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Creating Work That Supports Your Art with Krystal Harfert of BANDALOOP

An arial shot of ballerinas.

After college, I spent a year in the Bay Area dancing, teaching, and focusing on figuring out how to fit all of my big dreams into one life. One of the best things that happened to me in this time was teaching for a company that provided mobile fitness classes for youth alongside Krystal Harfert, a performer and arts administrator. As someone who loves jumping around with my students and getting into deep discussions over which Pixar movie is best, I found her quiet strength and obvious love of her work to be both eye-opening and inspiring.

As I got to know Krystal, I learned that despite putting in countless hours as a teacher, a Massage Therapist, and a dancer, she was also an instrumental member of the staff that makes the magic of BANDALOOP happen!

During our long periods of sitting in San Francisco traffic, crawling towards five year olds who needed our help learning somersaults and basic coordination skills, Krystal introduced me to the unique work that BANDALOOP was doing. They are a nonprofit arts organization based in Oakland that transforms the idea of concert dance by bringing performers to the people - by dancing on walls! Their work forges connections between nature, community, and human capacity by bringing dance to new audiences, energizing public spaces and natural spaces, and pushing the boundaries of what dance can be. Though a small art nonprofit organization, performers travel the world and have a wide range of programming. In my conversation with Krystal, I learned what it takes to keep an organization going, the value of finding work that supports your artistry, and the importance of boundaries as an artist.

How would you describe your role at BANDALOOP?

I’m the Company Manager. I handle logistics and communication between the company and presenters, support members within the organization, archive videos, and other administrative duties.

Did you start as the Company Manager or did you have a history with BANDALOOP prior to this role?

In college, a friend of mine spent the summer in California for an internship opportunity and ended up taking a workshop with BANDALOOP. They met the Artistic Director, Amelia Rudolph, and said I should check them out. After looking into the organization, I decided move to California. I persistently pursued Amelia Rudolph and Amanda Moran, Managing Director until they found an internship opportunity for me!

I’ve been with them since 2009. From my internship, which lasted about two months, I formed an administrative role within the company to support the managing director. After a few successful years as an administrator I took on the management role.

Wow! What was it that made you so interested?

The mission, Amelia Rudolph's artistic vision and what they do for public art...bringing art to the public and making it accessible for new audiences locally and globally. My mind was blown! I have a bachelor’s degree in Dance Education and Business Arts Management from Columbia College in Chicago. In college I took a Grant Writing class and the final assignment was to locate a grant to support our idea. I envisioned a dance organization that traveled throughout the city, performing in public spaces with live music. After my friend recommended BANDALOOP, I learned this was similar to what they do on a day-to-day basis. I felt like being a part of this organization would be a great fit.

How would you describe the culture of your organization?

We are pretty flexible and open. Most of our scheduling is based on projects we are working on in the moment. We’re a staff of five and can work from home, from cafes, or anywhere else we need to. Our current office space is small and open so we can easily collaborate on projects, and our studio space is just used for rehearsals and classes. We support each other’s work and share expertise. In the future, we want to create a larger work space affectionately referred to as the BANDALOOP Arena, which would bring office, rehearsal, workshop, and performance space into one location, creating more of a connected and family-like atmosphere.

What do you like best about your organization?

A lot of my passion for the work comes from the dance itself and seeing how far the company has evolved from 2009 to now, and where it is headed in the future. The evolution of the company, the dancers, and the dance itself. We take strides to stay current with new technology, even incorporating it into our performance.

We offer free, public art to communities that wouldn’t necessarily have the access to see and experience art. Many dance companies are founded in a theater setting; we have the ability to perform just about anywhere. Our performances can be seen in locations such as theaters, on skyscrapers, bridges, historical sites and even on the side of 1,000-foot cliffs! For some, it’s not something they’d normally experience in their area.

We are widening our education program. Through our Engaging Dance Audiences grant, we are building on our long relationship with Destiny Arts to integrate more programming into the public school system. I went with Melecio Estrella, our Assistant Artistic Director/Education Coordinator on a few of the school visits this year. We showed visual materials and worked with students on site reactive dance. Then we invited them to our studio space to experience our style of movement. In both locations, we asked students what dance means to them and immediately noticed a difference in their responses. It's wonderful to see how their perspectives shifted after working with us!

How does BANDALOOP go about hiring new staff members?

