills that I had learned just in life before, I could apply them to, like various things within a position like that. And all that was about was increasing my skills and really having an enthusiasm and a real desire to learn more about the field, which I think the most important thing is your sense of enthusiasm and adventure. It’s kind of like it’s wide open, so that’s kind of the biggest skill.

Anthem: That’s true. I always talk about optimism and half the people think I’m crazy and half of the people get it. And what made you think it was possible to stay in the field? Were you, at that point, thinking wow, I’d love to participate in this for the rest of my life, or were you thinking this is fun for now and we’ll see where it goes?

Any Artist Is Really An Administrator

Joan: Well, I mean, I’ve always been a lover of the arts and of theater. And, you know, to contribute to something to live performance in whatever way that I was able to was a really important passion of mine. Something that I really didn’t get to, or didn’t allow myself to really dive into until my first experiences with Asian American Theater. And by allowing, I think by making the leap and just kind of throwing myself into it, it was a good exercise and, you know, people can see whether they’re really cut out for it or not, but any artist is really an administrator.

And so all of the skills that I was picking up in the theater company, or all things in art are very useful and, I would say, very necessary for individual artists to know and to learn about the field, about how to manage a company, which could be yourself, and to kind of promote its success.

Anthem: And how did you eventually segue into the role of producer and curator? For instance, you recently put on a production at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how that came into being?

Joan: Well, it’s funny. After I left Asian American Theater, you know, there was a new startup organization in San Francisco called Youth Speaks, and this was back when they didn’t have their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, they were still under fiscal sponsorship of Intersection for the Arts.

Anthem: Right.

Joan: So, I kind of, you know, I applied for a job there to manage the nonprofit, which was really great because it was a startup organization and my two colleagues, James Kass and Mark Bamuthi Joseph, were very new within nonprofit, and so setting up the company was like a skill that I could bring from, you know, my prior experience working with a company of similar size, and in theater.

And so the exciting thing about that was that Mark was interested in starting a theater project of Youth Speaks and so from that point, you know, we built a theater company. Basically, a repertory company that tours nationally, that tours internationally, that premiers, you know, work in some pretty, kind of large scale, you know, and splashy premiers, you know, that are well received.

And Yerba Buena Center of the Arts has long been a partner and was a commissioner of a couple of our works and this came out of a conversation between James Kass and Ken Foster and Mark and Youth Speaks on curating a festival that concentrated on West Coast artists and promoting West Coast aesthetic. And so the last production that I just did was at Yerba Buena Center of the Arts and ran for three nights over there. Prior to that, in October, we premiered a show called “red, black, and GREEN: a blues”, which is on a national tour right now, and so I handle that, yes.

Which Artists Are Ready for Opportunity?

Anthem: That’s fantastic, and congratulations. I imagine that there would be many artists that would love to be showcased in a program like that. How do you go about selecting when there are so many talented people out there, determining who is “ready” for that type of opportunity?

Joan: Well, Left Coast Leaning is a festival, which highlights new and emerging aesthetic on the West Coast, and so that covers all the way from Canada all the way down to San Diego. And so what happens during the year is that, you know, the curators see a lot of work, I see a lot of work, Mark sees a lot of work, you know, Yerba Buena sees a lot of work. And through kind of the process of putting forth names of works that we’ve seen, the festival is curated. We also have other opportunities in terms of festival events. We do an event called Life is Living. It’s outdoors where we also promote West Coast artists.

I would say on the artist tip is to really try to get your work presented in some of these festival settings, which are, like, you know, TBA through the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art. It’s a festival that’s up in Portland. There’s a festival that’s in Los Angeles that is run by Under the Radar, Mark Russell, and is co-produced by REDCAT and there are various festivals, if you do your research, where it’s good to submit your work for a presentation just because they’re booking conferences.

For instance, we submitted a work for a festival called Under the Radar in New York, which is attended by the APAP Conference and TCG members, which is Theater Communications Group, New York, and so that’s kind of like this frenzy of booking. And so, you know, you have to promote and pitch yourself and promote yourself into some of these festivals. It’s not the only route, but it’s a good way of really securing things like touring engagements and yeah.

