AHA! A House for Arts

S4 E43 | FULL EPISODE

Local Special #3

Darn. Good. Yarn. Learn the secret to this creative e-commerce company's success. Albany-based Collective Effort seeks to bridge creativity, community development, and business while supporting local talent and ideas. Learn about the unique Japanese art form Gyotaku with Schenectady native Stephen Dicerbo. Visit artist Jenny Kemp's studio and learn more about the use of abstraction in her work.

AIRED: July 17, 2019 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

(fast synthesized music)

- On this all-local episode of AHA.

Darn Good Yarn.

Collectiveffort.

Gyotaku.

Jenny Kemp.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA.

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution,

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include the

Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming,

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(lively jazz music)

- Hi, I'm Matt Rogowicz, and this is AHA, A House for Arts.

A place for all things creative.

Last summer, Darn Good Yarn was named

Albany's fastest growing business.

We took a trip to their warehouse in Halfmoon, New York,

to chat with Founder and CEO Nicole Snow

to learn what the secret is behind their success.

- My name's Nicole Snow,

and I'm the Founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn.

Darn Good Yarn is an e-commerce business

located in Halfmoon, New York.

I started the business 11 years ago

and we were just named the fastest growing business

in the Capital Region.

My love of crafting came from when I was a little girl.

My mom, I think, realized early on

that I loved to make messes around the house,

and I think she smartly put me down in the basement

in this corner and made a desk, and she said,

"This is you craft area."

And looking back as a mom now,

I'm like, that was just smart parenting

to keep all of my glitter in one corner of the house.

But I've always just loved to repurpose things,

repaint things, I've always been really crafty in that way.

My great grandmother was incredibly crafty,

I mean coming off of Ellis Island.

And then, as I got older, I was always told

art isn't the thing that makes you money.

It was like, go to school, go do business.

I was an officer in the Air Force.

And that passion got kind of pushed down.

But it, like, always came out in these little places

and then when I got out of the military,

I really wanted to explore

the creativity side a little bit more,

so I swung from one side to the other.

(upbeat music)

I started this business out of my guest bedroom in my house.

I was living in California and my husband's job

was moving us all over the nation.

I wanted to learn how to knit at the time

so I said, let me try to marry us moving around

all the time and making a small business,

and then my love for yarn and all things crafty.

I went to school at Clarkson University in upstate New York.

And the little bit of that business background

helped me to grow Darn Good Yarn.

I realized pretty quickly that,

while I'm a really creative person using paints

and metal and all that weird mediums in that way,

stuff I really have fun with,

I can actually use that same creativity in business itself.

And so, the business itself became my new medium.

And once I sort of figured that out,

I went like, "Whoa, there's like the whole world here."

(old world rhythmic music)

Darn Good Yarn runs on a really cool concept

called Triple Bottom Line Framework.

So, in most businesses you measure the success

of the business based on profitability.

With the Triple Bottom Line Framework,

you're actually measuring the success

of the business of off three Ps.

The first is profitability,

the second is what you're actually doing for the planet,

and then the third is the people

that interact with your supply chain.

So, when you sort of go in with that mindset,

you're able to apply that creativity

and you're able to make really cool things happen.

As the business started to grow,

I realized that the core product I was bringing in,

which was recycled silk yarn,

when I was bringing that in, I realized that the women

that were making this over in Nepal, in India,

it was a side hustle for them.

So I said, "Man, I think I can, like,

"create a really cool sustainable job for them

"where they can work from home,

"they can be with their children."

And from there, that's when the business started to grow

because I treated the business like a conduit

to create sustainable employment,

versus just selling product on the internet.

The jobs that we're creating are really based on

focusing on individuals that have been effected most

by gender and caste discrimination in these countries.

I'm not trying to go in and rework anyone's

history or countries, or anything like this.

I realize that that's very much

a part of the cultures that we're dealing with.

But what I do wanna do is provide a way

for people to work for themselves.

A lot of times it's women who are illiterate,

they usually have had an issue

where their husband has gotten really sick

or he can't work and provide for their families.

So when you lose the main breadwinner,

that's a significant deal.

And when you're dealing with this caste discrimination,

you're not dealing with the social safety nets

like that we have in this country, even, to fall back on.

