At Relish Studio, we like to think of marketing as a relationship-building activity.
And when you’re building a relationship, there’s no better way to slam the breaks on creating a bond than to ask too much too soon.
Today’s guest is David Fakunle, the Executive Director of Womb Work Productions.
His organization is doing some great performing arts work in Baltimore (and the rest of Maryland) to heal and empower youth, families, and communities.
David’s team fosters social change through storytelling, and they have a great handle on what it takes to build trust and relationships across all their stakeholder connections.
One of the most interesting points we discuss is centered around getting in front of the right people at the right time. As you might imagine, it’s easier to engage financial and community support when you come from a place of confidence and patience—and leverage the power of your story to build trust.
This is a really fun episode. I hope you enjoy it!
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Listen to the podcast here
Building Trusting Relationships With David Fakunle Of Womb Work Productions
Our guest is David Fakunle, the Executive Director of WombWork Productions. His organization is doing some great work in the Baltimore area and in the rest of Maryland to help heal and empower youth, families, and communities through the performing arts. David’s team fosters social change through storytelling, and they have a great handle on what it takes to build trust and relationships through mutual value exchanges across all their stakeholder connections. This is a fun episode, and I hope you enjoy it. Here we go.
David, how are you?
I‘m doing well.
Thanks for joining me on the show.
Thank you for inviting me.
It’s my pleasure. It’s a beautiful day here in Nederland, Colorado, which is up in the mountains, and you are coming to us from Baltimore, right?
That is correct. I haven’t been out of my house. It’s been chilly. Maryland weather is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m biased. I’m from Maryland, born and raised, but it can be 30 degrees snowing one day, and the weekend ends with 70.
It’s like that here. We usually have more of a dry cold, however. I know when that fog and damp weather settles into Baltimore, it can get a little chilly.
They’ve been relatively mild for the past few years. Once in a while, we’ll get some snow, nothing serious, but this has been particularly cold. I’m quite impressed.
We’re recording this in late December 2020, before the New Year, and it will air in March 2021. The weather will be different at that point. Tell me a little bit about what you’re up to at your organization. It’s interesting. It’s called WombWorks.
WombWork has been around since 1997. It was started by three Black women who are artists as well as mothers. They established this organization out of concern for their children and other youth in Baltimore who didn’t have a creative space. During that time in the late-’90s, unfortunately, as is still the case now, we’ve had issues with violence in Baltimore City, and youth tend to be overrepresented in those statistics.
They wanted to create a safe space for their children and others with a creative orientation. It’s a performing arts company. It utilizes theater primarily, but also other forms of performing arts, like singing, dancing, African drumming, and other forms of musical performance. It uses it, to tell the truth, and to reflect the stories of the performers and the communities in which they live, work, play and operate.
It touches on difficult societal issues. WombWork has never shied away from those hard conversations. When we talk about HIV aids, gang violence, drug use and abuse, sexual violence, and even COVID-19, WombWork has been proficient in conveying the relevance of these issues to local society, as well as society at large, in a creative manner that engages and empowers the audience. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of WombWork since I was fourteen years old. I have been a performer the entire time, and now I focus a lot of my energy on the administrative side as part of the directorships. It’s been a long journey for me.
It sounds like you’re helping kids have a creative outlet and a safe place to be able to perform. Is that the thrust of it?
It encourages kids to activate the power of their creativity and artistic talent. It never ceases to amaze me how many kids blossom through the programming of WombWork. It’s also about helping kids to understand a better totality of what’s going on in their world. Kids see a lot. They may not understand everything that they see. Part of the responsibility of those who have lived before them is to give them some context and understanding about what’s going on.
One thing that I think we learned in 2020, but I’ve learned throughout our history, is that there’s a lot that we don’t know. There are a lot of contexts that have been excluded from the circumstances of society. WombWork is proud of the fact that it gives kids and the audiences that they perform in front of a larger view of the history and context about what’s going on in our world. When people ask, “What’s wrong with our world?” Here you go.