Anthem: Festivals, from what I understand, are a little bit of a gamble because you pretty much have to fund that yourself until such point that someone will see you and actually book you. And I guess I’m curious to know what advice you would have for artists to work out that funding for the beginning so that they could at least get seen, what advice you would have for them at that point, and there afterwards. How would someone strategize getting proper grants and all that stuff, which you are expert at?

Preparing for the Festival Circuit

Joan: On the first step, as far as promoting yourself in festivals, some of the festivals do, in order to get out into the field, you need to kind of secure your own presenting site. At APAP in New York it’s a huge festival where there are going to be, you know, probably 600 companies, ensemble companies presenting their work at, you know, I don’t know how many hundreds of venues or, you know garages or whatever they can find to present in, in New York. And you do have to, at the beginning, kind of pave your own way.

And so, in order to that, you know, you have to do the necessary fundraising. If you don’t have 501(c)(3) status, you can always do, like, kick starter campaigns and kind of really out in advance. You know, I would say at least six months in advance of, and I would even say more because you want to go forward without the stress of knowing whether you have the money to do it or not.

The other thing is to really figure out your budget and, you know, do your homework, figure out the costs. Like, just recently, you know, I have a friend who’s a director and a producer and was presented with the opportunity to do the National Asian American Theater Festival, present there, which is a great opportunity, but, you know, not everything is paid for.

And so, you know, helped her figure out what her bottom line was in terms of budget and how much money she would need to actually pull it off and just try to think creatively about, you know, can you pull some staff from the city that you’re going to as opposed to moving people and, you know, just all those details matter.

Anthem: Truly, truly.

The Funding Puzzle

Joan: The second part of your questions was about grants.

Anthem: Locating those resources, finding out what’s right for you. There are so many, but, at the same time, for a new artist is might be mysterious where to find any of them.

Joan: Yeah. Well, the festival presentations are too. You know, you really want to know the field. You know, not to duplicate stuff out in the field because I don’t believe in that, but to know, to be knowledgeable, to kind of see if there’s somewhere that you kind of can fit yourself in right.

Anthem: What would be an example, for instance.

Joan: For example, you know, Asian American Theater, there’s a festival every year or every two years either in Los Angeles or New York. It’s a good kind of presenting ground for new work and emerging artists. And there’s a submission process that’s laid out pretty clearly on the web and is to kind of look at submission processes for different types of festivals and to look at all the requirements that are under those, too, because you have to prepare.

There’s a lot of background and preparation for being ready to pitch yourself, and that includes video presentations, having really, really good, clean, and well-edited video. It is worth the investment, I would say, because, you know, most of the time people will not see you live. That’s the only sense that they will get of your work; plus, your written material, and the written material is really important for marketing, but mostly, in terms of promoting yourself and the grand. So, getting into grants, that’s also a matter of, like, doing your research.

There’s places like, you know, Foundation Center. You know, Foundation Center has this great email list that you can get on for the arts and so you just sign up and then, you know, every couple weeks you get this huge list of grants for arts or grants for individual artists. And to kind of block out a calendar, kind of look at what are the grants that you can apply for and what you can’t apply for. And so I do a lot of work with, you know, young startup, you know, organizations or individual artists trying to figure out and negotiate that whole world, because it can be rather complicated and confusing.

Anthem: Yes.

Joan: But, what I would say is that, you know, most individual artists, when they first kind of think about, oh, I would love to get funded, the ones that I’ve assisted, which I think everyone who I’ve worked with has been really successful, but you have to have your coaches, kind of like your support in line people. The best thing to have is people who are going to push you to do stuff like that.

Anthem: Truly.

Joan: And keep you, kind of your head above water and, you know, kind of keep the stress down, and kind of, like, just offer the words.

Anthem: Yeah, like basic project management, personal management type of stuff. Yeah, indeed.

Joan: Totally. Have your people in your corner, you know?

Anthem: It’s true. It’s like you’re going into an MMA fight and you’ve got to have your trainers.

Joan: Yes.

Deciphering Grant Speak

Anthem: Grant speak is not regular English.

Joan: No, they developed it on another planet. They brought it here and —

Anthem: It’s true.

Joan: — And now we need to endure it.

Anthem: Yeah, and so, I mean, some artists don’t have language skills. Even for their own bio they struggle with how to describe their work, and then there’s this whole other arena, you know, a next level for speaking art talk that is grant speak. And what advice would you have for the beginner to begin to learn that language and slowly master it over time?