Our Executive Director and Managing Director make the final decisions. We have a consistent staff of five and then hire on a contract basis for specific projects. New positions are spread through word-of-mouth, social media, career sites, and our website. Since we are a close-knit community, we like to tell people who’ve connected with us at workshops, in the climbing world, etc about our opportunities. Resumes are always welcome and we encourage interested dancers to come to the workshops, auditions, or performances and get to know us! We also consistently have internship opportunities in all areas of our work - from administration to production to performing.

Does you use volunteers? How do you find them and what value do they add to your organization?

We just used volunteers for our last show that were a great support, especially administratively, with our social media push, and general outreach strategy. We even worked with artists in New York! For long-term opportunities, we’ve used Idealist and our mailing list. Volunteers are a great asset to our organization and we use them as often as possible. They support onsite productions, front of house assistance, loading/unloading performances, and much more.

What type of artist are you and how do you practice or maintain this art?

I consider myself a dancer. I felt like I was getting out of a regular practice and began running, taking dance classes, and attending more auditions. I’m also a dance instructor for students aged 3 to 30 who are learning ballet, modern, and jazz. My massage practice also relates to working with dancers or athletes by helping them lead a more comfortable life. I believe we never reward ourselves with enough bodywork.

I’ve been inspired by new art forms and I’ve started sewing and designing costumes. This year, I was inspired by the graffiti covering the walls of Oakland and decided I would design and sew dance costumes for my students. My drawing skills helped but I still found it to be very time consuming! In the end, I really enjoyed spending time at the sewing machine and seeing my students performing in my work, so I plan on taking classes to support this new craft. The costume designers for BANDALOOP has been showing me how to mend and care for the costumes, so I’m finding ways for my work to support my artistic interests.

How do you continue to support yourself as an artist while you are working? What do you do to help your artistic/creative self thrive?

I am rediscovering what it takes to put myself back into my art. I had let myself become so overwhelmed with my jobs and other obligations that I worried I was going to burnout. I didn’t want that to hinder my passions and the aspects of my work that I loved. I’m learning to take a breath and am making more time for myself. Dance is really important to me and is the common thread in my work, so I’ve been challenging myself to try new styles that will widen my perspective and give me a fresh outlook on movement. I’ve also started running to clear my head and think more about my heart.

I’m considering going back to school for something that enhances my skills and relates to my interest. I’m interested in building on my current degree in Dance Education and Business Arts Management by looking into programs that support working with special needs students or are more business oriented. 

How is your time spent during a typical work week?

I’m a part-time employee. During a home production week, I average about 30-40 hours per week. If I’m not traveling with the company or in the middle of a performance week, then I will work closer to 30 hours. What I’m actually doing varies on what project I’m working on. A typical day includes administrative work, coordinating logistics for upcoming shows, video archiving, and working on educational programs. If there is a production, then I’m supporting the dancers and the Artistic Director, working with production and stage managers, managing hospitality, and related needs.

How does your identity as an artist and the work that you do for BANDALOOP relate ?

I don’t think I’ve found a separation and that’s something I’ve been thinking about. The connections I’ve made and growth I’ve had as an artist...much of it would not be possible if I hadn’t joined BANDALOOP when I first moved here. In college, I thought I had an idea of what my artistic identity was and what my career would be like. Since then, I’ve changed and learned a lot, especially in terms of what I thought was possible for an arts nonprofit. Sometimes I worry that the amount of overlap relates to my burnout concerns, but BANDALOOP really is a family and that support means everything to me.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received? Do you have any tips for other artists who are working in nonprofit organizations and are still interested in pursuing their career as an artist?

Columbia College’s slogan has stuck with me from the first day of orientation - create change. Change is constant in life and I need to be prepared for that. That’s why I’m open to pursuing new art forms, challenging my ideas of what dance means to me, and being involved with BANDALOOP’s evolution.

Advice I have for other artists is to consider staying within the realm of what you are interested in. If you want to be a dancer, look for work that also supports your dance interests, rather than getting some other job that may make you unhappy or takes away from your artistry. Nonprofit arts organizations exist in a realm where people often have similar passions and goals. People are generally more happy in life when they are doing work that they love to do. Even if it’s a hard day, it’s still better than what other people may be going through because you are at least doing something you like to do and are passionate about.

Stick with something you want to see yourself doing later in life and apply your other skills.

By Jhia Jackson

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