Rising StarDown with the Starving Artist: Member Chat with BridgeLab

Gina Morris, Manager of BridgeLab
Gina Morris, Manager of BridgeLab and Co-Founder of Radish Underground.

We’ve all heard of “starving artists,” but does one really need to starve to pursue a career in art? Not according to Gina Morris, Co-Founder of Radish Underground and Manager of BridgeLab at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Gina herself has managed to carve out a multi-faceted and varied artistic career. Like many children, she wanted to be a ballerina growing up. Unlike many children, she actually became one. She also served as a choreographer not only for the Portland Opera but for the viral video sensation, “Isaac’s Live Lip-Dub Proposal,” which received over 25 million views.

Gina admits, “Pretty much as a rule, artists hate talking about money and art in the same sentence.” In her previous role at Radish Underground, a shop in West End Portland that carries products from designer-owned companies, and her current role at BridgeLab, a program that helps prepare art students to be successful entrepreneurs, she is committed to debunking the “starving artist” stereotype. She hopes instead to forge a generation of “thriving artists,” who have the business savvy to match their creative talent.

Here, we sit down with Gina to talk about the marriage of art and entrepreneurship, and Gina’s own entrepreneurial journey:

BridgeLab Fireside Forum
At BridgeLab’s Fireside Forums, artists get education in business essentials and a chance to learn from successful entrepreneurs. Here, Gina Morris talks to Jeff Lancial and Eric Singer of Shwood Eyewear.

What was the spark that inspired the birth of BridgeLab?

The original concept came directly out of a student thesis project in the MFA in Collaborative Design program that highlighted the need for a new perspective on the role of higher education in art and design. To be successful creative professionals, artists, designers, and makers of all types must develop their basic business skills right alongside the skills of their craft. The proposal urged Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) to consider how we can best prepare our students for the emerging economic and creative services landscape where creativity, critical thinking, and an entrepreneurial spirit are integral to success. And thus, BridgeLab born. With programs for students, alumni, and the greater community of artists, designers, and makers, we offer right-brain thinkers education and support in business essentials from budgeting and contracts to marketing and taxes.

What problem does your business solve?

It helps creatives span the gap between their craft and a sustainable professional career.

What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

Writing your own story and actively stalking your success (with a well-thought-out plan and a boatload of will power) is both terrifying and liberating. As the owner of Radish Underground, and a handful of other ventures over the years, I would say the best part of entrepreneurship is the freedom, power, and satisfaction in creating something new that’s completely your own.  Like Henry Ford said, “Chop your own wood, it will warm you twice.”

The best part of entrepreneurship is the freedom, power, and satisfaction in creating something new that’s completely your own.” (Tweet this.)

What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?

The collaborative climate of entrepreneurs in Portland. This is a community of powerful and talented people who all want each other to succeed. It’s a potent combination and one of the many reasons this city has such a vibrant small business culture.

Radish Underground Cuff Links and Tie Clips
Gina Morris makes these Cuff Links and Tie Clips from recycled Willamette Valley wine barrels, part of Radish Underground’s Rad Rad Wine line of accessories.

What about your biggest success?

Our biggest success to date has to be crossing the pivotal five-year mark in business downtown. Radish opened its doors on the worst day in Wall Street history since the Great Depression, so it’s been an uphill struggle from day one – even more so than what all entrepreneurs experience during this time in their journey. We are stronger for it, and have learned more than I could possibly have imagined about business and ourselves.  I am also quite proud of the impact we have had in shaping the West End. The growth of our pocket of Portland in those five years has been both astonishing and inspiring.

As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?

Is there anything that doesn’t keep an entrepreneur up at night? It is a perfect sleepless storm of the ever-growing and never-ending list of to-do’s, wild new ideas springing to life, pressing and mundane daily concerns, and the constant drive to improve. Also, laundry.

What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received (and from whom)?

Without question, the best advice I received was from former Reebok and lululemon CEO Bob Meers, who said to me: “Your plan is solid and you’re not reinventing the wheel. You also don’t have time to make the mistakes others have made before you. So, do your research, keep your overhead low, and don’t be afraid to let go of what’s not working.”

What song best describes your work ethic?

The first thing that comes to mind is “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” but don’t go listen to the lyrics because you’ll get the totally wrong impression! However, my business partner Celeste calls me “Hurricane Gina” when I’m on a roll with a project or goal. Hop outta the way or come along for the ride.

Imagine your venture becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?

BridgeLab is a globally renowned and sought after resource for creative entrepreneurship development.

[Portland] is a community of powerful and talented people who all want each other to succeed.” (Tweet this.)

As you think about the growth of BridgeLab to date, what are you most thankful for?

BridgeLab is such a new program, in just our first few months of existence! As such, at this time I am most thankful that PNCA took the initiative to create an entrepreneurial development and resource program for their students and alumni. It is a bold and vitally important move amid the new climate in higher education, especially in art and design, where we are experiencing a deep paradigm shift around what it means to earn an art degree in the new economy. A program like BridgeLab provides tangible value to our current students and alumni and we will mindfully strive to stay relevant and remain nimble to adapt to support future generations of creative professionals.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Ballerina (a path I began at two years old and continued on into a successful professional career), marine biologist, and apparently a superhero because I chose a cape as a costume in my dreams.

Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? 

I think Oregon, particularly Portland, is a fantastic place to start a business. There is an air of creativity, support, and collaboration among small business owners here that’s unlike any other city I’ve been to or lived in. The sense of community and support is unparalleled, and the resources are abundant if you’re willing to step up and do the work.

Learn more: Follow BridgeLab on Twitter, like on Facebook, or Tumblr.

Gina shared her journey at our 2013 Entrepreneurial Summit. Watch now:

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