When it comes to succeeding at creative endeavors, Matt Olin is no slouch. He makes a living as an advertising copywriter, has produced theater in Charlotte and on Broadway, has been keyboardist in a rock band that opened for REO Speedwagon. But even Olin has been surprised at how thoroughly the city has embraced his latest project, CreativeMornings Charlotte.
Launched in New York in 2008, CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series with 142 chapters across the globe. The concept is simple: People drink coffee, mingle, then listen to an inspiring 20-minute talk. Charlotte’s CreativeMornings has been a hit from its start in November, when Playing for Others Executive Director Jen Band described finding joy in work.
Since then, speakers have included a world-class kayaker talking about risk, an Episcopal rector on ethics, and Susan Cernyak-Spatz, a Charlotte professor who survived Auschwitz, on the subject of reality. The monthly gathering is free, but it’s so popular that seating – more than 200 spaces – fills minutes after registration opens.
For Olin, who leads a team of volunteers that produces these programs, the only pay is an energy “that makes me feel I’m doing exactly what I should be.” Each event features a local musician and includes a goofy game show segment, which is fitting, given that Olin emcees with the demeanor of a relaxed but energetic game show host. “It’s like a little fantasy of mine to be a game show host and give away prizes,” he says.
His typical attire, tennis shoes and blazers over T-shirts, tells you he doesn’t work in a bank tower. But he’s no creativity snob. Creativity, he insists, exists in every profession. (The motto of CreativeMornings: “Everyone is creative. Everyone is welcome.”) In fact, Olin says, while CreativeMorning audiences in some cities end up heavy with designers, Charlotte’s have been diverse – lawyers, bankers, stay-at-home moms, artists, musicians.
Olin, 42, spoke with Pam Kelley recently about CreativeMornings, being an identical twin, and how he’ll get to live out his game-show host fantasy when he and Tim Miner launch yet another creative project next year. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: I’ve heard you’ve had no problem finding CreativeMornings corporate sponsors – that companies are calling and offering sponsorships.
A: (Laughing) Oh, I’ve never experienced this in my entire life. Having produced theater for years, you’re out there doing the hustle, both to get sponsors and to get an audience. This has flipped those expectations completely. Companies are contacting us and saying, “Can we sponsor CreativeMornings? Will you host it in our venue?” It’s just amazing.
Q: Why is it so popular?
A: I feel like there was something serendipitous about the arrival of CreativeMornings Charlotte and the particular need of creative people in our city to connect and build relationships. So I do think it’s all in the timing in many ways.
I think there are other factors that we can point to as well. It’s so easy to connect digitally now, and the more we’re able to connect digitally, the more we have this internal craving to connect in real life.
Q: It’s interesting that so many live, low-tech storytelling projects – “The Moth,” poetry slams, people sharing their teenaged diaries – are enjoying great success these days.
A: I think we love vulnerability. And in a day and age when everyone is a brand, these are opportunities to meet each other on an absolute authentic level. We love when we feel like we’re face to face with real people. We gravitate to opportunities to revel in realness. Is realness a word? I’m a copywriter. I should know that. I think it’s a word. Let’s say it’s a word.
Q: You posed a question in one CreativeMornings program: What happens when you nurture creativity in the people around you? How would you answer that?
A: I feel when you nurture my creativity, you make me feel like I can do anything. And that means I can make a huge impact. So it’s almost less about what my craft is and more about my co-existence with people around me. I feel like the more we’re engaging with people around us, our creativity dials up. We become more vibrant, creative beings by supporting each other.
As long as you’re having fun, it can all be play.
Q. You grew up in Charlotte with your identical twin brother, Michael Olin, who’s now Princeton University’s associate dean of undergraduate students. How did being a twin affect your creativity?
A: It’s sort of impossible to overstate the impact that has on your self and being. Your identity almost becomes one half of a whole.
So how do you go from being one half of a whole to celebrating your need for wholeness? For me, creativity was a huge part of the solution. He kind of went to sports. And I went to acting, and arts and crafts. From a young age, that’s how we put our flags in the ground: “This is me.”
Q. You and Tim Miner just won a Knight Foundation grant to launch Queen City Quiz Show, which the foundation describes as a mobile quiz show that will “entertain, enlighten and challenge diverse communities.” Tell me more.
A. They’re giving us a very generous grant of $85,000 to do seven live events next year – game-show events where we will have fielded teams from around the city. They’ll be competing for real money for the charity of their choice. Whatever team becomes the champion will have won upwards of $10,000 for their charity.
We’ll have questions about Charlotte’s past and present. Some will be just fun and trivial and ridiculous. And others will likely be eye opening or controversial, or just spur conversation. Which is why we’ll also have a moderated conversation after each game show.
And just like CreativeMornings, it’s going to be a very social event – live music, craft beer and food. Just another opportunity to connect, this time in celebration of our city. And in recognition of this idea that the more we know about our past and present, I think the more equipped we are to shape our future.
So it checks all the boxes. And plus, Tim and I get to go up there and be Johnny and Ed.
Q: Your work obviously brings you joy. What do you do for leisure fun?
A: Good question. Because between running my copywriting business, producing CreativeMornings, and you’re going to have to put a heaping helping of Queen City Quiz Show on the plate now, what’s left is trying to be a great husband and father and friend.
Q: Good to know you’re not writing a novel in your spare time. I’d feel really inadequate.
A: I’m glad I didn’t mention that my wife (Sarah Olin) and I just signed up for a book-writing course. She’s always wanted to write a book and I’ve always wanted to write a book, too – something about creativity, connection and community. Those are the themes that keep popping up for me. So what we decided to do is to sign up for a book-writing course together and take one day a week where we literally just work together on our books.
So I don’t know where that’s all leading. But here’s the thing: As long as you’re having fun, it can all be play.
Want to know more?
The next CreativeMornings Charlotte is 8:30 a.m. June 3 at Warehouse 242, 2307 Wilkinson Blvd. The speaker is Monty Montague of BOLTgroup. The topic is “broken.” Tickets will be available starting 9 a.m. May 30 at www.charlotteiscreative.com.
If you’ve been unable to nab a seat for previous events, Olin says don’t give up. Put your name on the wait list.