Joan: It is a difficult thing. You know, like, I work with a lot of artists who are writers, and so, you know, it’s not as difficult. It’s still difficult for them. It’s still difficult to talk about yourself, and it’s still difficult to talk about your work. You know, we have this wall where it’s like we appreciate other people’s work; we can be effusive about it and, you know, like, praise it to other people. And yet when we turn out eyes to our own work, we kind of get, you know, shy or self–conscious or there’s something weird about that for people, especially at the beginning.

And a guided practice that I take people through, and these are people who are incredibly accomplished in the field down to people who are just starting in the field, is it’s a problem that I think a lot of artists have, is really, like, saying those things about yourself and about your work. And so I like to take people through a process of where they just talk through. You know, what’s the most complimentary thing that anyone has ever said about you. You know, was it ever printed? Who said that?

And it’s just like trying to tease out, you know, just the kind of descriptive words, phrases, that they could use to describe other people’s work, but they’re not going to do it to describe their own. So, it’s kind of like you have to have, in terms of writing grants, you do have to have good, you know, a good command of language and be articulate in terms of in writing. It’s a skill that is, you know, you need to develop. Some artists, you know, go the route of hiring people to write for them, so that’s also a possibility, if it’s not your game.

But I think that you need to be able to write about your work and talk about it, you know. Doesn’t mean that you have to be out there kind of promoting it like forever because, you know, you reach the point where you can hire people to do that once you get started. And that’s such a relief, you know, when people are able to reach that point where it’s like, I’m not producing my own work anymore, I’m not going to write that grant anymore, you know.

Anthem: Yeah, that’s the ultimate dream. That’s the ultimate dream. Leading up that point, what kind of classes or books should people be adding to their library that will help them get to this place?

Joan: I’d mentioned Foundation Center a couple times, and, as far as locally and in San Francisco, that’s the place to go. They offer classes on really, you know, grant writing 101, kind of all the nuts and bolts of filling out grant applications, you know, generally what the grant speak means in terms of narrative, budget, organizational budget, project budget, you know, resumes, you know, all the stuff that needs to go inside of grant packages. They go through the presentation of the grant package itself, which is kind of adminy type of thing.

I’m such a stickler and I learned this when I was beginning, but to just read everything, to follow directions. I have a theory that, like, when you don’t follow directions, they can immediately throw your grant to a garbage can, you know.

Anthem: It’s true.

Joan: So, everything in the package. Everything presented well. Fonts all exactly the same in the font that they tell you to, you know, stuff like that. And it may seem kind of ridiculous, but it’s just, it’s kind of the hoop that you jump through in order to fund yourself this way. So, it’s a different thing than being, you know, an entrepreneur and selling your stuff for marketing on the web or other ways that you can generate, you know, that kind of for-profit revenue. It’s kind of its own little world that you need to negotiate.

Anthem: I guess it’s entrepreneurial in the sense that it might be equivalent to pitching to, like, a venture capital firm. Like, instead of pitching to the public, you’re pitching to a very small group of people that are holding the money.

Mutually Beneficial Relationships with Funders

Joan: Yes, you are. But remember, and I know this is hard for people to keep in mind, remember that this is a mutually beneficial relationship. When you find a foundation or a public funding source that aligns with you and is there; their whole reason for being is to support you or work like yours, it’s like, this is more like a friendship than a situation where you need to feel like you’re begging. And I really think that’s important for people.

I know it’s really difficult at the beginning to not feel a little bit, kind of, intimidated by these huge foundations, but, you know, honestly most of the program officers that I’ve met really want to support the arts and really want to support the artist and want your project to be a success. And so this is something where you, I take it, you know, when you finally get that word that you’re funded, that this is something that you’re in it together.

Anthem: Right, the beginning of a relationship.

Joan: Yeah, just the beginning.

Anthem: Yes.

Joan: Yeah.

Anthem: Indeed. That’s the first date.

Joan: Yeah, the first date, yes.

Anthem: Have you sat on many panels?

Joan: I’ve sat on a few panels, you know, individual artist panels for the Arts Commission and a couple of funding panels.

Making A Strong Application

Anthem: What things do you notice when you’re on there as far as, like, what things tend to get eliminated faster than others, and what things tend to make it to the next round faster? Is there a certain something?

