Satellite Collective

 

Project at a Glance: 

Satellite Collective is a non-profit arts company I started and ran for seven years. It's still going strong. I wore many hats including director, composer, writer, violinist, dramaturge, editor, publicist, development officer, grant writer, and board secretary. Tools used included violin, Pro Tools, Garage Band, Finale, Adobe, Kickstarter, Fetch, digital projector, pens, and notebooks. Skills used included storyboarding, composition, writing, direction, project management, logistics, budgeting, fundraising, and communications.


Quotes About Satellite Collective:

"Satellite Collective is an admirably cooperative endeavor and a peculiar one....Seven composers, three choreographers, one filmmaker, two writers, one lighting designer and three costume designers contributed, with some of those people wearing multiple hats. Even for a sampler, that's a lot of creative voices." - New York Times

"Satellite Collective aims to open up the stage to diverse artistic practice, producing alternate channels for performance to envelope the audience—expressing the theatrical and choreographic gesture, sound, décor, film, stagecraft and storytelling into a total artwork." - New York Observer

"...a group of likeminded musicians, singers, spoken word artists, visual designers, choreographers, and dancers, 'collaborating as equals, globally and virtually.' - They're young, in many cases talented, serious and dedicated to their craft. The pieces on the program speak of melancholy, loveliness and yearning." - Dance View Times

"Certain aspects of the evening felt novel, like the abundance of live, original music, played by the Satellite Ensemble.... ...commendably seamless. These are people who know how to produce a show." - New York Times


Project Summary: 

In 2010, I co-founded Satellite Collective, a NYC-based arts non-profit focused on generating original, collaborative, interdisciplinary works of performance and publication. Together, we have produced four full-length ballets, eight modern dance works, a multitude of short films, and a publishing wing that included an online arts and culture journal. Satellite has hosted annual workshops on Lake Michigan and has funded the work of scores of emerging artists across the country. 

You can click on any of the items in Contents to jump to that section. 



The Satellite Collective crew at our annual summer residency on Lake Michigan.

The Satellite Collective crew at our annual summer residency on Lake Michigan.

1. Theory 

When I moved to New York in 2010, I fell in with a group of artists who wanted to start an interdisciplinary ballet. My primary role at the beginning was as a violinist for our small ensemble, a dramaturge involved in designing the narrative scope of the works and a composer of ballet scores. Having previously known nothing about ballet, I was pitched into the world of the New York City Ballet, for which our choreographer and many of our dancers performed in the corps.

We were inspired by the likes of Diaghilev’s Ballet Ruses, Bauhaus, and Black Mountain College, admiring the interdisciplinary collaborations that were working toward bildungsroman ideals. We wanted to engage all of the senses, art forms and cognitive pathways to create the most total artistic expression possible – music, dance, narrative, film, design, photography, lighting, painting. We drank wine late into the evenings and dreamed about our gesamtkunstwerk.

Simultaneously, we were also experimenting with the method by which collaborative works were designed, as well as the governance of our non-profit company. Instead of a top-down hierarchal approach imposed by a single artistic director, think NYCB or ABT or any number of well-known companies, we attempted to design a collaborative method. For example, a choreographer generally selects a pre-written work of music to put upon his or her dancers. Our choreographer was heavily involved in the composition of the music itself, and our composers were often in the studio, helping shape the steps as well as editing the score in real-time. Even the score, which was written by three musicians in the early days, was composed collaboratively and, for the most part, democratically.

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Our first performances were at the Dogwood Center of Performing Arts in Fremont, Michigan, a small and picturesque town where one of our founders had converted a church into a beautiful gallery. This became an annual arts workshop for us, which was always one of the highlights of the year. Further evenings were performed in New York at such locations as the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the 92nd St. Y, the Gerald Lynch Theater, among others.

Aside from our large-scale performances, we began branching out into other spheres. For example, we began Transmission, an online arts and culture journal which published the work of both Satellite Collective members, as well as artists across the country and even internationally. Satellite Press was also a boutique label that we started which published several full-length literary works and continues to operate on a small scale. We also published an online exhibition called Telephone, which was based on ekphrasis, one of our core interests, and generated 315 original and interconnected works from artists in 159 cities in 42 countries. The project earned critical accolades in publications throughout the world. 

Our dancers leaping on the beach. Lake Michigan in the summer is Heaven.

Our dancers leaping on the beach. Lake Michigan in the summer is Heaven.

Many of our press photos are by Lora Robertson, who has been our Visual Director and now serves as Executive Director. 

