My Client, My Muse: A Story of Female Collaboration in Art & Business

artistceo

artistceoBy Kerri Lowe

“I’ve never met anyone who reminds me so much of you.” That’s what my husband Charlie said to me after he met Shannon for the first time. Shannon is one of my clients, though she’s also much more than that. For the past year, she’s also been my muse.

Shannon is the CEO of a branding and naming agency in San Francisco called House of Who. She’s also a performance artist and actress. We met because she needed someone to help out with her online presence for both of these roles, and I had recently started my business helping creative entrepreneurs with their content.

Shannon has been obsessed with truthful identity for a long time. It’s why she’s good at what she does, but as anyone who has attempted to do personal branding work for themselves knows – seeing yourself clearly is almost impossible. What I saw as we worked together was a woman divided between her art-self and her business-self. And Shannon would agree. She had designed it that way, having even taken on a different name (“Gray”) for her artist-self. But in 2016, the idea of integration had been on her mind – and mine, too.

On one fortuitous Google Hangout, while we were nine hours apart, (me traveling in Amsterdam, she living in San Francisco) I suggested we start a podcast about her life. About the challenges she was having around being deeply passionate about two things that don’t easily intersect. The puzzle came together for both of us within that 2 hour call, and from that transcontinental night (er, afternoon?) we had a name for the show: “Artist CEO.”

What I didn’t know then was that this conversation would change the whole trajectory of my creative and professional life. What I didn’t know then was how much *I* needed to integrate the two sides of myself. What I didn’t know then was how connected Shannon and I really were – and how much time it would take to make a narrative podcast!

I had made a podcast for a brand before, but never like this. Interviewing guests, (while an artform in itself) is a piece of cake compared to creating narrative audio, with sound design and an ongoing story. To make the first five episodes, we went through 7 or 8 versions, in script-form and audio-form, trying to get the story just right. We thought we would launch in January, then Valentine’s Day, then April…but we knew we weren’t there yet. I am so grateful to Shannon for having the courage to treat this podcast as a true creative project, not just marketing material. We could put a timeline on it all we wanted, but art doesn’t work like that. When the show was ready to go, we knew in our guts.

When the impetus for the show began last summer, Shannon had recently thrown away many props and costumes after letting go of her artist studio spaces. She was feeling excited about the growth of her business, but also a loss in her artist self. I believe that deciding to do ArtistCEO at that moment was putting a stake in the ground – that no matter how many big-name companies were calling for her services, she wouldn’t sacrifice her art. She would learn how to integrate.

At the end of April this year, I flew from New York to San Francisco to see her act in a two-person show by Christopher Durang called Laughing Wild. The first act contains a forty-minute monologue by The Woman, a herculean task for any actress to take on. I watched Shannon transform over the year in subtle ways as well as this big one. She took on a character who was falling apart, while her own life began to come together in a stronger foundation than ever before. A solid team around her business, a new home to nurture, and a reclamation of her full self – artist and businesswoman.

I had changed too. Within the year spent capturing Shannon’s journey to integrate, I got married, solidified my own freelance business (after on and off struggling as a spoken word poet/songwriter/nanny/barista) and embarked on my entrepreneurial future by moving into the next level of my business model. As I transition from freelancing out my skills to becoming a consultant and coach with my own methodology, it seems that we have traded places. Me moving into my CEO side, Shannon moving into her Artist. And yet…it’s not as clear cut as that.

Creating this podcast has been the first integrated experience of my life. It’s a project that feels as much a business pursuit as it does my own artistic work. This is the area that both Shannon and I are attempting to live in daily, to blend our passions so much that we can’t tell the difference between work and art. And it’s starting to happen.

I am thrilled about this project being in the world (Shameless plug: ArtistCEO is out on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts now!) and I’m equally thrilled with the experience I had co-creating the work with Shannon. I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf in my projects, but now I’ve seen the power of women collaborating and lifting one another up. To me, that’s a feminist act. It’s women creating the world we want to see through our art and our businesses. It’s being here for one another’s growth and expansion. Simply put, it’s a collaboration based in love and respect. What could be better than that?

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