We had the good fortune of connecting with Edwin Joseph and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Edwin, why did you pursue a creative career?
My decision to pursue this artistic career was born out of the realisation that I’d be miserable doing anything else. Growing up in Delhi, India, it’s never the obvious career choice- far from it. I was studying Economics in undergrad and one summer got an internship at a marketing agency (the only “real” job that I thought was slightly more interesting than what my classmates were doing). I left that summer completely burned out and emotionally drained. Not because the work was hard, but because every single employee at that company hated it. They were all just trying to make it through the day so that they could do anything but this. My actual boss got me to come up with his client recommendations so that he could go smoke weed in his car.
I turned down all the jobs I got out of undergrad and decided to take a gap year while I figure out this whole creative profession thing. Where I’m from, there was just no blueprint on how to make a career doing this. I couldn’t just go to classes, do a showcase, get an agent. It’s a deeply unregulated system that more closely resembles an exclusive party where you need to know someone to get on the list. I got lucky and booked a job off of an open casting call. And now, I have worked for the last 7 years as a professional actor, singer and writer.
In retrospect, I imagine it was just a problem with that specific company but I was keen on doing whatever it takes to not feel that way. Don’t get me wrong- the business of art-making is also miserable on several occasions, but the art itself is nothing but life-affirming.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
American adults consume over 11 hours of media a day, according to a 2018 Nielsen survey. Clearly there is a giant demand for media, art and culture in society today. But artists are constantly getting the short end of the stick. The phrase, “Starving Artist” exists for a reason. The pandemic has only exacerbated the burnout levels. These problems are clearly rooted in the financial shortcomings of our current systems. Another study points to the fact that people coming from households with an annual income of over one million dollars are 10 times more likely to become artists than those coming from poorer households. 10 times! It’s no surprise then that creative fields also have a diversity problem.
Midnight Oil Collective (www.midnightoilcollective.com) is hoping to address this problem by addressing the root issue- money. We’re doing this by combining venture capital (a model that has proven successful in funding high risk ideas) and cooperative economics (a model that has been able to sustainably and equitably lift entire regions out of poverty).
While major arts endeavors can be risky, individual theatrical shows, television series, and movies can also become “unicorns.” So, instead of raising money for projects individually, we bundle projects in a diverse investment portfolio and raise funds for them together.
Our first portfolio contains exciting new ventures led by creators with diverse creative and cultural backgrounds. By investing across the categories of on-stage, on-screen, and disruptive ventures, we safeguard against temporary setbacks in any given field. We de-risk the investment process further by supporting our projects as they develop.
Through our incubator and accelerator, we educate and support our artists as they refine their work in a community of other creators.
While venture capital does a very nice job of de-risking the investment process for investors, it does not necessarily de-risk the start-up process for founders. Yes, it provides founders with important seed capital. But their chances of long-term success are still fairly low. The majority of startups fail. Because of this reality, founders must have a very high risk tolerance—an uncommon trait in people who do not already have access to funding and resources.
This means that great ideas that come from members of historically disenfranchised groups may never get off the ground because potential founders can’t afford to take the risk.
The arts face the same problem. Making art is very risky. An old adage of the musical theater industry is, “You can’t make a living, but you can make a killing.” And this impacts who participates. It is little wonder that both tech founders and producers of artistic work lean very heavily white and male. We are missing out on important perspectives and ideas.
So how is it possible to de-risk this process and allow a more economically diverse group of artists to participate?
By incorporating two highly effective principles of cooperative economics- democratic governance and profit-sharing.
As artists go through the incubator and accelerator process, they actively collaborate on each other’s projects–adding ideas, providing critique, and sharing professional networks. When they successfully complete this process and take on funding for their project, they become part of our democratic process for selecting projects and validating (in the investment sense of the word) projects. They also receive a share of the carried interest of the fund. The carried interest is the money traditionally paid to fund managers once a fund has become profitable. Rather than retaining the carried interest (which can be a sizable amount!) for a small group of individuals, we share it with our creators.
In other words, every artist who leads a project through our pathway receives a percentage of the overall profit of the entire portfolio that they were part of crafting. With this important innovation on the current venture capital model, we incentivize collaboration over competition, align interests of all stakeholders and creators, and seed a cooperative creative ecosystem.
We’re currently developing over 15 ventures with an additional 10 joining us this fall.
These innovations can serve as a way to transform an entire industry, and the only way we were able to get to this stage is because of the hundreds of artists, institutions and supporters who helped us with their domain expertise and candor.
It really, truly takes a village. And when we began tackling these problems, we realised that systemic problems require systemic solutions. We need to engage with everyone and take help everywhere we can get it.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m based in New York City so my recs are based here.
My top activity would be a food tour of Queens, NY. We’d go to Flushing, Jackson Heights and Astoria. Queens is the most diverse borough in the world with a large percentage of it’s residents being born outside of America. We’d get dumplings and peking duck in Flushing with some cheese tea to wash it down.
Jackson Heights will be all about Tibetan, Colombian and South Asian food for me. The best coctel de camarones, thukpa and birria in the city.
Finally get some incredible greek food in Astoria with stunning views of Manhattan.
Also special shoutout to the Queens night market. A1 food and music.
Second activity will be a bike ride along the western side of manhattan. This is a day long event of drinking and eating as we ride CityBikes on the waterfront, stopping at every bar along the way. Depending on how energetic you’re feeling, you could start at Inwood and go right down to FiDi. Dozens of options along the way. A choose your own adventure.
Third activity- The Bronx Zoo. No explanation. I just had a great time!
Also, catch a bunch of shows. The sheer amount of culture available in the city is crazy. Wherever you can find it.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to shout out the Midnight Oil Collective (www.midnightoilcollective.com). MOC is a venture studio that incubates, accelerates, and invests in arts and entertainment ventures. It combines best practices of venture capital and cooperative economics to create a new system for funding and supporting artistic/creative ventures. It hopes to reverse the cycle of poverty among artists through its unprecedented profit-share system.
I co-founded this company in 2020 with 8 other incredible artists and creatives. The work we’re doing has served as my guiding light these last couple years. I believe it is a testament to what can be achieved when you go in with a mindset of ‘Collaboration over Competition’.