Many of our press photos are by Lora Robertson, who has been our Visual Director and now serves as Executive Director. 

Many of our dancers are members of the corps de ballet at the New York City Ballet. 

Many of our dancers are members of the corps de ballet at the New York City Ballet. 

Aside from dance, Satellite produces films (like this stop motion one - entitled Twin Star Event), music, publications, visual works, and all manner of experimental interdisciplinary art.

Aside from dance, Satellite produces films (like this stop motion one - entitled Twin Star Event), music, publications, visual works, and all manner of experimental interdisciplinary art.


2. Challenges

Creating art collaboratively rather than dictatorially is a messy, difficult process. It certainly produces remarkable concepts. Precisely because no individual member of the collaboration would be able to imagine the finished project in its entirety, the work takes on a life of its own. Working across disciplines and in democratic spirit generates art that is surprising even to those who are creating it. This is part of the reason that some of the most forward-thinking art comes from environments in which all types of different artists are cross-pollenating (think 1920’s Paris or 1950’s New York).

However, artists take their artistic ideas extremely personally and it’s difficult to let a concept go or allow a work to take an unexpected trajectory. It requires a type of intelligent grace to pick which ideas to passionately defend and which ideas to step back from. It also takes a great deal of trust and an understanding that, even when passions and tempers flair, it’s part of the process and for the good of the work. Conflict between differing aesthetics can create much stronger art.

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Another challenge presented by collaboration is that it’s often comparatively slow. When I was introduce to Agile business practices, I recognized immediately for both its strengths and weaknesses. It can generate a proliferation of great ideas quickly but decision-making often requires debate which can take time. In the months leading up to a performance, this served us well as a piece took shape. But in the weeks and days leading up to a performance, decisions had to be made quickly, sometimes immediately.

Thus, the best solution is a hybrid style of collaboration is called for, in which, toward the beginning there is total democracy but gradually a few individuals are tasked with making difficult calls and toward the end, there is only one or two decision-makers. This only works when the responsibilities and stages are clearly communicated so that collaborators don’t have misaligned expectations or feel surprised by a sudden feeling of disenfranchisement. When we did this well, we produced tight, wildly original works and when we didn’t do this well, the art felt scattered, as though there was no unifying vision.

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The same challenges of collaborating on works of art applied to governance of the company itself. When democratic principals were consistently applied, individuals felt a sense of ownership of projects and we were actually able to get far more work out of participants than we would have if we were simply paying people in a hierarchical format. Because the company felt as though it belonged equally to all of us, we were able to punch way above our weight class. But that only worked so long as the decision-making process and roles of stakeholders were clearly delineated. A lot of the trials and conflict we endured together could have been avoided by a very careful and public examination of our founding bylaws.

And of course, as with almost every artistic non-profit, funding and budgeting and planning were always a major issue. To this end, we were well served by being accepted into the Brooklyn Academy of Music Professional Development Program, a year-long series of presentations and workshops regarding every aspect of non-profit sustainability, including development, marketing driven promotion, and project management. 

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3. Live Performances

Satellite Collective performances were full-evenings that employed the talents of 20 to 30 artists, including musicians, dancers, poets, lighting designers, video artists and others. Audience size raged from 100 to 800 attendees. READ MORE

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4. Telephone

I created a game of Telephone in which a secret message was passed from art form to art form. The project took over two years and generated 315 original and interconnected works by artists from 159 cities in 42 countries. The final project was presented as an interactive online exhibition, which received critical praise all over the world.

This project took five years, two and a half of which were sponsored by Satellite Collective. The online, interactive exhibition of the experiment was published and hosted under the Satellite Press wing of the company. 

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5. Professional Development

Satellite Collective participated in the Brooklyn Academy of Music Professional Development Program, which provides professional development training and deeply discounted theater and rehearsal studio rental to an annual selection of Brooklyn-based nonprofit arts organizations. The 2014-15 cycle was presented by BAM in collaboration with Creative Capital and strives to help selected organizations expand their skill base and build the foundations necessary for long-term success. The BAM PDP began in 2011 in collaboration with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. To date, thirty-three organizations have taken part in the program. READ MORE

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6. Transmission

Satellite Press began with an online arts and culture journal, which published the work of Satellite Collective members as well as artists and writers from across the country. I served as founding editor and my duties included soliciting works, copy-editing, design layout, backend formatting, and communications. Regularly publishing issues of this size proved to be way harder than I would have imagined but each edition generated a healthy amount of traffic. 

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