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Meet Your Workshop Instructor: Brian McGuigan

Erika Enomoto

Communications Manager

Young Brian by Erika Enomoto

On Thursday, September 28, Artist Trust Program Director Brian McGuigan will lead Work Samples Dos & Don’ts, a workshop on what makes a strong work sample and what doesn’t. You’ll learn how the selection process works, insider information on what juries and panelists are looking for in work samples, and tips on how to format and tailor your work for success. Sign up here.

“Making a thing isn’t enough.

Like Jay-Z said, ‘I’m not a businessman – I’m a business, man.’

Once you’ve made the thing, you need to know what to do with it – how to build a platform for it, market it, sell it, etc.”

Brian has been involved in Seattle’s arts scene for almost fourteen years. “The scene has grown exponentially in that time. I expect that growth to continue as more businesses come here and with it more young professionals with an interest in the arts. Seattle isn’t ‘the pesto of America’ anymore as Seinfeld once said. It’s become a main course, a destination for artists and arts lovers. ”

In three words, Brian describes himself as “ambitious, gritty, and sharp.” Growing up in Queens, NY, as a child he grew up wanting to be a rapper or a sports broadcaster. “I still hold out hope I can do both,” he said. Citing Jay-Z as his role model, Brian was also influenced by poet Deborah Woodard when he first moved to Seattle and was trying to write poetry. He also counts Artist Trust CEO Shannon Halberstadt as a touchstone.

Drawing inspiration from 90s East Coast hip hop, Brian is a writer and is looking forward to completing his first book, after working on it for five years.

On balancing work and life, he shared that it’s a struggle but he gets it done. “I’ve worked in nonprofit for about thirteen years now while trying to maintain a writing practice – and now be a present father to a five-year-old boy. Through fits and starts, writing and not writing, I’ve learned it’s about carving out the space and time for my work and staying dedicated to it. Also, I rarely sleep more than six and seven hours a night, so that helps.” In the next five years, Brian anticipates to have completed his first book and to be working on his second. His proudest accomplishment is “giving all I have every day.”

As far as networking, Brian recommends that artists “go to as many events as you can. Shake hands. Kiss babies. Work the room. But don’t be a scenester. Keep focused on the work. You need that time for yourself to create.”

In his free time, Brian reads, writes, runs, watches sports (Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter are his favorite athletes - “because they’re winners and unflappable”), and plays highly competitive games of Yahtzee with his son. Weekends are spent around town, from getting lost in IKEA to posting up at Super Six in Columbia City for happy hour. Brian’s three favorite TV shows are The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad. A lover of pop art and street art, its no surprise that his favorite artists are Basquiat, Warhol, Banksy, Dondi, and Phase 2.

I sat down with Brian to try to get the inside scoop on Work Samples Dos & Don’ts. And failed.

What makes a strong work sample?
You’ll have to come to the workshop to find out! 

What doesn’t make a strong work sample?
I said come to the workshop!

How does the selection process work?
Again, come to the workshop!

What do juries and panelists look for in work samples?
Really??? Come!

What are you tips to format and tailor your work for success?
I’ll see you at the workshop!

What’s your elevator speech?
We have a workshop on that, too. wink

Brian’s advice is based on his years of experiences as an arts administrator and as a grant applicant himself. “An old boss of mine once said the rule of thumb is batting about .333 in grantwriting, meaning you get one of out every three. I’m batting around the Mendoza Line at this point. There’s one grant I’ve now applied for six times without any luck. It took me seven tries to get an Artist Trust GAP Award. I don’t give up easily.”

Lastly, he encourages artists to not give up on applying for grants. “Panels change every award, and the practice of applying has value. Getting your work out there, whether you receive support or not, helps you build audience and opens up more opportunities.”

Sign up for Work Sample Dos & Don’ts here.