Here’s the historical context that’s going to give you a better understanding of how we’ve gotten to this point. What I appreciate about WombWork’s evolution is how it’s focused on the positive aspects of humanity that we all possess. As difficult as it may be for us to accept that about each other, we do have these capabilities and these qualities within us.
Kids see a lot and they may not understand everything that they see. Part of the responsibility of those who have lived before them is to give them context and understanding of what’s going on.
Part of our philosophy now is to help strengthen and acknowledge those qualities, which we call virtues, that we all possess, no matter what the challenge is. We continue to not shy away from the challenges of society. We always aim for our performances to also show, “Here’s what we can do about it. Here is the energy and the spirit in which we need to address the solutions in order for them to be long lasting.”
That’s an incredible way to frame that entire process. It’s within this context of perhaps some negativity, but how can we foster action and positive change out of that and create those outcomes. Are the kids themselves creating the material, or are they typically performing works that have already been created?
Typically, the pieces are created in a collective format. That does include WombWork personnel. Many of us started as kids but have remained with the organization as adults. We are some of the primary creators of the pieces we do, along with our artistic director. One of the cofounders has been there from the beginning.
When we go to schools and work with students, we do present a space in which their insight and wisdom can be included in the pieces. It also helps to build relevancy. The performances that we do are relevant in a focused sense, but to make it connect with that audience, particularly youth. We know how easily you can lose youth in a lot of ways.
It helps to strengthen that relevance, collective responsibility, and efficacy by having them contribute their insights to the creation of pieces. Even if we have a piece we’ve done, we allow youth to add their nuances and particulars to a piece so that it becomes theirs. That’s one of the hallmarks of WombWork. We have directors, but it is more of a collective operation and process by which we get.
What age range are you working with? You said you’re going through the schools mostly to get in front of these kids.
We have three ensembles. We have the Next Generation, which is young kids. That’s about 5 to 12. We have a NU Generation, which is teens. That’s about 13 to 19. We have NU World, which is for adults twenty and above. A lot of our engagement with youth in Baltimore is through the schools. We have partnerships with various entities that are connected with the school system, which contract us as an organization and our personnel to provide arts-based instruction to various schools around the city.
One of the things that have been beneficial for us in the past few years has been those opportunities to provide arts-based instruction to students around the city through various entities that have those relationships. We also have our typical rehearsal spaces. That’s been put on pause because of the pandemic, but typically, we have youth who are aware of WombWork who are a part of the company and take part in the different classes that we offer on weekends. During the week, the ensembles typically use that time to rehearse performances that may be coming on-screen.
When we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic, is it open to the public in terms of ways for people to come in and view the performances there? Are you engaging with other venues as well?
We’re typically nomadic in the presentation of our art, but we have made some investments in solidifying our black box theater. We operate in a basement of a church. We had that connection with one of the parishioners, and we’re able to develop a relationship to use their space for our organization. We’ve been there as long as I’ve been a part of the organization. I’m going to say from the beginning. What we’ve been allowed to do is to make it more attractive to an audience. We can have our performances within the space, but we are with other venues, typically schools, other musicians, and other spaces around the city and around the State of Maryland as well.
It sounds like you guys have created a lot of good partnerships in the several years you’ve been around. You are engaging in a variety of different aspects in terms of getting access to the schools and being able to support their art efforts, as well as throughout the community leveraging all of the tools and assets that are already in place there.
It’s been a process. One of the pushbacks against WombWork, particularly in its early days, was it was aggressive. We are based on Black philosophy. We speak a lot to the circumstances of Black people in the US, and that involves a lot of troubling challenges. We’ve never been hesitant to talk about those challenges when we talk about racism, oppression, and suppression of voice and power.
That turned a lot of people off. They didn’t want a bunch of “Angry Black folks” talking about everything that was wrong in society. As time has passed and as people have achieved a greater acknowledgment of those challenges, they’ve looked at an organization like when work has always been committed to talking about those issues and also being a part of that solution.
