Where in the world could a sculptor and a fire dancing economic botanist find a place to call home for a for-profit artist collective and bar?
The Monadnock Region, of course.
At least that’s what Danya Pugliese and Rebecca Hamilton are banking on with their start up, Machina Arts. Their three-year-old baby, currently incubating at Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship, started out bringing pop up interactive art installations to unexpected venues throughout the region, but these days is busy transitioning itself into a proper art collective where the community can attend gallery exhibits, take a class, hold a workshop, perform and generally revel in all that is artsy.
But Machina Arts is ultimately the result of a bit of serendipity.
Hamilton’s family owns W.S. Badger Company Inc., which makes natural body care products in Gilsum. With an eye toward helping the family business create a product development department, Hamilton set off to study for Sustainable Business and Economic Botany, first in Hawaii and eventually Massachusetts. However, in the process, she discovered something about herself.
“When I was 18 I started fire dancing,” Hamilton says. “When I moved out to Hawaii I joined a troupe of fire dancers and performers.
“When I moved back to this area, I reached a point where I was really conflicted because I wanted to stay here in New Hampshire, because my family is here and my business is here, but I didn’t feel settled in this area because I really feel at my core, I enjoy manifesting and I enjoy being a performer.”
Meanwhile, Pugliese, who grew up in Portsmouth and earned her bachelor’s of fine art from the Maine College of Art in Portland, had set off for New York City to make her way as an artist. Around 2012, while assisting and apprenticing other artists in the city, one of them asked if Pugliese would come to her home in Nelson to help with a project.
Her first day in town, Pugliese met Hamilton. They got to talking and quickly found the other was a kindred spirit. They talked about how much they loved the area but dearly missed the on demand culture of the big city.
“So Danya and I realized that in order for us to be able to feel happy about being in the area we had to create this artistic outlet, for her, for visual arts and for me more on the performance space,” Hamilton says.
“My experience has been – because I’ve traveled to these other places like Hawaii and I lived in San Francisco for a short time – there would be these people all around, who would come up with this crazy idea to create some art piece and 10 people would say, ‘That’s a great idea,’ and they would spend the next five weekends working with you to make it happen,” Hamilton says. “And here, I would have some crazy idea and Danya had the same experience, and everyone would say, ‘Well that’s nice, maybe I’ll look at it – if you create it.’” So they did.
Machina started as something they would do on the side, creating pop up events complete with an offbeat venue, theme and temporary artist installations. But the women wanted more than just a fun, ephemeral party, here and gone with the last sip of champagne. The reaction was instant and enthusiastic. Artists began coming out of the woodwork wanting to be involved while others commended their efforts as something necessary and vital to the region. Because, while the region has an embarrassment of natural riches and opportunities, for artists and art enthusiasts, events serve as mere oases in a cultural desert.
“That’s important to young people,” Hamilton says. “That’s actually a major issue right now: How do we keep younger people in this area? It’s more than just jobs.”
Pugliese adds, “It’s the reaction we got from people…as soon as we provided an outlet for that type of creativity and a venue and a community for people to focus their energy around, people were just so happy and so appreciative and recognized that there’s a real genuine need in this area. And that’s part of what led us to want to take this to a different level.”
And that’s where the women are right now. The plan is to have a real brick and mortar art business, Pugliese says, complete with an art gallery as well as workshops, classes, after school programs and performances spaces. Though artist collectives typically run as nonprofits, the women are taking a different tack and will be operating as a benefit corporation. Hamilton explains that this will allow them to explore funding options that aren’t normally available to nonprofits – such as having a bar that funds the art portion of the business and gives them the flexibility and agility to be able to change course if need be. Most importantly: not spend all their time fundraising.
That said, because it’s a benefit corporation, the sole purpose of the business is not increasing profits. Instead, they can create a space with a dual purpose, profit and providing an essential service to the community. This is something, Hamilton says, that because they are a benefit corporation can be built right into the by laws of the company.
And, Pugliese says, they wanted to send the message to artists that it is possible to make money from their art.
The next steps for the women include continuing to develop their business plan before beginning formal discussion sessions with members of the community who will help shape and define the business. Later this year, Hamilton said, they will begin fundraising and looking for a space to call home for the business.
In the meantime, Machina Arts is still coordinating and producing pop up events, which are announced on their Facebook page and website www.machinaarts.org. The women encourage anyone with suggestions and ideas or those who want to get involved or just talk art to contact them at danya(at)machinaarts.org or rebecca(at)machinaarts.org.
“Our goal is to do something that is going to positively impact the community,” Pugliese says. “And that’s the really driving force behind this and art is the vehicle. …We want to create a space that anyone can go and enjoy and be a part of even if they are not an artist.”