So, what I'm trying to do is create products

that need a lot of people working on them,

even if they are low skill.

And I believe that, and we're seeing progress of this,

is that when you provide that skill,

especially to women, that money is staying in the homes

and it's being reinvested back into the next generation.

(cheerful music)

The positivity component is really important

to what we do here, it just, it keeps us creative,

it keeps us trying to do things a little bit better,

with a little bit more innovation

and that's really what I think small business is all about.

We like to also think of ourselves

as a technology company and as an R&D lab.

We let people go experiment and try something,

if it doesn't work, it's no big deal.

When you look at our stats,

we just posted an amazing year on top of,

the year before we closed out 2018 at $7.1 million.

And that was with a business size,

in terms of employees, of eight people.

We've now grown to 21 employees for this year,

and we're looking to post an even larger,

I think we're gonna definitely surpass

10 million this year in sales.

The thing that's always really surprised me, though,

is that I was never taken seriously.

Until I started talking about my revenue numbers,

until people started to come here,

people thought that we just sat around and knit all day.

And that's not what's going on here.

And it's been so often that it's been pushed to the side,

and then as we started posting our revenue numbers,

then when we started blasting the sort of

big guys out of the water,

your healthcares, your technology industries,

out of the water and people are seeing that this

creative company is making this sort of traction,

and scalable traction.

We've been growing, at least, by 40% every single year

since I started the business 11 years ago.

We are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

- Albany based Collectiveffort is more than

just a marketing firm.

Collectiveffort is a support system,

seeking to bridge creativity, community development,

and business, all while supporting local talent and ideas.

(upbeat music)

- The business of Collectiveffort is community building.

What we call it, it's a place where cool is created.

We're artists who also believe very, very dearly

in building community.

And so what we've been able to do

was be able to work directly with our community.

And that's like everyone,

that's like the business community,

the lower income community,

that's the fresh-out-of-college community.

We kind of like intersected all of them.

And so we were like all right,

how do we bridge the gap between all these things?

We all think really, that's like what the world needs.

Like more collaboration amongst everybody.

Collectiveffort as a whole, we do marketing,

media production, and mentoring through our coworking space,

And we have our own plans for content channels

and sell for original content directly from us,

as well as servicing our marketing clients as well.

(upbeat electronic music)

Generally, most companies when you think of doing marketing,

you think about doing work with like Nike, Puma,

Under Armour, all of which like we've worked with

in the past, just producing video shorts

for some of the designers that they hire

and things like that.

But we're trying to figure out

how do you take corporate level content and marketing,

and apply it to the community level.

(upbeat electronic music)

Today, we're in Electric City Barn

located in Schenectady, New York.

We're setting up for a shoot for a content channel

that we're creating for the Capital region

called "Let's Talk About Life."

We're exploring workforce development,

housing, food access, and healthcare.

And really it's just an opportunity for us

to be able to engage with the community,

and take the idea of a content channel a next step further.

To figure out how can we take the content that we create

and have it impact people like at a very local level.

Collectiveffort, aka The Collective,

it really started like I left school

and then found out Jamel Mosley was around.

He was in my same program at RPI,

and it kinda just like happened

by the grace of the universe. (laughing)

Someone was like, oh, you should go talk to Jamel.

And then I just like literally went over his house

and sat and watched him video edit,

as he was starting his entrepreneurial journey.

That kinda just let me know, oh, wow, okay.

So it is possible, this thing my dad's been telling me to do

all my life, just like start a business.

I was like that's totally possible here.

Fast forward, a couple years,

Jamel, myself, and DeSean Moore,

who's our Director of Marketing,

we all kinda just worked together.

We all were in the same school together,

same program, we just started working together.

We met Jessica Coals and Ber Singleton,

and they were just like bursts of energy and life.

They started doing just like group working sessions.

Mostly when Jamel and I started coming around,

we'd just have fun and do some work together,

post stuff on social media,

and people would just ask to join.

And that birthed Power Breakfast.

(electronic music)

Power Breakfast Club is a professional development community

we built just about two years,

a little bit over two years now.

And that's solely based off of us just wanting to

work together and be around people that had

a similar beliefs and kind of like lifestyle,

and where we were trying to go in life.

And trying to create a support system for it.

- Our mantra and our ethos is Do Something.

