By Philanthropy Journal Staff
National Sawdust sets itself apart from other arts institutions through the unique way in which it supports artists and their projects. The institution leverages the incubator model, an idea made popular by the startup tech world, to offer an innovative approach to the process of discovering, developing, and disseminating new works by emerging artists.
Co-founded by Kevin Dolan and composer and artistic director Paola Prestini, National Sawdust is more than just a cutting-edge music venue, it is an arts institution filled with empathetic listeners who help artists connect with other creatives, audiences, and funders. “From the incubation to the dissemination of new work, National Sawdust with it’s world class acoustics and beautiful hall, has given countless performance possibilities to thousands of emerging and established artists,” says Prestini.
The National Sawdust Artists-In-Residence program is unique because it offers a full ecosystem that sees artists through development to dissemination. Following the tech model, it assists artists in the early stages of their careers by providing them with space to rehearse; at least 80 hours of professional support that could include anything from album recording to tech to marketing; performance opportunities, both at National Sawdust and beyond; and more. The Artists-in-Residence program also provides a total commitment of $450,000 through in kind and reward payments.
Acclaimed cellist, Amanda Gookin, and her projects, Forward Music Project 1.0 and 2.0: in this skin, are a prime example National Sawdust’s applying the tech model to the music world. Gookin was invited to premiere Forward Music Project 1.0, a project featuring six new solo cello commissions by today’s most forward-thinking composers that encourage social change and empowerment for women and girls, at National Sawdust. The success of 1.0’s premiere led National Sawdust to offer Gookin a spot in their Artists-in-Residence program, where she developed Forward Music Project 2.0: in this skin.
“It’s been a really great incubation period for me,” says Gookin of her experience. “When I started this project, I really had no idea if it was going to turn into anything. It was my first foray into solo work and commissioning, so the emotional support behind the project has been very meaningful to me. It feels like being part of a family.”
The residency program also builds in opportunities for the residents to come together at workshops where they can engage with one another, bounce ideas around, play with their art, and more. These workshops create an environment where residents form crucial bonds with one another and connect with established mentors. In the 2018-19 season at National Sawdust, these workshops have been led by such industry luminaries as composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer Meredith Monk and Juliette Jones, Atlantic Records’ Executive Vice President of Urban Promotions.
With National Sawdust as the soil to germinate a creative seed in, artists are given unfettered access to the best of what the institution’s venue and staff can offer. Towards the end of their residency, once their project is completed, residents can record their new work in the venue’s state-of-the-art recording studio and have it published on the institution’s record label, National Sawdust Tracks. National Sawdust acts as one stop shop for artists to take risks, develop, and then share their work with wider audiences
Then, after their year-long residency, artists can tour projects through National Sawdust Projects, the institution’s producing and touring arm. This ensures their voices are heard at important venues around the globe such as John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and Classical:NEXT in Rotterdam. “The legitimacy of the project having National Sawdust next to the name has really helped me create connections with venues I might feel way too nervous about contacting on my own,” explains Gookin. “Having that kind of representation has been very helpful.”
Additionally, touring with National Sawdust Projects enables artists to solely concentrate on their performances. “It really takes a huge weight off of me as an artist so I can focus on the things that I really need to focus on,” says Gookin. “When I’m self-producing a show, I have to handle my own tech and make sure everything is working out, handle my own schedule and travel, and also do a lot of my own PR.”
The pipeline that begins with National Sawdust Artist-In-Residency and ends with National Sawdusts Projects is designed with longevity for the artists and their projects in mind. Therefore, National Sawdust utilizes the tech world’s incubation model through paying artists to experiment; giving them the space to play, develop, and grow new works; establish bonds with other artists and mentors; and provides a myriad of opportunities for residents’ unique and essential voices to be shared with local and global communities.