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'Atlas' mapping new turf for U.S. artists

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  • Fractured Atlas

    The New York-based nonprofit will take part in two Charlotte events next week.

    • Dianne Debicella and Selena Juneau-Vogel will lead a free networking social for artists Sunday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Gallery at Packard Place, 222 S. Church St.

    • On Monday, they’ll co-host a panel 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Arts & Science Council, 227 W. Trade St., Suite 250. The title is “Perspectives on Covering the Arts: A Panel Conversation with Local Media.” The $10 fee includes lunch.

    More info; to sign up: fracturedatlas.org and search for “Charlotte, NC.”



We’re taught not to celebrate other people’s failures, but sometimes a dropping tide lifts everyone else’s boat. Case in point: Adam Huttler.

If he hadn’t produced an off-off-Broadway show that left him $60,000 in debt 11 years ago, he might not have quit show business. He might not have founded an organization whose goal is to keep artists all over America from drowning in red tape and debit slips.

And Fractured Atlas employees wouldn’t be coming to Charlotte for a meet-and-greet Sunday at The Gallery at Packard Place. They’ll also be co-hosts of a panel conversation with local media Monday at the Arts & Science Council.

Fractured Atlas’ Internet site says 500 individual artists and groups join every month. Like groups from AAA to AARP, Atlas relies on strength in numbers to offer services members may not easily find elsewhere. It brokers group insurance deals, helps people use electronic ticketing and database systems, even provides information so arts advocates can try to influence policy makers.

It also offers fiscal sponsorship for members, a service especially useful to people who haven’t yet achieved their own nonprofit status: Donors can make contributions this way as charitable deductions.

What it doesn’t do is judge.

“There are a million gatekeepers in the art world, from critics to managers who are going to pass judgment on your work,” Huttler says. “We don’t need any more of those. I don’t trust myself to be a judge; anyhow. If I looked at a Jackson Pollock painting before anyone knew who he was, would I have seen the genius that’s in there? Probably not. So we’re here for anyone who needs us.”

From failure came success

Huttler founded Fractured Atlas Productions between his junior and senior years of college to get venues for his directing gigs.

“On the first show, I was the sole source of funding. I produced, directed, did graphic design and box office. I realized I was no great shakes as a director but had a knack for the business side. So I started to produce other people’s work under that banner in 1998.

“I went from ‘You have a great idea for a show, let’s produce it together’ to ‘I believe in your vision as an artist and want to produce your next 10 shows. Let me know what will be necessary to get you there.’ That made me a lot of friends and lost me a lot of money.”

The ax fell when he opened a show in lower Manhattan on Sept 7, 2001 – near the area that would be called Ground Zero four days later. The theater closed for two weeks after the attack, the show died, and his board told him to close so he could get out of debt.

Huttler saw “an opportunity in disguise, a chance to turn this into a model for a new kind of organization that leveraged the web, served a broad constituency and was a viable business as well. Our budget has gone up from $40,000 to north of $15 million, and I facilitate more art this way than I ever could as a producer.”

What it does (and doesn’t)

The Atlas concept remains new enough that Huttler and his staff meet misconceptions: “We’re not managers or agents; we won’t get you work. We’ll help you pursue goals more efficiently but don’t (direct) your career; it’s got to be your plan. We won’t write a donor appeal letter, but we’ll give you a sample letter and tell you why it’s effective. We negotiate (group insurance) with carriers, but we’re not paying the claims.”

Which of Atlas’ services is the most underrated?

“I’m a big believer in the transformational power of technology and real-time access to good data,” says Huttler. “We in the arts are a little bit behind the times in the way we use technology to understand supporters and engage with constituents. So we have built a platform called artful.ly, starting with ticketing and donor management data.”

Mainly, he says, Atlas wants to find out what you want.

“We’ve thought of ourselves from the start as a customer-centric nonprofit, and we try to understand their needs as they evolve. If I have a vision that the arts community needs affordable footwear, I’m not above starting a shoe factory tomorrow. But the guiding philosophy of listening to the field has been part of our bedrock.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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