We’ve been able to develop collaborations with institutions that may have previously not looked our way. That’s a big reason behind our growth because of the reputation that WombWork has built. It’s not about addressing and looking at these issues through a creative platform but being good at the art they produce. It has certainly helped us over the past few years when it comes to expanding opportunities within Baltimore, not in terms of performances but also teaching.
Do you have corporate partners? Where do most of your funding come from?
Most of our funding is from a fee per service. A lot of the organizations that we have relationships with will contract us to provide performances in our space instruction. We do get some funding from a philanthropic organization in the city. As a matter of fact, we received a relatively big gift from a philanthropic organization in a city. We didn’t apply for anything. It was given to us. Part of the directorship emailed us and showed us the check. I was like, “Okay.” What are the things that we want to do is to strengthen our relationships with the philanthropic community. They’re having important conversations.
To have a space where your insight is welcomed and valued, and what you have to say, your reflection and your experiences are not just welcomed but needed, that has the potential to change people in such a powerful way.
We know that there are a lot of challenges and flaws within philanthropic communities. Honestly, the nonprofit industrial complex is something that we have to navigate. This constant need to ask people to give us money to do what we do. Greater recognition of why we do what we do and a methodology with which we accomplish those bones. There’s been greater acknowledgment and appreciation of that. That translated into more support.
We can do a lot better. Grant writing is its own beast. One thing that we believe as an organization is having the opportunity to connect with the people behind these organizations and philanthropic basis. A lot of people are guilty of seeing them as a money bag. They see them for what they can provide in terms of financial support. We recognize the importance of seeing the people that make those decisions.
We had a great compensation with the executive director of a couple of philanthropic organizations, as a matter of fact, and we just talked. We talked about what we do, why we do it, and some of the challenges that we faced. I was very intentional, as well as my colleagues, about making an ask. We didn’t want to ask for anything. We wanted to have the opportunity to tell our story, and quite honestly, I think that’s more convincing than anything we can do. One of the challenges for us is how do we quantify if we can quantify or best capture the impact that we make as an organization?
We know we’re impactful. We wouldn’t be around for several years if we weren’t. There are plenty of people, from kids who are now adults who came to us as kids to organizations that will speak glowingly about us. We know that philanthropic organizations don’t always appreciate the story. They want the statistics and numbers. We’ve experienced that. In a lot of ways, we believe it. That runs counterintuitive to what we do as artists. Art isn’t quantified. It is qualifying.
How do we convey that what we do works, and how do we convey it in a way that’s respectful and appreciative of us but also shows a return on investment for these philanthropic organizations? One of the things I appreciate about my father is he taught me about investing at a young age. I’m a big believer in return on investment. I get that. What is the language that we’re using to show philanthropic organizations that, “You are getting a big return on investment by supporting an organization like WombWork and many others.”
It’s always a challenge to try and figure out what those stats are and how to leverage that quantifiable component to tell that story. My guess is that you’re among some of the success stories that have come out of the program. You can talk about how many kids you’ve reached each year, how many people who’ve seen your shows, and things of that nature, but to get to that important figure becomes that hook in the story can be a real challenge when you’re talking about things like art.
I had the chance to talk to another representative from a philanthropic organization, and they’ve always been big supporters of WombWork. We had a frank discussion about how to sow and convey our impact in the work that we do. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about, and I don’t know why it took so long for me to figure that out, is to emphasize the contributions to public health that our organizations engage in and provide.
I’ve been fortunate for the past couple of years to work closely with the University of Florida and its Center for Arts and Medicine. They have been leaders in consolidating research and presenting opportunities for people to show that art and culture have an important place within public health. Many cultures around the world utilize their art and creativity to address their issues when it comes to health and well-being. It only seems to be a foreign concept in the United States and, frankly, other Westernized nations where art, culture, and health are separated.
We’re now seeing a growing movement of researchers, practitioners, artists, creatives, and organizations that explicitly say, “What we do is beneficial to the health and well-being of the populations we serve. We’re using creative outlets by which to achieve those improvements in health and well-being.” WombWork has done that from the beginning, but it’s never called itself a public health organization. It’s never looked to orient its impact in a public health context, and that’s something that, as a public health professional, I’m starting to push and emphasize without organization.