Joan: Well, you know, when I was talking about organizing the grant and, like, do everything they say. When you’re on a panel, you see, you’re basically sitting in for the foundation. And so you adhere to their criteria or rules as much as also relying on your own kind of critical thinking in terms of your assessment of a grant, right. So, if they have rules and, you know, folks didn’t follow them, you know; most probably you’ll never see the grant in the final reviews.

Once it gets to panel it’s usually because it’s, you know, the first kind of round of grants have been read. You know, you’re down to kind of a smaller number or proposals that the staff or the foundation deems fit for funding. When I look at grants, you know, I look at the whole package first. You know, in terms of whether everything is there that was asked for and then I go through the information. I look to the narrative to kind of give me the basis, right. And so the narrative has to be clean and clear, and also has to inspire me, you know.

There has to be some sense that you get of the person who’s speaking to you and the importance to them or the importance to a community or whatever the project is. You get to the other parts of the grants, which are usually, like, materials or work samples, and kind of read through them and kind of assess them. And the other parts of the work samples, which I was talking about the video component of submission of work for festivals. Well, it’s also really important in terms of grant making.

The work samples are very important. Some people would say that they are the most important thing because if they can’t get through your work sample, they’re not going to fund your work. It wouldn’t make sense, right. If you can’t watch it and you’re a performing artist —

Anthem: That’s difficult.

Joan: — It’s kind of hard for a panelist to say, oh yeah, but, you know, but you do, you know, if you’ve seen the work live and the presentation of it is so much different than a work sample, you do say that. But it’s kind of hard to convince, like, a room full of people if they’re really seeing, like, a really poor quality work sample.

Anthem: And how does someone do that? That’s always been a big puzzle for many performing artists. When you’re performing for a live audience, for a whole room, you’re using your body, your voice, and the stage in a very specific way. That might not translate well on tape. So, what tips do you have for that?

Joan: And your work sample will never adequately, you know, show off your work. You know, nothing really compares with the live performance and nothing can really capture all those nuances, right. But, you get the cleanest and best video that you can of segments. You learn the technology involved, you learn, if your mic, to draw sound off the board. If you, you know, where to place the video. If you have one stationary camera, where does that go, you know, and at least come out with something very clean, right.

Anthem: Right.

Joan: If people aren’t seeing the full breadth of your work, and they never will on video, that’s where the description and the narrative is. You really have to be able to inspire people to kind of vision what it is, what you are doing, and sometimes why you’re doing it is as important as what it is.

Anthem: Right. As a framing device.

Joan: Yeah, as a framing device, definitely. So, that’s important. Also, your experience is important.

Anthem: How much does that figure into the equation? If someone’s got a really long, impressive resume and someone has just a few shows under their belt.

Joan: I would say make your narrative pop. That’s what I’d say because the artists I’ve worked with had never received funding before and so this is, you know, what I’m talking about really, really paying attention to the grant and really trying to make it as inspiring and as successful as possible. It takes a lot of work and the folks put a lot of thought into it, a lot of thought into their budgets, you know. They ask a lot of questions and they were on their way. On their way then you know how to do it. It’s kind of like, after that, it’s just picking up skills and learning more foundations and stuff like that.

Can An Artist Live Off Of Grants?

Anthem: I’m going to ask you a question that I have an opinion on, but I would love to see what you say.

Joan: Are we going to fight?

Anthem: Well, I feel like you come from a very unique perspective because you’ve worked with, originally, a grass roots organization that has built itself up and now has national presence, and you’ve seen artists grow, you’ve helped many artists grow, and from time to time an artist will ask me — well, I’ll ask them, like, what is your vision, what is your ultimate goal, what would you like to do, and sometimes an artist will say something along the lines of, well, I just want to apply for grants and live off of them for the rest of my life. Is that actually possible? Can people do that? Is it a living wage or is it just enough to pay for the work?

Joan: Okay, one thing is that if someone came up to me and told me that, I would not say it’s impossible, but I would say if that’s the only thing that you’ve got in mind as your ultimate vision of, you know, bringing art and beauty to the world, you’re in the wrong business and you could probably do something else. You know, like a business, right. Because, you know, grant making and slogging through the world of nonprofit arts is not easy, right. If you ask me if an artist can be at the position where they are making a living wage, absolutely.

