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  • Hector Amezcua /

    Artist Rob-O’s sugar skulls were the product of an effort to honor his mother after her death in 2007.

  • Hector Amezcua /

    Artist Rob-O holds one of his sugar skull art pieces now on exhibit at the California Museum. He worked with a Sacramento business incubator known as Flywheel that works to give artists a boost.

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    Flywheel: a heavy revolving wheel in a machine that is used to increase the machine’s momentum and thereby provide greater stability or a reserve of available power during interruptions in the delivery of power to the machine.

Cathie Anderson: Flywheel aims to help artists gain business acumen, momentum

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013 - 8:36 am

Artist Rob-O kicks off an exhibit today of his sugar skull art at The California Museum, capitalizing on connections he gained at a Sacramento business incubator known as Flywheel.

Rob-O – the “O” in his signature nods to his surname, Owens – is one of several artists from Flywheel’s first group of residents who are using their newly acquired network and training to lift their brands.

“It’s good to be mentored by people who are established,” said the artist. He began creating his intricate, colorful sugar sculptures after the death of his mother in 2007. It was his way of celebrating her life.

He applied for Flywheel on the advice of the entrepreneurial Tre Borden and the artistic Daniel Scheible, the duo who are selling their Tapigami contemporary art at their new Exhibit S space in Downtown Plaza. They had already been selected for the program.

In fact, Scheible was the first Flywheel resident to debut an installation at the California Museum. The institution is partnering with the Flywheel arts incubator to give emerging regional artists a place to exhibit their creativity.

Not such a wild idea

The idea to launch Flywheel struck Michelle Alexander as she tried to gauge whether the regional artists assisted by her organization, the Arts & Business Council, were really benefiting from the free services they were getting.

“We would get a PR strategy done for the literary arts group,” she said. “We did a promotional video for a piano program, all these kind of random projects. It was tough to get the clients to look back on how our work was really impacting their audiences or their work.

“…When I would interview the people who would come in for help, they would say, ‘Well, I just need a brochure.’ But I’d ask them, ‘OK, where’s your logo, and what are you trying to accomplish with the brochure? What’s your strategic plan look like? What other channels are available to do your marketing?’ And, they would kind of glaze over.”

The arts organizations and artists were operating day-to-day, Alexander said, and they had very little time to step back and do long-term strategic planning.

Alexander and her staff decided it was time to be more strategic with the in-kind resources they were receiving from local businesses. They decided to choose a small group of artists and ask businesses donating their time to work intensely with only that group.

Alexander got a bit of a surprise when she did this: “We were able to take our in-kind work that we were generating of about $30,000 a year and kick that up to $160,000 a year, so it was a huge, huge, huge shift, and we were able to leverage our resources much more significantly.”

The Arts & Business Council recently welcomed their second Flywheel class: Katie McCleary of the literacy organization, children’s clothing designer Ana Apple of, the Exquisite Corps band, Joel Dockendorf and Harrison Reich of Plaid Zebra Films and jewelry designer Omonivie Okhade of Tula in Bloom.

He gets Kickstarter

When comic strip creator and writer Eben E.B. Burgoon entered Flywheel, he had just decided to leave his Eben07 web comic behind and focus on creating a comic book based on the adventures of the B-Squad.

“B-Squad is sort of the cut-rate version of the A-Team,” Burgoon told me. “Whatever the A-Team doesn’t want to do, they kick it down to B-Squad. They get the more ridiculous and dangerous sort of missions. One of them ends up getting killed off in each issue.”

Flywheel encouraged Burgoon to launch a campaign on the online funding platform known as Kickstarter to pay for his artwork, printing and other needs, but the first time he went to that well, his campaign didn’t reach its goal of $8,000.

“We analyzed my budget a lot more, and what was really important was to work with something realistic,” Burgoon said. “… The financial boot camp particularly helped out a lot with budgeting, financing, what’s realistic.”

After listening to other Flywheel artists talk about how much society devalued what they did, Burgoon felt it was important that he start to pay his artist, Lauren Monardo, out of his own pocket. Fortunately, he said, he received in-kind services from a group of Sacramento State students who developed the logo for the B-Squad and came up with the tagline, “Soldiers of Misfortune.”

When he went back to Kickstarter a second time, he secured more than twice what he requested: $6,718.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

Read more articles by Cathie Anderson

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