I was looking up some old notes, and we came up with three major points that WombWork addresses in public health, behavioral health, mental health, and health communication. That is what WombWork has been doing from the beginning. To me, that presents opportunities to now speak to funders and supporters within the public health space to say, “You want to improve your return on investment. Invest in research and institutions, but invest in arts organizations that address public health on a localized level.” We know it is important for interventions and initiatives.
I’m trying to wrap my head around how you guys can more effectively tell that story so that you get over that chasm of the challenge of explaining to people how there’s a measurable return that they may not be as measurable as they would like. Still, there is a positive return on their investment in your program.
That’s the frustration. I know a lot of the approaches that not researchers take, but organizations take to measure efficacy, whether things work and if they work well. My training has convinced me that the best way to measure the impact of arts and cultural organizations in public health would be to follow the participants over a long period of time, call that a longitudinal study.
That’s not realistic because people can go an infinite number of directions with their lives after they interact with WombWork. The ways that we touch and affect students. We’re talking about mental health, emotional health, and behavioral health. Those are things that you necessarily see easily. You have to follow the progression of a person to say, “At that point, this is who they were, but after they had some time and grew up, this is who they became.”
The challenge with that is there are many other factors that go into who a person becomes. It’s near impossible to say, “Because of their interaction with WombWork Productions, they became this person.” The most we can say is that their interaction with WombWork Productions gave them opportunities to strengthen these aspects of their health, like emotional health, behavioral health, creative prowess, and things like that.
Because of existing research and efforts that are out there, like with the University of Florida, we can say that relationship has typically shown a better trajectory for people who have this type of input. To me, that’s the best way to show the efficacy and efficiency of what a Wombwork does to say, “This is what we contribute. We know, in general, these types of opportunities and spaces for people correlate with these outcomes. That’s how we show that we make an impact in the way we do.” Ultimately, it’s about the stories.
Most of my energy as a public health professional overall, not with WombWork, is to show how powerful the stories are. That’s the data we should be looking at. The numbers and the statistics only tell us so much, but a person’s story can give us context and insight. Quite honestly, it connects with us as human beings. As people, we get it, and we understand it’s like, “I can understand how something like that changes you or makes you better in a lot of ways.” We need to accept that.
We want the world to be better. We want people to change for the better. We want people to see each other and acknowledge each other and ultimately love each other.
My challenge in convincing research is, “All the learning that you did in undergrad and grad school and whatever else you may have done, all I need you to do is be a human being, and you’ll understand this.” It’s been a good process. I’m pleasantly surprised how people have resonated with the appreciation of story and storytelling. I know that will benefit WombWork as well because we have stories for days, weeks, months, and years that we can tell. People accept that as solid evidence or contribution to evidence that will show how valuable we are.
There are many stories from all of the touch points you have as an organization in terms of not only the kids who have come up through the program but the people who are engaged with the program in terms of your staff, volunteers, and community. Those collective stories, bring all those voices in, and create opportunities to share that multitude of angles on this program. Those are the things that, when they’re all pieced together, become this cohesive and powerful opportunity to get that point across.
One of the things that we aim to do is to allow the people to tell the story. That’s where the credibility and legitimacy of what we’re saying come from. It’s from the people who have experienced it. These kids that we work with become teenagers and young adults but still have those memories of what they learned from WombWork and us too.
As many of the leaders of the organization who started as teenagers, we have stories to show how important and necessary a space like WombWork is for kids, regardless of your background, who are probably used to having their voices suppressed a little bit because they’re kids. You add in all of these other societal factors, race, license, economic status, location, and education, that can further suppress your voices to have a space where your insight is welcomed and valued. What you have to say and your reflection on your life experiences are not welcomed but needed. That has the potential to change people in such a powerful way. The alumni, personnel of WombWork, and the people that we serve have those kinds of stories. They’re valuable in this.
Do you keep in touch with the kids who’ve graduated through your program? Are you able to access that end of the story spectrum?