Like, it’s something that I believe in. My bank account doesn’t say that I, as an individual artist, am making it right now, but do I believe it for myself? Absolutely. Absolutely, and I’m seeing, you know, I know many people who live that dream, you know. And there’s a lot of hard work in it and sometimes there are moments of coasting, you know, where you have critical claim and, you know, there’s some benefits, monetary benefits that come with that, and so yes, it’s totally possible to make a good living as an artist, you know, a practicing artist, I do know that.

But what I also do know is that most of the people, I would say, most of the people I know right now are practicing artists, but they struggle, just as I struggle myself as an individual artist. And, did that answer the question?

Diversifying Funding Streams

Anthem: It does answer the question, and it’s sort of…thank you so much for sharing that. I guess how I would normally respond is that a lot of artists I know have day gigs. They’re not in their studio only, I guess is what I’m saying. And I feel like it’s a rare occasion, and that’s why I love to be corrected if I’m wrong, because maybe you’ve seen with your own eyes how an artist can just grind it out applying for grants and securing this type of funding all lifelong.

Joan: Well, it’s not just funding no more than it is for any healthy organization to rely on public funding. You have to generate revenue for yourself, too. So, when I’m talking about being a successful artist working in your field, I doubt that anyone’s going to get, you know, and endowment, you know —

Anthem: A lifelong one? Those don’t exist?

Joan: — A patron. Like, back in the renaissance days, you know, but maybe, you know. There are significant changes that are going on right now.

Anthem: Yes.

Joan: Where individual artists are being promoted in terms of where there are in the arts ecology meaning, you know, a lot of times foundations would fund the organizations who present art, but not the artists themselves, and so a lot of the field and the funding streams are changing over to support the artists and therefore where the art’s made.

Can you do on that grants your whole life? I probably wouldn’t want to. It’s not the most ideal situation to constantly be in that mix, and I believe that at some point, you know, all funding streams are different and so they don’t fund people for your life. They’re project based, you know, maybe they’ll be multi-year; maybe they’ll support you through five years of a project. Large public art products I know are much longer timelines evolved, so you have more than a living wage in the time that you’re creating, you know, a lot of public art.

Anthem: I’m curious about something that you mentioned in talking about this, that even organizations are having to diversify their funding streams. I’m sure you can’t answer for all organizations, but would you say it was generally true that more and more institutions are having to find ways to earn income?

Joan: Yes.

Anthem: And what does that mean? What does that look like? And, I guess, how does that translate to the individual artist when they’re thinking about their own income streams?

Joan: Yes. Well, it’s true. It’s like to be healthy in today’s economy, you can’t rely on public and foundation funding in total. One, it’s not a very secure way to hold an organization. You have to be able to generate unrestricted funding from individual donors, from revenue streams that are earned such as ticket sales, such as, you know, CDs, books, videos, you know, whatever creative ways that people generate revenue. And, you know, you’re an artist.

Anthem: There’s lots.

Joan: I know you got some ideas, but really, the revenue that you can count on and kind of year to year and kind of ties you over either as an individual or as an organization is being able to build up a donor base that you can rely on either from project to project or, like, over years where they’re sustaining you as an artists. And the other thing is revenue streams. Earn revenues where you, you know, you sell something, okay.

And I’ll give you the biggest example in the organization I work with, which is the revenue stream in the organization is touring. Touring revenue. Doesn’t mean you make a lot of money, all right, the bottom line is that the tour supports artists being out doing their art. It supports the realization of an artistic vision, you know, and a community engagement vision out in the world that is what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s our reason for being and it pays for the bills and it pays everyone a living wage. And, you know, that is really important.

On the tours, you know, basically people have their work as an artist or as a production person on that tour, but they don’t handle, like, the flights, and they don’t handle the contracts. You know, that’s kind of the portion that I handle in order to let them do what they’re best at doing. And they are the best, you know, I consider them so lucky, you know. So, they’re making a living. What they’re doing is they’re on tour as artists and so they’re earning an income from gigging, I guess you’d call it, but they get to travel, you know, all over the world and they get to do the work that they created.

Obviously, musicians are more used to working this way, but the same goes for a dance company. The same goes for a theater ensemble company, the same goes for you as an individual. It’s like, what are your potential, kind of, ways of earning revenue. If you’re a visual artist, you sell that work, or you sell reproductions of that work.

Anthem: Right.

