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We've recently returned from the Savvy Musician in ACTION Chamber Music Competition and Experiential Retreat for Arts Entrepreneurs! (We'll call it Savvy for short.)

If I had to describe the Savvy experience in one word, it would be: extraordinary.

...OK, actually I have a few more words: inspiring, stimulating, thought-provoking, meaningful, grueling, and truly exceptional. And I'm not bantering about these words lightly.

District5 originally applied to the Savvy Musician in ACTION this past March and were accepted to compete as 1 of 4 finalists in the innovative chamber ensemble competition. We were of course stoked to challenge ourselves in preparing our latest show, [dis]integration, and to see a lot of our hard work come together. We were even more excited to meet new artists pursuing projects that also revolve around the two competition criteria: artistic excellence and innovative event design. Sounded amazing!

But to be honest, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with Savvy. And I mean this in the best way. For the chamber competition was only Day 1...

The next 5 days were spent in group learning + team building exercises. We took ​​"business school classes" and heard a range of experts share their knowledge and experience in the field, including people like: David Cutler, the creator of the entire week, Dave Kusek, Bobby Owskinsi, Gavin Chuck, Greg Sandow, and many others.

Pictured below: the back of my head + other savvy-goers engaged in a digital branding talk by Bobby Owsinksi

"Finding and Developing your Artistic Brand" Pictured in this Savvy Twitterpic: the sage Bobby Owsinski and the back of Laura's head

The Savvy Musician in ACTION conference culminated in an Arts Venture Challenge where we were given the opportunity to try out our newly-acquired business skills. Every single participant had to give a 60-second "elevator pitch" to the entire conference describing an arts venture they'd like to see come to fruition. Small teams were then formed based on individual preference. In 4 days, teams were challenged to design an innovative arts organization, replete with a:

  1. viable business model

  2. comprehensive marketing plan

  3. digital branding

  4. cogent final "pitch" and presentation

The Arts Venture Challenge was designed so that participants could learn through experience and total immersion how to build up a business.

To take "I have this idea..." and turn it into something meaningful and profitable.

Savvy was "Shark It was joked that essentially, Tank" for musicians. And at times, it absolutely felt that intense...

For the remainder of the conference, when we weren't in "business school", D5 was split up with our different teams constantly working up our respective projects: researching, surveying groups, building websites, and experiencing what real teamwork with total strangers could be. Some of our teams were up to 3am on the final night, putting together visual presentations and practicing our business pitches to present to the judges! They weren't joking when they said it was going to be like Shark Tank. Although keep in mind, no real money was being "invested" by the judges. The Arts Venture Challenge was a no-pressure, entirely theoretical, and experience-based learning lesson.

Despite the arts ventures being hypothetical, it didn't prevent everyone from taking the challenge seriously! For if you found yourself working on a project you could actually see yourself pursuing, you would leave the conference with a solid start to a business model. (You might as well get your hands dirty and learn as much as you could!)

The savvy musicians in our rad new T's:

Some of the arts ventures ranged from delivery-service arts boxes for 0-3 month olds to transformative music programs geared towards inmates in local prisons. Some groups also conceived of new apps and concert series. The creativity was limitless.

I barely had time to reflect on everything I experienced during the conference, because Savvy didn't give us a minute to spare! They kept us constantly at work. I had to mold myself around this different, highly-energized, over-stimulating "go go go" pace that was defintely a challenge. I would catch members of D5 only during lunch breaks to touch base and ask what they've learned so far. And before I knew it, the five of us would be off again to a new Savvy task or challenge. Whew. At the end of the day though, it was worth it.

It may sound cliché, but Savvy pushed us to our limits and made us believe that with an idea, a passion, and a commitment to getting things done, just about anything is possible. To see teams of recent strangers form and have their incredible projects come together in a mere few days was unbelievable.

I now know that District5 works together so fabulously as an ensemble not despite of our different personalities + strengths, but because of them.


We left Savvy with some crazy new ideas for District5 and the concrete tools to make them happen! In fact, Laura K and Alison texted me this picture the other day of their own savvy-esque brainstorming sesh! I'm not a post-it person myself, but Savvy may change that about me yet. I mean, look how colorful creativity can be!

The Savvy Musician in ACTION is such a unique experience, and we couldn't recommend it highly enough to our fellow artists and aspiring entrepreneurs--and not just for the skills + knowledge you will gain but for the friends you will meet. I speak for all of District5 when I say we left Savvy with a profound gratitude for all the musicians and friends we now have the pleasure of knowing. There are so many musicians and artists out there paving their own entrepreneurial paths and to have so many of them together in 1 place for 1 week is something truly unique that I don't believe exists anywhere else. Weeks later, my mind is still spinning with ideas I'm eager to explore and new people I'm eager to connect with. So it's only now that I've been able to sit down and write about Savvy.

I'm lucky to have attended incredible institutions for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. These universities surrounded me with high caliber professors, students, and excellent opportunities. But school can only teach you so much; some things you can only learn through experience. Arts entrepreneurship is one of those things. The Savvy Musician in ACTION strove to create such a learning experience, in a safe, encouraging, and throughouly exhausting setting. I came away from Savvy feeling, "you know what, we can actually do this." I'm 100% inspired about District5's future. I can look at inspirational quotes + posters and not totally cringe, because YES!!

Forging your own path in music isn't easy. But it isn't impossible.




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