We do that to a certain extent. A lot of times, we have those relationships that become strong. It makes it easy to remain connected. We know kids go many different ways after we have our time with them. It is hard to remain in touch with every single one, but we’ll have those kids that decide to join WombWork and be a part of the organization. Those connections that we make that are profound more so than the rest manifest themselves, and those kids joining us.
Those are certainly great opportunities that you’ve created in terms of being excited about a program that you want to be part of it in an ongoing capacity. That’s a testament to how powerful the things that you’re doing are, and there’s some data there for sure. It’s an interesting concept. It’s an oversimplification in terms of the left brain and right brain. We typically tend to think of performance and creativity coming from that right sphere, where the analytics come from the left sphere, and the fact that you need to tell that left hemisphere story. You guys are rooted in that creative mind. It becomes a challenge.
It does, and you’re right. One of the things that I noticed as I got older with WombWork is certainly some of the limitations we had as an organization. This was the organization that was created by artists. The creative aspect was always going to be strong. It is a hallmark of what we do, but the business side of the organization will not be as strong. That showed in a lot of ways. We were the definition of starving artists for quite a long time, and that wasn’t necessary, but it was a reality that our business acumen was nowhere near close to our creative acumen.
Because of some unfortunate opportunities, particularly, we were able to have an operation and development manager for a few years. He was elemental in building up the administrative and business side of the organization. Even when he transitioned to another job and we had to take over a lot of his duties, we were so much better equipped to first understand those necessary elements of a business, which WombWork is. You have to keep the lights on. You have to make sure people are compensated.
You have the logistics of an organization and keeping an entity afloat while still being able to retain our creative abilities. It wasn’t that we had to be one or the other. We are able to be both. The word that I do as part of the directorship, and my wife, who’s also an alumnus of WombWork and is part of the administration, we’ve been able to maintain the work that he did and look at how the organization can expand.
The conversation that I had with a representative from one of the philanthropic organizations was mind-blowing. He said, “With the work that you all do and the impact that you all have, your budget should be around $1 million.” I was like, “I was happy with what we were.” It gave me a goal to aim for. How can we have a $1 million budget? For me, this is something that a person should be able to do full-time and make profitable pay where they can have all their energy dedicated to the work we do.
Having that number helps to quantify the goal I had in mind for the organization. A prime example, with this gift that we received, we’re going to use to start making some of those changes that we want to see in the organization and plant the seeds of opportunity that I’m confident our personnel appreciate and take advantage of.
That further expands the story of WombWork and the relationships we’re able to create because the most important thing we have is legitimacy, relevance, and a reputation. That will always be the case. We’ll do everything in our power to maintain those things. Now we can show other manifestations of how good we are as an organization, artists, and public health practitioners, which we also are. That will help facilitate the leap that we want to see as an organization.
I’m excited. We got through 2020. We’ve fought the challenge of the year. We were able to remain afloat and be healthy as an organization. It was a big change. The biggest change was a lot of our work and performance are being virtual, but we can do it, we have done it, and we can do it quite well. This is another side of versatility we now have, and we look into a brighter 2021. I’m excited about the opportunities and where we can go.
2020 has been particularly challenging as everyone has experienced. It’s great to see organizations like WombWork be able to figure it out when everything you’re doing is hands-on and in-person for all of the stakeholders involved to create that opportunity outside of that normalcy. There are some interesting things that come out of that.
One is your capacity to scale where previously, you may have been under the assumption that that was how you had to do things, and that was the only way to create that impactful service in your community and with the kids that you guys reach out to. Being forced into this virtual world, able to survive that, figure it out, and retain that impact demonstrates how important it is and how far you can expand your mission there.
It behooves us as a society to, at the very least, listen to each other with the spirit of understanding.
One of the things that have been encouraging and gratifying is how this growing number of people and entities understand us. One of the big challenges at the beginning of this organization’s history was being understood. Why were we saying the things that we were saying? Why were the performances as raw as they were? Why were we talking about the things that we were talking about? It was necessary, and as time has gone on, as we remain consistent with that commitment, and as people have learned and grown as time and society have revealed things to us, they get it now.