Joan: If you’re a musician, CDs, you know, or through various types of web platforms. You know, they’re available to musicians. You find ways of generating some revenue for yourself in between, you know, trying to get the grants and everything. And then when you get the grants, budget that money.

Anthem: Don’t spend it all at once. How has your experience supporting all these artists informed your own journey as an artist, as a visual artist, as a photographer? Both those fields are different, but there are some overlaps and what are those places where they intersect and you feel like your work on the admin side of arts production has informed your own work as a visual artist.

Joan: Well, it’s so funny because I’ve spent a good part of my life helping artists and supporting artists and I never thought of myself as an artist, to tell you the truth. And the kind of thing that changed that view for me was that I was in a Creative Capital. Creative Capital is an artist support organization that is out of Washington D.C., I believe, who does these professional workshops for artists. And somehow I found myself in one of these. I think I got tricked into it.

Anthem: Well, that’s a good trick.

Joan: Yeah, it was a great trick. I owe this person my life. You know, I went in, I wasn’t sure. I was like, okay, I can talk about the work we’ve produced and the artists that I promote and I had just recently started back into film photography, which, you know, I stopped 25 years ago when I was a teenager. When you ask how that informs the work that I do now, you know, I could look at it like, wow, I missed 25 years of a career, and I don’t choose to look at it that way. I think it’s great. I think it’s an awesome thing that I’ve rediscovered something that I love, and the fact that it’s not in the field, you know, that I find myself working in, in terms of arts, is okay.

I certainly know it’s a whole entirely different world in terms of visual arts and, you know, knowing the field. And so, I feel like, you know, very young and naïve in it. And I also know that there is no set path and there’s no set manual and there’s no way that I need to go through that world, just because a lot of people I know have been the trendsetters. They did it their own way and so that gives me inspiration to know whatever I’m doing as long as I’m going my work, and I’m happy at it, I’m a success.

That’s not to say I don’t have huge aspirations, right. I want to be able to be self sufficient and I want to be able to create my work, and I believe I’m going to do that.

Anthem: I believe you are, too. You probably already are doing that.

Joan: I’m trying very hard.

Anthem: That’s awesome. I like the mantra myself from time to time when I think about that exact thing that you were just talking about. I like the mantra, always pleased, never satisfied. It’s all good, but we still want more. Where can people find more about your work as a producer or visual artist online? What are your websites?

Joan: Oh my gosh, like, there’s five of them.

Anthem: Okay great.

Joan: So, I’m a producing director for Youth Speaks, Incorporated, in San Francisco. That’s, and I’m producing director there. That means I produce all the festivals and performance programs of Youth Speaks, which is, you know, nonprofit, literary arts program, and youth development program operating in the Bay area.

I also produce their festival, Brave New Voice, which is a network of 50 organizations across the country, and a huge international youth poetry festival that rotates, you know, throughout the country every year. So, I vagabond it for Brave New Voices. That’s

And I also do this incredible project called Living Word Project, which is a theater reparatory company under the artistic direction of Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and you can find our information at three places, or maybe more. We’re on Facebook, of course, but You can also us at, and you can also find us at MAPP International Projects and Productions of New York City, which we now have an agent.

Anthem: Congratulations, that’s awesome.

Joan: Well, I would recommend it. Once you get to that point, get an agent. It takes a great deal of stress off.

Anthem: And, do you want to let us know about your photo site, too?

Joan: Oh yeah, yeah. See, I forgot that.

Anthem: There are so many.

Joan: Well, you can find my work frequently on Intersection for the Arts at I do a lot of visual work for plays including a play called Tree City Legends and Mirrors in Every Corner, Habibi, Nobody Moves.

My own website is and you can find me on ArtSlant and, you know, use that Google engine to find it. You know, yeah.

Anthem: Everywhere. Joan, thank you so much for being on the show. Huge pleasure and honor. Thank you so much.

Joan: Oh, thank you, Anthem. It was fun.

As always, THANK YOU. Gaining traction in the theater field can be one of the most mystifying (sometimes frustrating) challenges. I hope this podcast episode has helped you get a clearer picture of some of the mechanics of this world and your career in it. I’d love to hear your reaction. Please feel welcome to leave a comment below. If you have colleagues who’d love to listen to this talk, go ahead and use the convenient share buttons below to pass this along!