Laurie McLeod is an award-winning internationally exhibited choreographer, filmmaker, and performance maverick based in the Berkshires. Laurie is the first of four to be interviewed in preparation for this summer’s Berkshire-focused crowd funding campaign to be spearheaded by Assets for Artists.
As she prepares for the publication of her first e-book Make it Happen in Ten Minutes a Day, Laurie (writing as Lorne Holden) sits down with MASS MoCA intern Violet Lynch to discuss both where she has been and where she is headed.
You have both produced and exhibited work in a wide variety of settings across the world, but how did you come to settle in the Berkshires?
I’ve actually had a home in the Berkshires for about thirty years, although I haven’t lived here the entire time. I come from a long background as a modern dancer and choreographer and there was a school here for body work. When I looked around I realized the area was a great fit for me, and I’ve used it as my home base ever since.
How did you come to the realization that you were a creative person and that you wanted to turn your interest in being a maker into a career?
My original creative avenue was as a writer, and that was my first big creative drive. Then somewhat by accident I started to dance in college and that became a real passion. In my 20’s, I went in to that sort of abyss of, well, what will that mean, how will I live, what exactly will happen there? And so I tried to step away from it and I did what I thought I was supposed to do.
I got a “proper” job in New York, working in a publishing company in a high rise in Times Square. Particularly in the late afternoon I would stare out the window and realize that my friends were waitressing and dancing, and even though I was doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing, I knew that I envied them.
When I was 26, I took the plunge and spent many years in dance, many years waiting tables. I spent five years as a dancer and choreographer in London, spent a year dancing for a French company, and at that point I was pretty much a goner in terms of being an artist; I really felt that I didn’t know how to live any other way.
So at this point, performance was really your passion. How did your work evolve into what it is today?
In 2000, I went into a crisis because dance is so under recognized in this culture. I was at a real point of gigantic self reflection and a pretty big amount of heartbreak about it, and I realized then that dance felt too limiting to me and in a way it always felt too limiting to me. So I began to see myself simply as an artist—for whatever that meant—and my life widened and went forward in a completely new way.
I began making works for camera; at first dance for camera, but then I realized that the audience for dance on camera is even smaller than the audience for [solely] dance. I thought, I can’t expand and have my audience get even smaller! So I started working as a visual artist, making underwater films and mostly projecting them into places through water, in water, onto water, or places where water was subject to the environment.
What was it that initially pushed you to enroll in the Assets for Artists program?
As an artist, I’ve spent a lot of my career grant writing and looking for money, as many artists do. I saw a posting about Assets for Artists on the Berkshire Creative website, and I recognized a couple of artists who I knew, who were my colleagues in the program. To be honest my son was still very young then and I think I sent the application off in a daze of exhaustion … But I had to throw my hat in the ring.
You’re getting ready to publish an eBook titled Make it Happen in Ten Minutes a Day. Can you talk a little about the experiences you had with the program that informed the progression of your work?
In 2007 I adopted a baby, and as a single parent, time went out the window. The only way I survived was by figuring out to use small amounts of time every day. I was describing this idea at an Assets for Artists meeting when [Program Director] Blair said, “There’s a book!”. So Assets for Artists has had a unique role in my creative evolution, partly because Blair’s comment inspired this creative adventure, and also because it has brought me back to where I started as a creative person—wanting to write. I’m using the Assets money to fund the book, so it’s been a gigantic gift all around. Blair’s comment inspired the book and the money is making the book happen. My life really did change as a result of being involved with Assets for Artists. It’s fantastic.
What other benefits have you experienced as a result of your participation in the program?
What’s really particularly ingenious about Assets for Artists is the requirement to attend the four business meetings in order to receive the grant. The meetings offer up a kind of information that artists don’t usually live with. Financial sobriety are the words that describes it best for me—what is money, how do you live with it, what is a credit rating/ spreadsheet/business plan? These things are all very natural to people in business or in other walks of life, but they are not at all natural to artists.
The economic oppression of artists is so widespread in our culture that it becomes internalized in a lot of our artists’ lives, and money becomes a huge source of difficulty and stress. The Assets for Artists meetings demystify money and help you understand how you relate to it. That understanding allows you to come to new choices, so you don’t just come away with a savings, you come away mobilized with an entirely new body of information, both about yourself and about money and the world.
Have you noticed any particular changes in the market as you’ve brought this idea to fruition? What kinds of changes or adjustments have you had to make along the way?
When I originally decided to write the book, I had it in mind to take a conventional approach and get an agent and find a publisher. Then, basically by paying attention, I realized that the world was changing, the way people read is changing. EBook publishing is one of the great burgeoning industries in the world right now. I’ve always been self-generating in terms of creating my own opportunities, and I decided to simply publish the book myself – there was no reason not to. I continue to watch what is being played out in the publishing industry because right now it’s changing so much, even in the last few weeks. I’m watching the industry carefully because I’m about to be a part of it.
Do you see yourself continuing in this line of work after the book’s publication?
The target date for the book launch is June 15 , 2012 and my intention is to spend the rest of the year marketing it. The nature of the book is that it’s for busy people and as there are busy people everywhere, the e-book will be sold internationally. To be a guerilla marketer is very natural to me, yet I’m also learning, and watching the whole internet industry to learn more about internet marketing in particular. I really believe in the book and believe it can be helpful to people. I’m fierce, happy and determined to sell a lot of copies.
Make it Happen is going to be a key player in the Berkshire-focused IndieGoGo campaign that Assets for Artists is spearheading this summer. How will you use the proceeds raised from this campaign?
My sense is that the funds will just be turned back in to the business. I’m working with a designer who is both designing the website for the book and designing the book, and there’ll be a continued relationship with him in terms of design and updating the website and this and that. The money will be turned back into helping the business go forward.
Assets for Artists has been a force for good in my life in a huge way. It has been inspiring, mobilizing, freeing and really fun. It is so difficult to be an artist in America that sometimes it’s hard for people even believe that help exists. I tell everyone I can about the program and encourage them to apply.