The one thing I’d say about 2020 is that it was a year of revelation. A lot of people figured things out this year. They understood things in 2020, and that helped them to be directed to those who had to understand it beforehand, who knew how things went and what the reality of life was. WombWork has been a place like that.
Instead of being upset or angry that it took along, we’re grateful that we’re here. Our philosophical shift is not solely recognition and acknowledgment like you need to see us and acknowledge our presence. It’s about collaboration. We see each other, and we need each other in order to have the best life for each other. That’s helped us well. We talk about patience as a virtue and modesty. We don’t need to be arrogant. We know how good we are, but we are focused on the gratitude that people are willing to support us and continue the work that we do. I think that things go a long way.
You said it was a transformational experience that we’ve all had over the last year. It’s great to see how many people have come out of that with a new perspective and approach to maybe how they’re going to treat everyone else. It certainly can be discouraging to focus on the negatives, but it’s great to hear how your organization does take these powerful, painful stories but create an opportunity for change around them. At least that’s what I think I heard you say earlier on. It’s incredible to be in that space and have that opportunity, particularly with kids who are disproportionately challenged by all of this and perhaps neglected by society in a lot of ways.
That’s been an unfortunate reality even before 2020. One of the most powerful things that when we’re doing is to elevate the voice of youth. The generations that come after us have the benefit of greater objectivity. They can look at how society is. They’re not as completely of it as we are as adults. They can say, “That’s not right. That’s an injustice. That needs to change.” That’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing the generations that are coming after us look at how our world is. They’ll say, “I don’t like it. It’s not right. It’s not serving the greater good. What needs to change?” Those youth are powered by voice. They have platforms by which they can share their truth. People will listen and acknowledge it.
WombWork has wanted to be a platform for youth to share their voice and truth and continues to be that. Through this creative platform and performing arts, there is so much truth that we’ve been fortunate to share with people. We know it’s changed people for the better. If for no other reason and they have a greater understanding and acknowledgment of how the world is. That acknowledgment can be a catalyst for change.
We want the world to be better. We want people to change for the better, see, acknowledge, and love each other. We’re not afraid to say that love is the ultimate force. Why society would not want that for each other? We want people to love more, harder, stronger, and genuinely. A part of love is understanding a person’s truth. We are happy, proud, and committed to being a platform for truth.
It’s such an important message to get out there. One of the things within history is if we don’t tell those stories and if we continue to push those down because they aren’t stories that we’re comfortable hearing or comfortable with, there’s no capacity or no opportunity for change if we continue to bury everything in the sand. It’s important what you guys are doing to allow those stories to be told, shared, and inspected. We can attempt to make some good positive changes out of those situations.
We’re going to remember 2020 for a long time. You saw how much came to a boiling point. Our people can only be suppressed for so long. Their voices, truth, and insight can be disregarded for so long. It behooves us as a society to, at the least, and we’re talking to the most basic thing you can do, listen to each other. Listen to each other with the spirit of understanding. You may not completely understand it, and some things don’t make sense.
We understand that, but to have an open mind and heart doesn’t mean you immediately accept what another person says. You give them the respect to acknowledge and listen to their story. Until they show otherwise, we operate as such. For me, that’s a powerful tool and approach to helping make the world better.
In the grand scheme, we’re not as far away as we think. There are a lot of minutia that have made things complicated, but at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. The way I put it is when our time comes to transition, we likely won’t be thinking about the money we made, any property that we had, or even any accomplishments. We’ll think about the people in our lives, who loved us, cared for us, and thought about us. For me, the question that I ask society is, why should we stop anyone from having that opportunity to be acknowledged, appreciated, respected, understood, and loved? That’s what WombWork is all about.
I’m excited about the capacity to expand that and see how you guys build on that. One of the things you touched on earlier was this idea of operations. You guys were a bunch of creatives who were challenged with the idea of running a business. When you plugged the operations guy in, you saw a big leap in those opportunities. Other than taking the knowledge and the experience of having that person on your team for some period of time, are you planning to do anything to repeat that performance?