And with do something, it's just like start something.

It's like a lot of people have these ideas

and they're just brilliant,

but they just don't have that push to really get out there

and just take that first step.

- We found an opportunity to work out of

the African American Cultural Center from Power Breakfast.

It turned out to be this really great opportunity for us

to, one, really lay some roots in an area

that really needs a lot of love.

And we just know that pretty much areas

that are kinda downtrodden don't get enough attention

because they don't contribute to

the profitability of the city.

And so we were like, that's like our whole game,

is like trying to build areas.

So we were just like, let's do it.

(upbeat music)

We walked in here and everything was brown,

it didn't have any electrical work done.

The roof was all messed up and kinda sinking in.

So, yeah, we were just like let's make an investment

into making this thing work.

And it is our pilot, so we're not gonna be here for forever.

But, what we do wanna do is make a lasting impression.

The third floor is gonna be our coworking space.

Again, it's designed specifically for creatives.

The fourth floor gonna be our production area.

We've been lucky enough to get some grant funding.

We're investing in good intermediate-level video

and audio equipment that's really easy to use,

to make available to our members.

- We're here right on the corner of Madison and South Pearl.

We're a ear shot away from Times Union Center,

we're right off the highway, we're easily accessible.

And we really want to teach our community

how to speak for themselves.

- We're gonna work out of here, we're gonna figure it out.

We're gonna build some people,

and hopefully by the time we're ready to leave,

we've made enough impact in this area

in telling the stories of this area's past,

plus where we're trying to go in the future.

- Do something.

(electronic music)

- Stephen DiCerbo grew up in Schenectady, New York

with two great passions, fishing and art.

Later in life, he found a way to combine the two,

by exploring the Japanese art of Gyotaku, or fish printing.

Now residing in North Hudson, New York,

we took a trip to his studio to learn more about

this unique art form.

(acoustic guitar music)

- I've always been involved with fish

and interested in fish.

I think the first memory I have actually was of walking

between the raceways of a hatchery, looking down at fish.

From what my parents tell me, I was so young,

I can't believe I actually have the memory,

but it seems to be it.

I grew up in Schenectady.

I can remember tryin' to get older kids in the neighborhood

to bring me up Central Park to go fishing when I was a kid.

And it's what I always wanted to do

and I did it my entire life.

And the same with the artwork.

I just kept painting and drawing my whole life,

through my teens.

So it was kinda natural that the fish

that I had interested in and the outdoors

and the natural science,

would become part of my artwork and my expression.

Most recently, I've become focused on Gyotaku,

which is Japanese fish printing.

(slow Asian music)

It's a form of printmaking, like block printing, or etching,

or other forms of printmaking, except that the fish,

you use the actual fish, which serves as a printing block.

It started as a Japanese fisherman's way

to record his catch.

But since then, it's evolved into an art form,

who have taking the process and the end product

to an elevated level.

The first method, Chokusetsu-ho,

which means direct fish printing,

is where the fish is prepped.

So we put some cotton down in the mouth.

We put some in where the gills are.

And then we super glue, and we glue down the Operculum,

or the gill flap.

Put the paper towel down, we call 'em slip sheets,

so that I can ink the fish,

and I can go cover all the way to the edges

but I don't have to worry about excess ink

getting on the board.

(tool clinks)

Okay, so now we've got the ink pretty much

distributed along on the fish.

I'm gonna get a piece of Washi paper.

The papers, Washi, is an art form in and of itself.

It's not made from rice,

even though sometimes it's called rice paper.

It's actually made from

a couple of different types of plants,

primarily a mulberry plant.

It's a really interesting process.

And I think I've made contact pretty much with everything,

so are we ready for the big reveal?

(midtempo gentle music)

I do my tinting from the back of the print,

so we flip this over.

These are water-based colors.

And this is done as rough approximation

to prevent it from becoming a painting

and no longer a print.

Anything I do to it cannot obscure

or hide the original print itself.

The only thing left to make this fish complete

is to paint the eye.

I met up with a group called Nature Printing Society,

and it's a fellowship of printers,

both Gyotaku printers and plant printers,

botanicals and all kinds of

natural science printmaking forms.

I met a good friend of mine from Japan,

Mineo Ryuka Yamamoto,

whom referred to as the Ambassador of Gyotaku.

