Brian is the Managing Editor of Big, Red & Shiny, award-winning online arts magazine committed to expanding critical discourse and coverage of contemporary art.
“We were able to tackle challenges that have prevented us from growing and were given space to imagine our future.”
I am the Managing Editor of Big Red & Shiny, a small, Boston-based nonprofit arts organization, where I oversee and coordinate the editorial activities of our web-based journal. Founded in 2004 and re-launched in 2012, Big Red & Shiny strives to create a flexible, living document of visual arts practices in Boston and the Northeast and to expand their visibility through coverage and criticism. In the months leading up to Big Red & Shiny's re-launch, the editorial team spent a significant amount of time developing our mission statement. Our ideas for it were many and varied, but our discussions often led back to the same question: What role could BR&S occupy within our community? That is, what was lacking, what could we adequately provide, and most importantly, what was needed? During this time we came across a document authored by Renny Pritikin, a San Francisco Bay area curator, that outlines Mr. Pritikin’s “Prescription for a Healthy Art Scene”—aspects that contribute to the overall well-being and sustainability of an art community. From that list we were able to identify our niche, as well as identify areas where Boston was already succeeding.
As artists, we are familiar with the need to wear any number of hats in order to make a living or maintain a practice. And in any arts community the participation of its citizens is paramount in ensuring its health. Working with Big Red & Shiny is, in part, my civic duty to my community and enables me to create opportunities for and encourage those within it.
My first exposure to Pro Bono work was during this first web-based project with our team at John Hancock. Though I had volunteered at nonprofits before and witnessed a number of outreach programs while in New Orleans post-Katrina, I had never been on the client side of those relationships.
Big Red & Shiny is run entirely by volunteers. Those individuals who choose to be a part of the organization bring a number of diverse strengths to the work we do. Though not traditional Skills-Based volunteerism, we understand the importance of Pro Bono work and what it can do to transform a nonprofit. We believe strongly in the work that we do and realize that Pro Bono programs like the one we benefitted from are an integral part to our organization’s future.
As an organization participating in a Pro Bono program, the most lasting impact has been the amount of capacity building we were able to acquire in such a short amount of time. Developing organizational and technical skills from individuals who utilize their skills in a different sector than our own has made our experience that much more profitable.
Managing a small nonprofit often consists of finding ways to leverage capacity. We have learned to accept our limitations and to focus our time and mission, and have developed a keen understanding of what resources we need to sustain our current work. The most challenging aspect of participating in a Pro Bono program as a client was a result of this mindset: we struggled to identify what the organization could be, or what we wanted it to be given the right set of tools. When presented with this opportunity, and with help from our team of volunteers at John Hancock, we were able to tackle challenges that have prevented us from growing and were given space to imagine our future.
“We have learned to accept our limitations and to focus our time and mission, and have developed a keen understanding of what resources we need to sustain our current work.”
I would advise them to spend time at the beginning of the project to clearly identify the goals and the desired outcomes. It is also essential to create a constant and open line of communication between the client and volunteers is to keep the project on track and to build trust as it progresses.
Theaster Gates—a social practice installation artist whose work has been shown at museums and galleries internationally, and is committed to the revitalization of poor neighborhoods through a combination of urban planning and art practices. He is best known for the Dorchester Projects, where he worked to restore formerly abandoned buildings on Chicago’s South Side and turned them into cultural institutions.view more profiles