Don’t Call it a Sabbatical!
by Adam Huttler, CEO of Fractured Atlas
From March 1, 2017 through August 31, 2017, I’m going to be stepping away from all day-to-day Fractured Atlas management responsibilities. We’ve taken to calling this my “sabbatical”, but to be honest I kind of hate the term.
Often when a non-profit executive takes a sabbatical, it amounts to a paid vacation lasting anywhere from 3 months to a year. The executive has a chance to disconnect and recharge, and those left holding down the fort have an opportunity to take on new challenges and responsibilities. That sounds delightful, and after nearly 20 years of going non-stop at full-speed, I wouldn’t feel too guilty about taking one.
But that’s not what this is. So what the heck will I be doing with myself for all that time? I’m so glad you asked!
For the past 18 months, I’ve been working with the Fractured Atlas Board of Directors and a few key people on staff to explore the idea of launching an impact investment fund. We’ve now gotten as far as we can in the “concept exploration” phase, and it’s time to take the idea for a test drive.
A little background:
For my entire adult life, the biggest story in our field has been relentless, technology-driven disintermediation. (Or, if that’s too pretentious a word, call it the “death of the gatekeepers.”) Innovations in technology are transforming the ways in which artists and makers finance, produce, and distribute their work.
I’m of the (minority) belief that these changes are almost all positive. From professional-grade film equipment that comes for free on a phone to platforms like Kickstarter, YouTube, or Etsy, new technology has empowered artists to take agency over their careers and engage meaningfully with their audiences as never before. Some innovations, though, have been more problematic — like streaming music platforms that treat artists as commodity inputs rather than customers or partners.
The thing is, this isn’t a temporary shift or a short-lived fad. In fact, the pace of change in technology infrastructure is accelerating. When I think about the challenges and opportunities facing the arts and cultural sector over the coming decades, there’s no question in my mind that the biggest influence — for good and ill — will come from innovations in technology.
Does that mean everything we’re doing today is irrelevant? Of course not! Fractured Atlas’s programs and services reach over 500,000 artists and organizations each year. As a nonprofit service organization, we take justified pride in our reach and impact. Moreover, I’m confident that the value we bring to the field will only increase in the future, as it always has in the past.
And yet! What if we could engage directly with the creative technologists who are today designing the future infrastructure for arts and creative practice? What if we could specifically nurture those innovations that are likely to meaningfully empower artists and creators? Answering these questions is what I’ll be working on for the next six months.
Specifically, I will be test driving the Exponential Creativity Fund.
The Exponential Creativity Fund is envisioned as a small ($10–20 million) venture capital fund that makes early investments in entrepreneurs who are using exponential technologies to empower or enhance human creativity.
Our goals for the fund are to:
- generate returns for investors
- catalyze creativity
- democratize access to the tools of artistic financing, production, and distribution
- demonstrate that radical technological innovation is most effective when it is grounded in human-centered design
The fund would exclusively invest in tools and infrastructure, not content.
In addition, we would intentionally seek out entrepreneurs who (i) have meaningful backgrounds in the arts, and (ii) reflect the diversity of our field with respect to race, gender, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics. We care about these factors for two reasons. First, because it’s consistent with Fractured Atlas’s mission and values. Second, because we think traditional investors may have some blind spots in these areas. If we’re right, then we’d be well-positioned to generate strong returns — of both the mission and the financial kind.
During the next six months I will be exploring the viability of this concept. That includes meeting with entrepreneurs, floating the idea with potential investors, developing a network of like-minded VCs, and building an advisory board. I will also be stepping up my ongoing education in venture capital by participating in a few programs and through a quasi-apprenticeship with an existing firm. Finally, we have set aside a small (tiny by VC standards but still meaningful for us!) pot of money from which to make some “proof of concept” angel investments.
What happens when I get back? We’ll review the test drive and decide if it should continue, ramp up, or shut down and return to business as usual. Any of those is possible, and even if we decide not to move forward, we wouldn’t consider that a “failure” because we’ll have learned a ton and grown as an organization through the process.
So that’s what I’ll be up to! I’m excited about this opportunity to leap into uncharted (by us) territory, and I’m so very appreciative of the Board and staff of Fractured Atlas for making it possible. I have 100% confidence in the ridiculously talented employees who will be picking up the slack in my absence. But it’s still going to be a ton of work and new responsibilities for them, and for that I’m deeply grateful.
While I’m away, any Fractured Atlas business that would normally come to me should (depending on the nature of the request) go to either:
- Tim Cynova, Chief Operating Officer
- Pallavi Sharma, Chief Program Officer
- Lauren Ruffin, VP of External Relations
- Shawn Anderson, VP of Engineering
Meanwhile, if you want to talk about the Exponential Creativity Fund, give me a call. (Just don’t call it a sabbatical.)
UPDATE #1: Adventures in Impact Investing — March Recap
UPDATE #2: Look Out Hollywood — Here Comes the Hoffbot