He would come to the United States several times a year

teaching Gyotaku printmaking workshops.

And then I went to Japan and visited him for a while

and worked with him.

A couple of years ago, he honored me

with the title of Master Gyotaku Printmaker.

And that's when I was given

the Japanese artist named Mutsugoroh.

Mutsugoroh is the name of a fish,

a Japanese blue spotted mudskipper.

It's his favorite fish.

So he basically named me Mudskipper.

But I embrace that and love the guy to death.

I learn a lot from him.

In direct printing, which is what my Sensei taught me,

instead of inking the fish directly,

you use rice paste to adhere silk to the fish.

Very, very closely glued to the fish.

And then, by using oil-based inks,

you apply the inks to the silk,

but not to the fish, therefore, indirect.

It's a longer process.

It's more delicate.

It works much better with fish

that have finer scales, or no scales.

(acoustic guitar music)

There's a large percentage of people

who are not really aware of the art form.

So it's really great to talk to them

and tell them the process.

And they're really kind of amazed and intrigued by it.

I picked up quite a few students

and printmakers in the Adirondacks,

starting to build a little bit of a club.

Educating people and bring 'em into the knowledge,

and then the ones that are really interested

in the knowledge of how to do it,

it brings great joy really.

- Finally, artist Jenny Kemp came to the Capital Region

in 2009, to pursue her MFA in painting

from the University at Albany.

Now living in Troy, Jenny's art has been exhibited

in galleries and museums across the country.

- I'm an artist who's interested in abstraction.

And I make paintings and animations that are really about me

processing ideas about color, inventiveness, and biology.

All the while sort of referencing

and thinking about the history of abstraction.

(energetic electronic music)

I knew I was always gonna be an artist.

It's taken a couple different forms

from the time I was young to now.

I think when I was really little,

I thought I wanted to be a cartoonist,

and work for Disney or make animations.

Which when I got to high school and into college,

I realized more that I wanted to be a painter.

(slow gentle music)

10 Large Paintings are a series of paintings

that she did that represented stages of life.

So these being childhood,

these being youth.

I love the mystery of an abstraction.

Hilma af Kint, Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove,

Agnes Pelton, Bridget Riley.

Some of these are early abstractionists like Hilma af Klint

were really thinking about ways of bringing

things that are invisible visible.

My paintings are composed of a sort of language of shapes

that are often sometimes playful or personal.

That are interacting with a language

of small repeating lines,

that kind of overlay or underlay in and around

the forms interact with the shapes,

in sometimes ways that are hypnotic.

Sometimes ways that are kind of oppy,

sometimes ways that are kind of psychedelic.

But in whichever way they sort of

to me reference a kind of system of growth,

a theme that I feel is strong in my work.

(energetic music)

My process isn't always a fixed thing,

but generally, I have a sketchbook in which I will

kind of freestyle things I'm thinking about,

jot down ideas or thoughts.

I may make a smaller painting on paper.

And then if it continues to spark interest,

then I'll take it to a larger, more permanent surface.

I paint on linen panels in acrylic.

(energetic electronic music)

In my work, I play a lot with color contrasts.

I'll work toward bridging the opposition of those colors

together through a system of the kind of patterning.

The lines are all hand painted.

Yeah, so I don't use any tape or tools.

It's tedious and takes a long time,

but the trick is to look at the spaces in between the lines.

I got into animation in graduate school.

I'll scan or take digital captures of parts of paintings,

and I'll compile them into stop motion animations

that evolve in ways that are kind of unexpected.

(slow eerie music)

(energetic music)

In 2014, my husband and I opened up a brewery

called Rare Form.

And it's a collaborative effort.

He's a brewer and I'm an artist.

So, it's a really fun project for me.

I can do whatever I'd like.

I definitely couldn't imagine my life without art.

I think what draws me so much to art

is this idea that you could make something,

and it has some value in the world.

That's a fascinating part of society,

that people would find value

in things that other people make.

(energetic music)

- And that wraps it up for this edition of AHA.

For more arts and culture, visit wmht.org/aha,

where you'll find features about our creative world

in our backyards and across the country.

Until next time, I'm Matt Rogowicz.

Thanks for watching.

(lively jazz music)

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution,

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include the

Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

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