July 15, 2011
I’m a member of Fractured Atlas, an organization based in New York that provides fiscal sponsorships and other services to artists all over the country. They asked me to fill out a profile for their website, and I thought I’d share what I wrote with all of you.
Can’t wait to hear my friend Emi sing tonight at the Old Post and Gillian Welch at the Wilma on Sunday! A great weekend for music in Missoula.
Fractured Atlas Member Profile: Amy Martin
Q: You seem to do a bit of everything as a musician and teaching artist. How did you get started?
Music has been crucial to me since I was a kid, but it took me until my late twenties to be able to recognize that it was really at the center of my life — one of the fundamental elements of who I was, and what I wanted my future path to be about. I’d been writing songs for years, and had felt pretty private about them up to that point. But something shifted, and I started playing out a lot. A year later, I had recorded my first album.
I’m in my late 30s now, and I’ve recorded eight albums, played a lot of shows, set up tours for myself, and opened for some of my idols, like the Indigo Girls. Along the way, I’ve continued to ask, “is this what I want? Is this who I am?" And what I’ve discovered is that the “traditional" path of the singer-songwriter (if there is such a thing) isn’t really where it’s at for me. Performing, touring — I enjoy these things, but they aren’t interesting or deeply nourishing enough for me to devote my life to them.
What does feed me deeply is generating new work. Composing, songwriting. For myself and for other people. I’m currently writing my first musical — a coming-of-age story taking place during a future mass extinction (sorry, no kick lines). I’ve dabbled in a bit of composing for filmmakers and dancers, and I’d like to do more of that. I also composed and co-produced an album for the Biomimicry Institute, an environmental non-profit based here in Missoula which works all over the world, and I’m open to more projects along those lines, too. I absolutely love the process of listening for what wants to be said, sung and played, and then making something new that didn’t exist before, whether I’m following my own muses or collaborating on someone else’s vision.
Oh yes, and I teach, too!
Q: What is the biggest difference between working with groups of adults and groups of children?
In some ways, I don’t see a huge difference between working with different age groups. When we’re learning music, we all have the same needs, when it gets down to it: to feel emotionally safe, to feel interested and engaged, to feel challenged just enough to help us develop, but not so much that we’re overwhelmed. I love the spontaneity and openness of young kids, the intensity and fragility of adolescents, and the sense of a peer community that comes from working with other adults. But at the end of the day, no matter how old we are, it’s all about gaining the courage to “open your face up and sing," as Ani DiFranco says. I see my job as helping people to say yes to that.
Q: How did you come up with the Patronopolis concept?
Almost all of my projects have been donor-supported at some level, so in a way, I’ve been living the Patrononpolis model for my entire artistic career. Recognizing that the kind of work I do depends on a supportive community, I’ve been feeling for a while that I wanted to create some sort of structure that named and formalized this process. Reading Lewis Hyde’s The Gift was a real catalyst for me, in that it helped me see that art-making is always about receiving from and giving back to a community, whether we name it directly or not. As I sat with all these ideas, I had many conversations with various friends and allies, including a couple of really helpful meetings with a group of core friends here in Missoula. Together, we worked our way toward this concept of a community of donors helping to support all of my works-in-progress, who are included in the unfolding of each project over time, and (hopefully) feel a sense of ownership and investment in whatever is produced. It’s a different sort of CSA — community supported art. I’m really touched that over 80 people have joined already.
Q: What advice would you give to other artists trying to raise money?
I think I have more to learn than I have to teach on this front. However, one thing I’ve talked about with other artists friends is that no one knows what an artist’s time is “worth" — not even us. It’s not like most other professions, where there is some sort of common standard out there, saying, “this kind of work is worth around $200/hour, and this other kind is worth about $10/hour." Sometimes artists work for nothing, or even less than nothing — we may go into debt in order to do our work. And sometimes, artists get paid a lot to do what they do. After 11 years of thinking about this, I don’t see any clear external rhyme or reason to these differences. I think the primary deciding factor is internal: it’s up to us to define our value. This is a vulnerable process, fraught with emotional hang-ups for almost everyone I know, and definitely for me. But I’m starting to understand this as a healthy challenge. Raising money to fund the work I want to do puts my self-doubts and insecurities right up in my face, and I either have to deal with them or get stuck there. So rather than advice, I guess I have questions: is it possible for the scared, unsure feelings that come up around raising money to become useful to us? Can they be part of the process of learning about ourselves, and deepening our commitment to our callings?
Q: How has working with Fractured Atlas helped you?
I’ve considered starting a non-profit organization to help support my work for years, and I may still do that some day. But the number of details I need to stay on top of is already significant, and I’m very hesitant to add another layer of complexity to the administrative side of my work without knowing for sure if it’s worth it. My Fractured Atlas fiscal sponsorship is giving me an opportunity to experience many of the “pros" of being a non-profit without having to deal with most of the “cons." I’ve found the staff to be extremely responsive, professional, friendly and supportive, even though I’m all the way out in Montana and they are in New York. I’m thrilled with my partnership with Fractured Atlas, and I think they are providing a unique and valuable service to artists.
Q: What’s next?
I’m working with another musician here — a wonderful cellist named Bethany Joyce — to help bring my musical into a form that can be shared with a band, singers, actors, directors, etc. I hope to have a series of workshops in the coming year, to help me improve it, finish it, and bring it out to the wider world. That massive project has the most gravitational pull at the moment. Circling around it are my teaching groups, a project I’m developing involving interviewing kids in outdoor places that they love, and any new commissions that my come my way. I’m also interested in writing a series of essays about some of the issues touched on here. And I’d like to find some administrative or marketing/development help, so I can move these and all my other ideas forward more efficiently. Somewhere in there, I need to hike and just be outside as much as possible, to keep my mind and body alive, and to keep my soul fed.