At the minimum, we want to maintain it. We were having those important discussions that, for a long time, were easy for us to ignore. You’re wrapped up in our programming and doing the work of the art that we didn’t think about the business, but now we have people such as myself, my wife, and others who can have the time to think about the business side to have a commitment to goals as an organization. As a place of employment, people’s livelihoods are connected to the work we do. It’s because it’s encouraging to hear how valuable we are and could be. That gives us the kick in the pants to go forward.
To know that we can be a solid business, a space in which people can be economically sustained people for themselves and their families while producing top-quality arts and culture that has this intentional focus on improving the health and well-being of the populations that we serve. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. A lot of times, we thought they were mutually exclusive, but they’re not. What it does require are people who can be committed to both aspects of the organization. That’s a reality.
The guy that we had for a few years was able to commit himself to the administrative and business side of the organization. That was one guy. He did a hell of a lot. There were very basic things that we, as an organization, didn’t do that he had the time and energy to put those things in place. It’s almost like night and day. Someone is taking the shades out of your eyes, and it’s like, “You can see so much clearer.” What was necessary for WombWork were those basic things. Now that we are doing them, we’re used to it, and we see the benefits, we can take those next steps to further strengthen our financial and organizational structure. That’s what I’m excited about.
We have what we need, support, cache, and reputation. We have those things that allow us to do what we’re looking to do on an organizational side. Now, we have to find the right spaces, voices, and ears that will understand our story. We’ll see the larger contribution that we’re making. We’ll get to that $1 million budget. We’ll be able to get that to an organization where people can work full-time if they so too. Within our capability, we have to put in the work. The components that we need in order to make the work matter and the work count, we have it.
You should never downplay those opportunities to just connect and be human.
Have you bumped up against that? I heard you say the right ears, which I think is a great way to put it in that audience. The check you received, is that coming from that type of person you think has the right ears?
This particular funder, we’ve had a previous relationship with. They certainly are aware of the work that we do. I would have to say they appreciate it. This gift that they provided, I didn’t ask for it. It was given. As time has passed, certain people get in positions of power who are able to see a greater view of the work that arts and culture contribute to not just Baltimore but the whole country and our society. They are at to provide the support and necessary resources to make sure they become a solidified part of communities. That’s what WombWork is. People understand how important we are and how beneficial we’ve been to communities and the people within it.
Those who perhaps have heard of us for a while, but we’re only able to give their support, the same funders who keep doing it, are now able to say, “Here’s the money, the support, and the resources that you need in order to make sure something like this never goes away.” It has been a story of patients, confidence, and the approach we’ve taken was not looked on highly in the beginning, but as we have continued with it, certainly, we’ve had our own evolution as well, and people understand the value. They see us as valuable and contributing to the health and well-being of communities. They want it to continue, and we want to continue. It is a mutually beneficial relationship we’ve been able to generate and create with many entities and people.
There are a few things that you’ve said throughout our conversation that stand out for me. The first was something you were talking about early on, where you had some meetings or a meeting where you were in front of some people and didn’t even ask them for anything. That is a key component of relationship building that we espouse at my organization which is marketing is all about creating relationships. Whether that’s an easy relationship to create, which is, “Here’s this inexpensive widget that some business produces, and the consumer needs that thing.” It’s like, “I’m taking a leap of faith that this is going to be the right tool or widget that I need to fix whatever problem I’m having.
If it’s a longer-term relationship building, like what you are undertaking to get people on board with your program and provide that financial and personal support you’re looking for. Understand that the goal here is not how quickly I can transition this person from a stranger to a donor or whatever. It’s all about putting in the time and understanding how that connection is going to build over time.
As performers, you probably have a pretty innate ability to understand how relationships are built over a period of time because that’s what happens in performances and storytelling. We’ve all been to a movie that was full throttle the entire time. You come out of there exhausted and never want to see that movie again versus the standard story arc, which has a lot of ups and downs in it. Relationships are the same way and understanding when to push on the gas, coast a little bit, and give people some breathing room. That’s all part of that storytelling stuff that you guys do on a daily basis.
