Sunday, August 10, 2008

a/k/a GuRuth

When I was growing up I really hated my name. I was awash in a sea of girls named Kelly, Cathy, Julie and other similar 'ees'. I absolutely refused to be called Ruthie so I tried on a few other names trying to find my 'mee'. Nothing really struck a chord till way past high school and my friend Seema [much more interesting positioning of the envied 'ee'] gave me a nickname that I kinda liked while we were both working at PriceWaterhouse in L.A. She called me 'GuRuth' because I tended to channel my intellectual curiousity and interest in pop culture into unexpected answers to odd questions.

I left PriceWaterhouse in 1995 and struck out on my own to create kick-ass Powerpoint presentations. In 2000 I moved back to Austin Texas where I had the good fortune to meet a very funny and talented animator named Chris Moujaes. He and his future wife Leila had a tendency to bring out the cartoon character in everyone so one day I mentioned that I used to be called 'GuRuth' back in California and his eyes lit up. He immediately inspired me to reclaim this nickname and bring it to life in a new way. Thus my alterego, GuRuth was reborn. In fact, the branding has been so successful, there are some folks who always call me GuRuth. No double ees or anything cutesy and I don't mind one bit.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Risk It All

I found the bracelet that articulated my philosophy for this adventure when I attended the Austin Fine Arts Festival in April 2003. As we neared the end of the displays, we passed by a small booth in which silver jewelry crafted from childhood iconography was displayed, i.e., Magic 8-Ball necklaces, Scrabble letter earrings, etc. Since I've always been a fan of silver bracelets, my eyes were immediately drawn to a collection of bangles that had interesting phrases stamped on them. I looked at a few and then found the one that had the message RISK IT ALL.

I tried it on and turned to the woman to buy it. She looked at me and said, "oh, I don't know if you're the kind of person who can wear this bracelet...that doesn't seem like your kind of message." My friend Craig was standing behind me, heard the comment, and before I could respond told this woman, "don't judge a book by it's cover, you have no idea how perfect this bracelet is for her." So, that being said, I bought it and have worn it every day since that hot Sunday in April 2003. Many people ask me if I wear the bracelet as a reminder to myself. I laugh when I answer "no, it's a warning to others."

My Story

During my almost 6-1/2 year journey, I have declared bankruptcy, lost my house to foreclosure and, yikes, gained 45 pounds. As those external measures of 'success' have fallen away, I continue to reap amazing rewards from the seeds of passion & compassion that have been sown [& well fertilized!] over these years. So, how does a single woman lacking extraordinary financial resources nurture & develop a vision that is on target to shift the consciousness of the planet in 4 generations? By RISKING IT ALL.

Here's my story:

On April 17, 2002, in a meeting at the Texas Commission on the Arts, I was asked what was missing in the Austin cultural arts landscape. I promptly answered, "an architectural artisan school." And from that simple exchange a 5-1/2 year mission was born.

Since then, I have pursued, researched, & otherwise wrangled a whole world of information into a model that has become the basis for my contribution to the social entrepreneurship arena: cultural strategy. As I define it, cultural strategy is the creation of economic development opportunities that balance community, culture & commerce. The key is to develop projects articulating how all those elements work together as the basis for sustainable growth based on shared cultural values.
So...what is the Texas Legacy Arts Incubator Project?

The Texas Legacy Arts Incubator (TLAI) is an architectural artisan-based economic development model designed to incubate micro-enterprise in Texas. It is a far-reaching enterprise that will increase the kind and number of people who participate in the economic development of the larger community. In addition to the economic value TLAI will provide to the community, we will bring a wide variety of educational opportunities with the architectural artisan tradecrafts education and apprenticeship programs, which will be taught by well-known masters located in Central Texas and beyond. The programs are primarily targeted at at-risk youth and historically disadvantaged populations.

The TLAI will provide opportunities for cultural preservation, micro-business growth and development and workforce training. The first level of the TLAI architectural artisan tradecrafts training and apprenticeships will include:
• Stone: masonry, carving
• Metal: blacksmithing, metal work
• Wood: furniture making, master carpentry
• Clay: master craft tile work, ceramics

Over the last 5-1/2 years, research has shown that there is a large [and growing] adult population interested in acquiring these job skills as well. Based on the iCREATE values of accessibility, education, community, connectivity, and collaboration, the TLAI is committed to providing participation opportunities to a diverse cross section of the population who want to learn artisan tradecrafts, develop talent and critical thinking skills, develop confidence and self esteem, and grow their economic value. The TLAI allows all participants to share a common language, based on artistic creation, which helps to bridge the socio-economic divide.

When I first began thinking about the purpose of this project the target market was at-risk kids; as the economic downturn in Austin deepened, it expanded to at-risk adults. And, after this long journey spent meeting people and learning about what the community needs to feel hope about life moving forward, I'm sure that it's really about anyone who is at-risk of not fulfilling matter what the age.