More than 100 Twin Cities’ creatives gathered last week in the Minneapolis Convention Center for the fifth annual Giant Steps
, an all-day conference for “entrepreneurial creatives and creative entrepreneurs.” Giant Steps featured three plenary panel conversations, covering broad topics like overcoming creative and practical challenges, defining success and scaling a creative business. Smaller breakout sessions included “Finding Your Audience/Finding Your Niche,” “Tax: Thinking Outside the Shoebox” and “Self-Care for Creatives.”
Founded by Susan Campion of Camponovo Consulting
and M.anifest, a Ghana-born hip hop artist with close ties to the Twin Cities, Giant Steps is all about helping local creatives, freelancers and self-employed “independents” overcome obstacles to creative and financial success. This year’s conference was hosted by Campion, who’s also a professor at the University of St. Thomas, and Kevin Beacham, a DJ,
hip-hop historian and manager at Rhymesayers
According to Giant Steps, attendees included people from all over the creative spectrum: “Chefs, designers, dancers, architects, photographers, playwrights, film-makers, inventors [and] hip hop artists.”
“We believe we'll learn more and learn faster if we cast a wider net—connecting with and learning from folks beyond our current discipline or industry,” according to the Giant Steps’ website. “By creating conversations around interesting examples and challenges we all share, we set the stage for cross-pollination and future collaborations.”
Giant Steps’ three panel conversations shaped the dialogue. In the morning, “Resilience: Overcoming Challenges and Moving Forward” found four local entrepreneurs and artists (including Teresa Fox of Glam Doll Donuts
) sharing insights on early roadblocks to creative and financial success—writer’s block, business setbacks and more. “Success: How Do You Define It and How Does It Define You?” featured dancer/choreographer Ananya Chatterjea, founder of Ananya Dance Theater
, and three others, discussing the importance of setting manageable goals and crafting a long-term creative or entrepreneurial vision.
The final panel conversation, “Good Problems to Have: Insights on Scaling Your Work and Increasing Your Impact,” featured four successful “creative entrepreneurs” who have “graduated” to managing sizable teams: Chris Cloud of MPLS.TV
, Joan Vorderbruggen
of Made Here
and the Hennepin Theater Trust, Mark Fox of creative-friendly Fox Tax
and Maurice Blanks of local modern furniture designer Blu Dot
All talked about what drove them to move beyond the “independent” mindset and recruit teams to work under them. “We started with the narcissistic assumption that our need”— fashionable furniture at an affordable price—“was shared by others [in the Twin Cities],” said Blanks, whose company now has nearly 100 employees. “The initial goal was to create jobs we liked.”
Campion, who moderated the conversation, asked the panelists about limits to growth as well. “The most important thing we learned was when to say ‘no,’” said Fox. “You never want quality to suffer” as a result of ambition.
For Vorderbruggen, success—specifically, managing a team of artists for the Hennepin Theater Trust—meant sticking up for her fellow creatives. Asked by Campion what prerogatives her newfound power provided, she recalled convincing her superiors not to request free work from artists. “If I’m getting paid, my artists are getting paid,” she said.
Vorderbruggen also talked about staying in tune with the creative community as she transitioned to an oversight role. She was instrumental in putting together a panel that represented the diversity of Minneapolis’ arts community, ensuring that many viewpoints would be included in Made Here’s work.
Giant Steps packed a lot of insight into a single day, but the theme that tied it together was simple: Creatives and entrepreneurs have more in common than they might think—and they’re more powerful when they work together.
“You need to make sure that others know what you stand for,” said Cloud, “and know when to rely on people who can do a great job at things you might not be so good at.”