We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Benvenuti and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
There were two major factors that contributed to me starting my own business.
First, I was growing increasingly frustrated with the theater/performing arts industry norms. Small companies and independent artists were constantly stymied, even when they were doing amazing work, by funders who maintained outdated requirements for grants; and ignored by professional and consulting services that were constantly overpriced. I saw so many incredible artists struggling to get their work made because they didn’t have a minimum organizational budget of $250K, or decided not to pay themselves out of necessity. The big organizations kept getting bigger, even when they proved themselves out of step with the current culture or maintaining bloated budgets to manage ever-expanding capital portfolios. On top of this, bad behavior in the industry was continually rewarded. After seeing so many bad actors “fail up,” I decided I could not be a part of that system anymore, though wanted desperately to continue working with groups and artists that I trusted and loved.
Second, I was increasingly frustrated by the lack of control I had over my days. I could get all my work done in 4 hours, but I had to sit there for 8. I had friends and family around the world that I wanted to see more often, but had only 2 weeks of vacation time (and no work-remotely capability). I had a few friends dip their toes into the digital nomad community, and as someone with an intense wanderlust, I wanted to give it a try. I was longing to spend more time in the world.
It became clear to me that I could perhaps solve both challenges at once. I decided to go out on my own in 2014, starting Benvenuti Arts with the goal of finding a way to provide high-level professional expertise around fundraising and administration for small and very small performing arts groups and independent artists. By doing this work as a mix of in-person and remote, I hoped to find a bit of time to see more of the world.
Today, I’m sometimes amazed at how it’s worked. It was clear immediately that these small groups had so few options for support. The hardest part of the business has not been finding clients; it’s been figuring out how to meet the demand without working myself silly. While I hoped to maybe travel a few more weeks a year, I’ve instead found myself with a truly location-independent business, with a team of 10 spread around the globe and the ability to work from (almost) anywhere. There have been a lot of twists and turns, but those two points of inspiration are still core to Benvenuti Arts to this day.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
When it comes to my business, I’m so proud that we’ve continued to maintain our values as we grow. I don’t know how many times other consultants have told me “you have to charge more!” The entire point of Benvenuti Arts is to make it possible for even the smallest groups – the independent choreographer trying to produce their new work, the young theater ensemble producing for the first time – to receive some sort of support from us. While we do have more intensive packages for those that can afford it, we MUST provide very affordable options so that we can reach these artists.
In addition, we simply cannot operate like other consultants. I cannot walk in, wearing a suit, talking about our process and best practices. For the solo Artistic Director (who is also acting as bookkeeper, producer, general manager, and more) that “professional” style can be overwhelming and defeating. My team and I dress and act casually with our clients, while also providing expertise. We take time to talk through what is stressing a client out, whether it be grant deadlines, interpersonal issues with their artists, or other aspects of their lives. We are not serving our clients if we are not providing guidance and support that takes into account who they are, what resources they do and do not have, what historical issues affect them, and how they approach their lives.
This doesn’t work for everyone! We now do a trial period with all new clients so that they can see how we work, and vice versa. We have no problem parting ways if one of us feel the match isn’t right, and I will enthusiastically recommend others who might be a better fit. I think (hope!) that this has only helped our reputation, as the last thing I want is for any group to spend precious, limited dollars on us and not find what they need!
I’m so proud of how far Benvenuti Arts has come, and I must again say how much of this is because of my team. I definitely had some hiring missteps- not because of the people I hired, but because I wasn’t always ready. This meant some backtracking, changing direction. That will continue to happen! This summer, while we are not changing anyone on the team, we are shifting responsibilities to better account for the incredible growth we’ve seen in the past 6 months. I think (again..hope!) that this growth is because of the trust we’ve built, as well as the success of our clients. Raising money is absolutely integral, but so is building these relationships. Clients stick around just to continue having us as a resource and an ear, even if they don’t need regular services anymore. This wouldn’t be true if the team wasn’t so incredibly supportive and generous-of-spirit. We all have our own creative practices, and can identify with our clients. We are consiglieri, as well as grant writer, administrative support, and consultant. It makes the work so much more fun, personal, and fulfilling.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
While we work with groups in Los Angeles, I am actually not LA based! But I do have to shout out our clients here. If you have a chance, you must check out work by Rogue Artists Ensemble and visit Circle X Theatre. Also, as a digital nomad, I must say I’ve had great experiences staying at PodShare, which has a few locations around the city. It is a hostel but with big beds that feel like your own little space, and great social environments.
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?
There are so many people to shout out in my story. I truly believe we do not create or succeed in isolation, and I absolutely did not. A few of my shout outs:
– My parents, who, when I was freaking out about whether to make this leap or not, said to me “The worst that can happen is you have to move home with us if it doesn’t work, and that’s not so bad.” I didn’t have to do that, but I wouldn’t have had the courage to leave my job without that support.
– An amazing group of badass friends and colleagues who started their own businesses and have inspired me: Jackie at Bespoken Partners, Jeanine at Quant Solutions, Pi-Isis at PS 314, Jeffrey at Deep Breadth, Randi at the Indie Theater Fund, and others.
– My mentor and advisor, Will, who has been my cheerleader since I moved to New York City, and who talked me through some of the hardest periods in my career.
– My unbelievable team at Benvenuti Arts, and those who have worked with us in the past. It’s not easy to work for a business as it’s being built. They often have to figure out their job along with me, while providing a special mix of approachability and expertise for out clients that is unique to Benvenuti Arts. I am grateful every day of the work they provide and the heart they show,