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Kansas City's Charlotte Street Foundation Sees Potential In Artists, Offers Startup Funding

Amy Kligman, executive/artistic director of the Charlotte Street Foundation, says the news StartUp program will provide critical early support for arts startups.
Courtesy Charlotte Street Foundation

When you think of a startup, a technology startup is probably what first comes to mind. But the Charlotte Street Foundation has focused on the arts for 20 years, and just launched a StartUp Residency program. It's designed to help up-and-coming arts startups, such as an artist-run collaborative or a new business.

For Charlotte Street Foundation's executive/artistic director Amy Kligman, the new program fits the organization's mission "to be a catalyst in Kansas City's art community for individual artists who are working professionally in the area." 

Kligman, who's also an artist and founding member of the curatorial collaborative Plug Projects (which got its start with a Rocket Grant, funded by Charlotte Street), answered a few questions: 

In its history, the Charlotte Street has provided non-restricted funds for artists, studios and performance space, as well as Rocket Grants. How did you see the need for this new initiative, that has a more entrepreneurial focus? 

"The StartUp Residency initiative came up through some of the other initiatives that you mentioned, through the residency, just watching how individual artists have been operating in the community, and through things like Rockets. We've had some small arts organizations sort of come up, we've been a part of supporting them ... But it [the funding] was also just not designed for a small organization. 

"So because we're a little closer to the ground, we're hoping to offer some support in those early times when it is hard to have bigger donors, bigger supporters, really understand what they're doing. We can see that, we can see the potential. And so, we're trying to be there for them in those first couple of years when that little bit of startup help would be most critical." 

The StartUp Residency fund will provide a 12-month residency, also a storefront in downtown [Kansas City, Missouri]. And you mentioned that it would be open to folks who are in the early stages, within the first three years. Could you talk a little more about the importance of those early years? 

"Yeah, and I can say this a little bit from the standpoint of somebody who did go through the experience of trying to start something up from scratch [Plug Projects]. I think those first couple of years are very critical. It's critical to get early support, to be networked, to get some visibility for people to understand what you're doing. You don't always have a ton of money in those beginning times, so to be able to use it for the projects you want to pursue, for them to be executed properly, to demonstrate your ability, is kind of what we're hoping to help do. 

"We are looking to provide a little bit of validity to some of these ideas. And to work with them, to mentor them, to help to make things more sustainable."

What do you think are some of the differences between an artist startup and a regular startup? 

"So artist startups are a little different, primarily in their end goals. The organizations and the startups that we're talking about working with are more non-profit in their leanings.

"I think that what we're looking at with this is artist-run organizations that are really looking for: What can we contribute to this scene? What can we contribute to the other artists in our midst, the other people here, the community here? What does this idea add? 

"Beyond what Charlotte Street itself is offering up to the community, we are really interested in the whole ecosystem, what everybody is contributing at an institutional level, at a D.I.Y. [do-it-yourself] level. So this is kind of our way of continuing that legacy of thinking more holistically about Kansas City and the things that it needs."

When you talk about the program as being an experiment and a pilot — at the end of this 12-month residency, will you take a look at it, and gauge its success, and decide then to continue on? 

"So it's written into our plan that there will be a time of looking at measures, and trying to understand: Was this successful, what would make it more successful? I think, for us, having had some proof points along the way that this is a valid idea, I think that it would be more about: How do we tweak it? How do we make it better? How do we grow it? 

"I think ultimately we'd love to see kind of a cohort of several small startups. I think that would be the best iteration of this. But again it requires us kind of proving our idea and establishing that this is something that has merit in the Kansas City community."

The Charlotte Street Foundation will be accepting applications for its StartUp Residency Program through February 6. Find out more about the program, and how to apply, on the Charlotte Street Foundation website

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.

Laura Spencer is staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and a former arts reporter at KCUR.
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