Entrepreneur and talent agent Andre Bouchard likes to open doors.
He founded his creative business, Walrus Arts Management and Consulting, in order to focus exclusively on creating more opportunities for Native performers in dance, music, and theater to tell their stories.
He talked to us about Walrus Arts, how blogging can help a creative business engage their clients, and how creatives with multi-disciplinary talents can find their niche.
You founded Walrus Arts Management and Consulting which serves as a home to the first Native run performing arts booking agency representing Indigenous dance, theatre, music and multidisciplinary artists. Will you tell us about what Walrus Arts does for clients and how you came to found such a company?
Five years ago when I conceptualized this organization I was working as a program officer for a Native facing private foundation. The foundation mostly served visual and traditional artists and occasionally musicians.
Meanwhile, I was working with dozens of heartbreakingly talented Native performing artists who, after they got their grant, had little opportunity to mold their career into a sustainable form.
There needed to be a stepping stone for them.
Most successful performing artists had agents and when I looked at the field there was only one agency in the US that served mostly Native artists – Pasifika Artists, who worked with Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. Even the most talented Native artists were unable to find a booking agent – and therefore an entrée into the touring performing arts world.
So, I stepped up. I quit my job at the foundation and incorporated the LLC. Four years later I started migrating the operation to a nonprofit model but will not be shutting down the consulting organization.
The Walrus Arts Consulting website features an informative blog. How specifically does the blog serve your business? And what advice would you give to creative business owners about generating a blog of their own?
The blog serves to establish a body of knowledge, and my personal and organization’s expertise, for the field–mostly for presenters who are reluctant to ask the hard questions and just want to do a Google search.
It is important to have sources out there that are field-specific to help people along in their equity journey and my blog is designed to help to fill that niche for Native and Indigenous matters. It also helps to lengthen the time of the visits to my website and has been helpful to generating demand for consulting work.
Further, when I send out email newsletters the blog posts are frequently my highest-trafficked items. By deepening the value of my regular communications to potential business (particularly consulting), I can decrease drop off and unsubscribe rates and the perception that I am simply asking for more business.
A blog can be a great, low-cost tool to deepen relationships with your partners. I have found the blogs I follow the most provide insight that I cannot get anywhere else–do you have a unique perspective or subject matter? Who else is writing about what you want to write about and what is their voice? What is the cultural/technical/community framework for your creative endeavor and what do you have to say about it?
Keep in mind that consulting work is some of the most lucrative work in the creative sector!
You work with a wide array of multidisciplinary talents. Often creatives with multidisciplinary talents struggle to find their niche. Do you think it is a benefit or a barrier to have multiple talents and disciplines when trying to market yourself as a professional in the creative sector?
I have had a number of people cycle on and off of my roster over the last six years and the folks that I find have the most success in getting work are those who invest heavily in my organization’s partnership with them.
No matter the complexity of the disciplines you bring to the table, presenting partners are unlikely to invest in bringing you on tour unless you have invested in documenting your work samples and showing up to booking conferences and showcasing.
Complex multi-disciplinary work can be a huge asset, but only after you ‘show up’ with high-quality video work samples or with in-person showcases. The caveat I have around this is when the complexity of the work you bring to stage dramatically increases the cost to the presenter or limits the number of stages you can perform on. Quality can surmount these issues, but you really have to make people into believers for them to shell out the money for a show that travels in a semi-truck, for example.
You recently mentioned that you hired a new staff member. When hiring new staff to be members of your team, what qualities do you look for?
Team building takes on different significance when you are working within a culturally specific context. As a bridge between cultures my organization must both speak the language of the dominant paradigm, an ostensibly capitalist system, and our community which has different priorities–not exclusive to, but mostly focused on, complicated protocols that must be observed to ‘do things right.’
Any member of my team must understand this dichotomy and have the humility to understand what they don’t know and the ability to ask the right questions and balance this with the ability to move in a timely fashion and be able to effectively advocate for our cause. It is a hard balance to strike.
One of my mentors once told me that there are only three questions in any interview: 1) can you do the job? 2) Will you like the job? And 3) Will I like you? I think this generally holds true but I would add in a quote from the father of modern management science, Peter Drucker: “Culture eats business plans for breakfast.” Never, never, never underestimate the importance of culture when building a team or when working to understand how that team will interface with your community.
I currently have part-timers working on my website and bookkeeping and have a graduate student intern from Evergreen State who is helping with marketing and development.
I am looking to expand further in the coming fiscal year to help with communications and the tour management for my roster, so, essentially my next hire will be the hunt for a unicorn – a person who understands Indigenous culture and the performing arts as a business. It helps that they can be remote 90% of the time!
You are a creative professional who also has 2 children. Do you have a method for dividing up your time that you could share for any creative parents who are working toward founding their own creative business?
I won’t lie–it’s hard to be an entrepreneur and a parent! My business hours are roughly 8:30am to 2pm, Monday through Friday with the remaining work getting done after my kids go to sleep (knock on wood!) after 8pm.
Childcare has been a constant struggle as we don’t have a family network and are only now establishing parent friends after our move from Vancouver, WA to Olympia. It helps to have a spouse who is supportive, and I owe a huge debt to my wife who does the lion’s share of the cognitive labor for my family.
Where do you find inspiration in your community?
When I was growing up on the Flathead Reservation I looked forward to the first snow. This was when the elders could start telling stories. I knew that these stories, about Coyote and Fox, about the mountains, were important.
They told me about the world around me, about my relationship with nature, about how to treat people in my community. I have always found inspiration from Indigenous people reclaiming their truth and their power.
What are your productivity habits? How do you get down to work? What do you do to focus? Any rituals or habits, or techniques you use?
Over the years I have come to understand my proclivities and how they manifest in my work. I use a hybrid approach to staying on track.
My four most important tools are: my online calendar for long term goals and for reminders, a daily and a weekly to-do list to manage short-term deadlines and workflow, and transparency and accountability to my partners and my community–without whom my work wouldn’t mean anything.