2015 Recipients


Kemi Ilesanmi

The Laundromat Project (New York, NY)

The Laundromat Project brings socially relevant and socially engaged art, artists, and arts programming into laundromats and other everyday spaces. By amplifying the creativity that already exists within communities, they build community networks and help solve local challenges. The Laundromat Project envisions a world in which artists are understood as valuable assets in every community and everyday people know the power of their own creative capacity. The Laundromat Project is particularly committed to long-term and sustained investment in communities of color as well as those living on modest incomes. The LP supports artists who want to better leverage their creative practice to be agents for change in their own neighborhoods through Create Change: a series of inter-connected programs, including residencies, commissions, and a professional development training program for artists interested in deepening their community-based creative practice. They have almost 80 artist alumni across NYC. The LP also offers community arts education programs for all ages.

Through their recent 10-day People-Powered Challenge, The LP raised over $27,000 from more than 500 donors across the city and beyond. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring arts entrepreneurs?

Find a band of merry supporters among your peers. Meet, drink, exchange advice, and support one another on your professional journeys. I’ve learned so much from my ‘ED Club’.

L to R: Sarah Wilke,Lane Czaplinski, Monique Courcy

OnTheBoards.tv (Seattle, WA)

In 2010, On the Boards theater launched OntheBoards.tv, a website that delivers full-length, high quality contemporary performance films to your TV, desktop or mobile device. They are one of the first contemporary performance organizations to begin filming works by top caliber artists with multiple high-definition cameras, collaboratively editing the films with the artists, and delivering feature-length performance films to audiences around the globe. Fans of contemporary performance have better access to artists they want to see regardless of where they live and their busy schedules, at affordable prices.

With a unique revenue sharing model, participating OntheBoards.tv artists get 50% each time someone purchases their performance film. For arts enthusiasts, there are no more barriers for viewing contemporary performance, allowing a viewer to watch at any time, and from any place, for as low as $5. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring arts entrepreneurs?

Sometimes dusting off old ideas leads to innovative new ones. We were inspired when creating OtB.tv by the fact that the Metropolitan Opera originally broadcast performances to movie theaters in the 50’s. New trends in artistic practice, place-making, experience design and social justice offer similar potential for reinterpretation.

L to R: Sam Bodkin, Ezra Weller, Kyle Nichols-Schmolze

Groupmuse (Boston, MA)

Groupmuse is a website where anyone can sign up to host, perform, and attend “groupmuses,” half party, half chamber music concerts, in homes around the world. Once a user is signed up on the site, they are free to host, attend, and bid to perform at groupmuses. Each user is screened by the Groupmuse team for security and to make sure hosts and musicians know how groupmuses work. The musical programs are always 45 minutes or less, with one intermission, and at least half being “traditional” classical music (pre-1950s, tonal, and Western). A donation bowl is passed around at every groupmuse and that money goes directly to the performers. Groupmuses tend to take place in homes and in the evening, but groupmusers are free to choose other times and places, like workplaces or bars.

With an almost non-existent budget, Groupmuse currently averages about 10-20 shows a week and has expanded to 15 cities around the world.

What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring arts entrepreneurs?

Talk the language of society. Don’t assume that already people care about what you fight for. If they did, you wouldn’t be necessary. Find reasons to make them care. For example: Let’s stop talking about how classical music needs saving. That is entirely irrelevant to the people who don’t care about classical music, which is most people. Let’s talk about the ways in which our society needs saving and how we can make classical music its knight in shining armor. What does it look like when classical music wears shining armor?

L to R: Brenna Sanchez, Tom Putnam

TBVE Films, Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit (Los Angeles, CA)

From filmmakers Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez, this riveting and inspiring film spends a year with the Detroit firefighters who are charged with the thankless task of saving a city many have written off as dead. With vast stretches of abandoned buildings, the highest arson rate in the country, and a budget crisis of epic proportions, these brave men and women risk injury, disablement, and death to try and make a difference for the city they call home. Closer than you’ve ever been, BURN takes you into the fires and into the lives of those who fight them in the most overworked and worst-funded fire department in the United States.

BURN may be one of the largest films funded entirely by charitable donations and no investors. They raised the money themselves, in $5, $10, $100 and $1000 dollar donations from individuals and corporations. Leveraging a unique funding structure, they blended donations, sponsors and “in-kind” support of goods, gear, and services. When BURN premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, it took home the Audience Award and enjoyed rave reviews, but still could not procure a commercial distributor. BURN’s producers decided to distribute the film themselves and have broken records for self-distribution, screening the film in over 170 cities.

What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring arts entrepreneurs?

If you’re looking to take the step toward making your art your business, you better stay clear on that and treat it like a business. Use it as a mantra, use it as a criteria for decision making. You’ve already invested your life in your art or your idea. Now you need to invest that much and more in your business, and you have to do it on a timeline. However great your art or idea, it is not a business until someone else wants to get in on it. Business is about giving the people what they want. If you are not always mindful of what they want, always, your business will fail. We’re not talking about selling out, here! All of this is said with the presumption that you’ll stay true to your art.