In 2007, numerous non-profits were forced to close or change the way they did business because of economic circumstances. The recession had landed and funders and donors saw their net worth plummet.
Non-profit arts organizations were holding on for their lives, because charitible giving was one of the first places to cut from company bottom lines. This crisis caused all non-profits to take a look at their revenue streams and try to create new ones. It was time to innovate.
For Collaboraction, the artistic venture I run, this meant creating a new department that would leverage our core assets in a new industry as a profit center, and thus, Collaboraction Experience Design was born.
To pull it off, I leaned on my experience working as creative freelancer and/or staffer for numerous corporate clients. For five years prior I would do things like arrange events and bring together national brands that wouldn't typically work together by using highly artistic themes to glue them.
Collaboraction had always thrown events with elaborate themes to raise funds, so I began to wonder: What if we made our process and people available for hire?
I started shopping the idea around when Collaboraction patron and event producer Matt Woodburn came to me with an idea he had been working on: an Art Institute of Chicago event to attract younger audiences called After Dark. Once a quarter, the museum would open its doors at night, with food, drink, music, video and performances that Collaboraction would craft, inspired by a featured exhibition. This serial event gave us a consistent showcase at one of the top art institutions in the world and was the foundation for the growth of our new profit center.
Then, a board member approached me and said his friend was turning 70. His wife and family wanted to throw him an unforgettable party. We met with the family and co-created the concept to put the birthday boy on trial for the crime of greatness. We interviewed his closest friends and family and wrote a script that included witnesses testifying to his repeated infractions of greatness. We got hired to provide interactive video and performances at the Starcom holiday party for 800 enthusiastic employees and the next job led to the next job and we were able to utilize our skills as a theater company to create a new space for ourselves in the event world. We were able to pay our core people a much higher rate that they make on our theater productions and were able to get our name and work in front of bigger audiences.
Today our Experience Design department is a core part of our organization and it key to helping us survive the financial roller coaster. We look at it like cross training for the theater. The work has changed the way we view the audience's relationship to our art and vice versa. In the past year alone, we hired 52 people to work on Subway's annual franchisee Gala at McCormick Place, placed and managed 50 actors and six stage managers on the Tribune's Chronicle's of the Cursed haunted house, produced a Tron-inspired Bar Mitzvah, and provided costumed ice skating performers, DJs, lights and truss for Winter Dance at Millennium Park in February.
Ultimately, it helps to ask yourself some questions. What are your core assets and can you develop a new revenue stream from them? Can you rent your meeting room out for theater rehearsals? Sell tickets to your themed holiday party? Do you have skills or experiences that you developed in the business world that can be turned into entertainment? A book? A speaking engagement? Consulting? If you have an idea floating in your head, as your read this, go for it. There are no barriers between industries other than the ones your head.
Anthony Moseley serves as the Executive and Artistic Director of COLLABORACTION (www.collaboraction.org), where he has been lauded for innovation and collaboration while overseeing 48 productions and over 250 events since 1999. Mr. Moseley co-founded the annual SKETCHBOOK Festival of theatre, music and visual art (now in it’s 11th year) and he created Collaboraction’s Experience Design Department, a for-hire division of the company which offers event creative services to corporate, private and civic groups. He is also an actor and has been seen in Prison Break and numerous television and film appearances. He holds a BA in Finance from the University of Notre Dame.