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Spark Club: Where Artists and Innovation Meet


by Anne Bothwell 4 Dec 2009

On Tuesday,  Marketplace aired its annual piece on the year’s philanthropy buzzwords, declaring that 2009 was “the year where necessity was the mother of social innovation.” Listening to terms like “impact investing” and “B corps” was inspiring:  making a serious business out of doing good is a trend! But I also felt a disconnect – […]

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On Tuesday,  Marketplace aired its annual piece on the year’s philanthropy buzzwords, declaring that 2009 was “the year where necessity was the mother of social innovation.” Listening to terms like “impact investing” and “B corps” was inspiring:  making a serious business out of doing good is a trend! But I also felt a disconnect – sounds more like something for Seattle than North Texas, for technology start-ups rather than artists.

Then again, maybe not. And maybe those lines between non-profit and commercial, art and commerce,  high tech and low, are just well-worn yet meaningless grooves in our minds. Thursday night, I went to Spark Club, a new “network of leaders, artists, thinkers and social entrepreneurs gathering in creative, highly conscious networking events to meet, greet, share and ultimately spark ideas for good.”  This could have been hand-holding and singing “Kumbaya.” It could have been endless nattering about “the way things should be.” But it wasn’t.

The group’s second meeting was at CoHabitat, a cozy house in Uptown that has been transformed into rentable work spaces.  The evening was  “sold out” (free, but reservations required) and full of folks who are conceiving and executing ideas to make a difference. It’s not exactly an arts event, but I was struck by how many creative types attended, and the way art intersected with so many of the projects and ideas discussed.

There were three short presentations: Photographer Tyler Sharp briefly showed work shot in Pakistan. But he was really there to talk about My-stroke.com, a networking and recovery resource for stroke victims.  Julie McCullough Kim is the gal behind Make Shop & Studio. Her talk focused on the PIN Show and how she is trying to encourage “slow fashion,” quality, affordable clothing produced locally by independent designers. Finally, Salah Boukadoum, owner of Soap Hope, shared his business model, “Good Returns.” All of Soap Hope’s profits are leveraged for one year, funneled to three groups that make micro-loans to poor women.

There were also door prizes, snacks and wine, and lots of opportunities to meet folks, including a “speed networking” station – works pretty much like speed dating – offering two minutes to share your project and listen to the story of another’s, exchange cards and move on.  The group plans to experiment with other meeting themes and presentation formats, including PechaKucha

If you have a project that could benefit from the attention of a group of creative, fun and serious thinkers, check out next month’s Spark Club.

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  • tim buckley

    Two quick things on the first item: for better or worse, “philanthropy” is an industry like any other; there’s no reason that its buzzwords are going to sound anything other than industrial.

    &, you really think there are MORE artists in North Texas than Seattle? Having spent a long time in both places, that seems VERY counter-intuitive.

  • Hey Tim,
    Good point. Philanthropies, and the not-for-profit world they often funnel money to, certainly can be huge businesses, employing corporate strategies and behaviors. What interests me – and I certainly didn’t make this clear above – are commercial enterprises that are making “doing good” an integral part of their business plan. They are neither philanthropies or non-profits and they go beyond the many businesses that, quite admirably, share some of their profits and resources with favorite causes. This isn’t new, but the philanthropy buzzword report, as well as some of the folks I met at Spark Club, indicate to me that perhaps it’s a growing trend. And I’m also excited about the impact that could have, in turn, on non-profits, as they seek true sustainability.

    I’ve never really considered whether Seattle has more artists than N. Texas. I do agree, Seattle certainly has the reputation. That – and its tech industry – are why I said something like Spark Club seems intuitively, more a Seattle than a Dallas thing. But you’ve got me thinking: if you consider the sheer size of N. Texas (Dallas, Denton, Ft. Worth and environs), the number of Universities, performing arts centers, theaters, orchestras, museums and galleries, recording studios and clubs within, not to mention the fashion, photography, film communities, etc., it’s quite possible – probable, even – that there are more artists here than in Seattle.

  • Anne,
    great article!

    I wish I had known about this event I would have tried to make it.

    have a wonderful day!

    Jeff