Hot Shots: Indyish's Risa Dickens and Elran Oded: Indyish


Dickens and Oded: Creative people power
Photo: Liam Maloney

Risa Dickens and Elran Oded connect community online and off

In business and in art, there’s no escaping change – what worked once doesn’t work now. Hour’s Hot Shots 2009 is all about the possibilities of change and what continues to grow even as markets fluctuate – our cover stars are a prime example of the connection between business and community expansion. Indyish, the independent artist network Risa Dickens and Elran Oded set up three years ago, has connected artists locally and globally to blog about their work, sell their stuff and build community. And they just launched their Montreal page as a way to bring together local creative communities. (In that spirit, the two speak as one with Hour.)

What is your training/schooling?

Elran Oded: BA from McGill in anthropology, training in web and graphic design and a computer technician certificate.

Risa Dickens: BA in post-colonial English lit and an MA in media studies, focused on open-source programming code.

How did you get into this line of work?

Indyish started three years ago, but the idea was in the works long before that. As soon as we met [in 2000], we got mutually excited about open source as a way to heal from overspecialization or over-hierarchicization, making a system based on sharing knowledge while also making tools that were useful to us. We did have a practical basis, and started with a blog as a communal space to discuss ideas and bring different kinds of people and arts together. It’s all about how to do work that we not only love but that is useful to wider communities.

Are you in this line of work by accident or design?

All our answers are going to have an "ish" on them and a "both." We’re here by design with lots of accidents along the way – you make a design and redraft it constantly. We had hopes that Indyish would work, that if we poured everything we know about making a website visible and stable into it, then people would contribute. It’s our main tool, and the whole community of independent artists, online and off, is what makes it.

What inspires you?

The whole premise of why we think Indyish can be really useful is based on the strength of connections – it’s exciting to watch this happen. We were always stubborn about hosting events and involving local community – it’s valuable to reach out to the world with the website, but it would be a mistake to lose the one-on-one with people. Though empowered by the website, our lives are more touched by being in the Monthly Mess, our collective, interdisciplinary live show. [The Motown Mess, their 27th event, is Sept. 5 at Il Motore.] The idea of introduction is very important to us, and the performers and audience are really receptive and inspiring, from death metal to poetry to contemporary dance. We want to make a living doing the things we love to do; everyone should be able to do that.

What skills do you need in your profession?

We work as a team, so social skills, yes, but artistic direction, programming skills and business development are key to building outside the box. We constantly do research to find different ways to make the site function as it needs to; we need to identify the best idea in the room.

What challenges you most in your line of work?

Defining Indyish is one of the biggest challenges – it’s always evolving. We need to keep a clear eye on why we do this in the first place. It’s interesting and challenging now rethinking the traditional wisdom of how to have a successful business, what social entrepreneurism is or how non-profits should work, and where we should be. We’re really focused right now on being self-sustaining and creating a business model that is successful on its own, but also helps others.

What makes you keep doing this?

Pure jolts of joy. We’re not bored yet. It’s hugely rewarding, whatever it is.

What’s the worst career advice you ever got?

Delegate away what you love so you can expand and multiply and mass produce – bad advice for us and people we work with. One of the hardest things to do is take the right opportunities and make the right choices. This comes back to making a living doing what you love – leaving those doors open and spending time getting to know how different artists work by trying it out ourselves, learning about different aspects of the web. We were in a web long before there was a World Wide Web.


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