We’ve always gone from the beginning about how powerful artists’ storytelling is. Our North Star is always to engage and empower you, their families, and their communities. For art, that has been the modality by which we do it. We’ve become so much better at showing that we’re connected with anyone. They can be educators, researchers, government officials, or funders. It doesn’t matter because we don’t care about their labels, and that’s taken time. Don’t get me wrong. It’s the time to look beyond labels and navigate power.
One of the things that we’ve got better at is we don’t care how powerful you may be. When you’re talking with us, and you’re in our space, you are a human being. We’ve been able to show how liberating that is to be human. When we talk about funders, people see piles of money, and that’s all they interact with them for. It is for whatever resources they can provide.
Even something as simple as the meeting we had, being able to talk to people, and have a deep conversation about relevant issues to nonprofits and funders, but to look beyond the surface and challenge ourselves intellectually. That’s refreshing. We hope that people, no matter what their level of power is or the access to capital is, see us as human beings who are expressing our truth, encouraging, empowering people to express their truth, and helping navigate this thing called life which we all do.
I have a few friends who have come into a decent amount of money, and one of the things that they experience as a person of power is they’re always on guard for the ask. When you can come at that from a fresh perspective of wanting to listen and have a conversation, that can be such an important thing for both parties. You’re not trying to get something. You’re trying to give. That’s what relationships are all about. It is both the give and the get, and allowing each party to live within both of those experiences at the same time as that relationship builds is key.
This is not to say that when we build relationships, we don’t understand what we can get out of it. We’re aware of that. Those within we connect that have those means are aware of it too, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be more than that. It’s about the checks that you sign and whatever support you throw. We are able to be seen as partners and collaborators in the efforts to make the world better. Sometimes, part of that need to be reminded of that. In their heart, they believe it, but they get caught up in the minutia. There are so much minutia and intricacies that can take us away from the main point, the reason for all this, and the purpose.
Sometimes, having a conversation or connection reminds you, “This is why you do this. As frustrating and challenging as it can be, you do this because you want to make the world better. You want people to be happier.” That reminder goes a long way too. Even as a researcher, I think about that as like, “We do this because we want the world to be better. Our way of making the world better is for people to understand the world.” We get caught up in the minutia, and we forget that sometimes. You should never downplay those opportunities to connect and be human. Whether explicitly or implicitly, remind people why they do this in the first place.
Things like this are usually labors of love. They do it out of concern for their people, family, and communities. They jump into this work, which typically doesn’t pay. This is not the most lucrative space in the world, so you’re doing this for the greater good. Even funders are doing this for the greater good. Think about the reason why endowments or memorial funds begin. It is because those who passed on and had the foresight to leave money say, “Take this money and make the world a better place.” Those opportunities allow us to remind ourselves of that purpose.
I’ve had such a great time talking with you. How can people find you? Where would you guide people to go to learn more about WombWork?
They can visit us at www.WombWork.com. They can find us on social media. We are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Those are the best ways to connect with us. If anybody wants to reach out to me personally, please feel free. I can be reached at David@WombWork.com. I like emails. I’m always checking. Find us on YouTube. There are videos from recent performances as well as performances from the way back when we began as an organization. You can see our evolution as an organization and artists, but you can also see the consistency in the messages that we deliver. If you are inclined, connect with us, support us and help us make the world a better place because that’s all we want to do.
I’m all about having great conversations, but I also want to try and foster some action, and that’s what WombWork is all about. If the readers were to do one thing after reading, it could be anything, take a walk or give somebody a hug. What would you want people to do? What action would you want them to take?
Tell someone you love them.
That’s a great thing to do.
I don’t want to say it never gets old whenever it gets old to be told that you love. One of the things that we hear about, especially in 2020 when there has been so much tragedy, sadness, and trauma, a lot of people say, “I wish I had a chance to tell them I loved them.” The first thing they think about when they remember a person is they love them. Those words and the actions behind those words are also powerful. I would say, “Tell someone that you love them, and show someone that you love them.”
Thanks for being on the show, David.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you so much.
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