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Sam Potrykus is a musician and community builder in Jamaica Plain. In addition to playing bass for rapper Red Shaydez, poet Amanda Shea and vocalist Narmeen Saiyad he also founded and runs the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Brain Arts Organization, Boston Compass Newspaper and Dorchester Art Project located in Fields Corner, Dorchester.
Lindsay Gearheart: Tell us a little about your background and what led to the creation of Brain Arts Organization.
Sam Potrykus: I grew up on the South Shore of Boston and was first exposed to independent arts culture going to DIY shows in alternative spaces like VFW halls and other all-ages spaces. Playing in bands gave me the opportunity to go on a 45-day tour around the country at the age of 16. This experience gave me the profound perspective that the Boston DIY/underground scene was part of something bigger – a national and international underground music scene. With that I started the Boston Compass newspaper in an attempt to unify those cultural activists in and around Greater Boston. After building up a pretty strong volunteer base, booking our own shows and starting our own blog between 2010-2013, it was suggested that we become a 501 (c)(3) to support our work and Brain Arts Org got it’s status in 2013 thanks to the help of several volunteers.
LG: Dorchester Art Project (DAP) is run by Brain Arts Org, correct? Can you talk about how that collaboration came to be?
SP: DAP was actually already an art space when we first discovered it in 2014, then just run by some art school students as a senior project essentially. But those folks really set up the revenue stream that kept the rent paid on an otherwise not-for-profit space – renting studios to artists in need. In 2017, the folks who were operating the space (friends of ours from different corners of the Boston music and art scene) wanted to pass off the lease to another group of artists and Brain Arts Org had just raised 25k towards the goal of opening our own space. So timing was definitely on our side and we were able to use the funds raised by our community to improve the safety and security, leaking roof, bad plumbing and dangerous electricity to make it a safe space in which to grow our organization.
Since then the DAP mission to focus on and highlight hyperlocal (Fields Corner, Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan and Hyde Park) artists has seen an uptick in interest and support from the community. Before Brain Arts Org, DAP mostly served art students and fine artists from different parts of the city and it was a special place but lacked any strategy or commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion of hyperlocal artists.
LG: As a community nonprofit, how are you currently funding your operations during the pandemic?
SP: We are so fortunate to have a strong donor base that believes in our work, so we first turned to our strength of grassroots fundraising to stop the initial bleeding caused by Covid-19, losing virtually all of our rental revenue. With the success of the fundraiser, raising $17,000 in the last few weeks, we can now focus on changing our revenues and programming to virtual methods which will hopefully carry us through the remainder of the pandemic (shout out withfriends.co for being such an amazing platform for independent orgs and arts collectives). These new initiatives will be launched by June 1 and thanks to our incredible community donating and sharing our fundraiser, we are able to continue paying our part time staff and dozens of artists in the gig economy that rely on DAP/BAO for a portion of their income.
LG: What are some of the ways you typically support artists’ creativity, and what kinds of initiatives are you looking forward to in the future when things return to some semblance of normalcy?
SP: Brain Arts Org has a variety of platforms for artists to express themselves and use as a springboard to more sustainable income through their craft. Dorchester Art Project as a physical space is definitely our strongest and most impactful platform, so with the pandemic, our main focus is maintaining those DAP-related opportunities and making sure they adapt to the new normal.
In addition to the fundraiser, the other key element of our Phase 1 of Covid-19 response was launching the Brain Arts Blog. We now have a digital platform for writers, artists, and community members to share their work and find resources to help each other. To support this effort, we have been writing grants so that we can pay Dorchester artists specifically to write for the blog. This will be the first time bringing in grants for journalism despite the fact that we have had a newspaper/zine since 2010, so this is definitely a milestone for us and very encouraging looking at the future in lockdown and having at least some way of getting artists paid for doing their work remotely. The expansion of our independent journalism efforts will continue even after we return to normalcy, so that’s definitely a silver lining to this dark cloud.
LG: How are you continuing to foster community for artists in this time of distancing?
SP: There are many ways we continue to foster community, but I would say first and foremost, we are doing so by doubling down on paying artists. Instead of shying away from the challenge, our volunteers and part-time staff are working tirelessly to bring in more opportunities and more money for vulnerable artists and gig economy workers that make up such a large part of our network. For the artists receiving these opportunities, it’s clear why they feel a sense of community and support from Brain Arts, but what’s remarkable is seeing the support from artists, supporters, donors, and community leaders due to this commitment. People seem to really appreciate our dedication to paying our artists and it has resulted in the strengthening and even growth of our community despite the setbacks of the pandemic.
LG: How can people support your mission and help artists during this time?
SP: Although our Covid-19 fundraiser campaign has ended, folks can become a BAO member with a contribution of as little as $2/mo which goes directly towards our staff and gigs for artists. This is the best way to support our mission and help artists because it’s money we can count on each month and therefore can promise and sustain funds for these artists on an ongoing basis.
Follow us on social media (IG @brain_arts_org, Twitter @brain_arts_org, IG @dorchesterartproject, Twitter @dotartproject, IG @bostoncompass, Twitter @bostoncompass) and stay tuned for more updates, because we will soon be providing innovative ways to directly support our artist community.
The Manifest Boston Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world. Know a change maker you think should be interviewed for this series? Nominate them here.