New organization OTA-Pollen supports artists and writers
City Pages chatted with Millard and Murphy on what OTA-Pollen is all about, and what we might see from them going forward.
Jamie Millard: Over the past five years, we learned how to build and create without any financial resources. Both Paper Darts and Pollen were always volunteer-driven, and only successful because of the thriving and engaged creative class here in the Twin Cities. When something special exists without financial support, and then it's recognized and invested in, there's a moment of pure paralyzation. It's hard to imagine all the possibilities. It's also difficult to be intentional about not letting resources kill the special magic that usually sparks and sustains volunteer-driven passion and mission projects.
How did things finally start coming together, and what did it feel like to see your vision become a reality?
Meghan Murphy: For indie publishers like us, the moment we received the grant was like scoring a record deal. We instantly sought to improve upon everything we had learned in the past as partners and publishers. We also began to allow ourselves to dream bigger than ever before for the future -- and we were already dreaming pretty big. From the moment we took on the Pollen project in 2011, we had giant goals for what it could become. It is so fun to be in a place to make that happen with these resources.
You are both co-CEOs now. How is this time in your careers different from your previous career goals? Is it more exciting?
JM: It's pretty remarkable to embrace a co-CEO model for any organization. OTA-Pollen has three: me, Meghan Murphy, and Hugh Weber. We're excited about creating an organization based on many faces and not just the traditional one face of a CEO or executive director. As for career goals, the title is meaningless; what's really exciting is having the opportunity to do what you were doing as a passionate volunteer full-time. That's extremely rare, and we're soaking it up.
MM: Before OTA-Pollen, Jamie was very happy with her work in marketing at Fast Horse. I was in heaven working as a full-time freelance illustrator. Still, we spent a ridiculous amount of time working on Paper Darts and Pollen in our free time. We already had our dream jobs, and were very satisfied there, but something drove us to continue volunteering our time on our passion publishing projects. We have always believed that if you love what you do, there is no such thing as work-life balance. It is strange to be paid to go into the office every morning to work on the passion project you had previously been doing for free because you loved it. This is the hardest job we have ever had, but it does not feel like work.
You both refer to each other as "work wives." What's it like working with your best friend?
JM: We have a very messy friendship and messy work relationship. Everything is mixed together and indistinguishable. We have the deepest trust in each other -- that's probably the most comforting piece of working with a best friend. That doesn't mean we always agree, but through our friendship and working together the past five years, we've become really good at learning how to argue and listen to each other. I think we'd both agree on this: The most enjoyable aspect of working with a best friend is watching them grow, develop, discover new things, take risks, and achieve success. We'd probably both start crying if we tried to explain how proud we are of each other.
MM: See!? That answer makes me want to cry.
You once mentioned that OTA-Pollen mission was to collect and tell stories. How does OTA-Pollen plan to use the art of storytelling to benefit our region (Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota)?
MM: That's definitely one part of our mission, in addition to building a community of connectors through experiences and resource sharing. We are investing in an army of freelance writers and artists to explore areas of passion and problem solving. We want to reimagine the stories that are told from our region. Through storytelling, we aim to turn this region into a laboratory for possibility.
What can you tell us about OTA-Pollen's future and what can we look forward to seeing from you guys?
JM: We are creating a digital platform that will elevate how we understand community building and story. We couldn't be more excited to work with the talent housed in this region to realize all of these possibilities. At the same time, we're also curating global talent to spark regional discussions through immersive event experiences. April 4 in Sioux Falls will be the first one of these experiences, with talent like Baratunde Thurston, Kate Bingaman-Burt, and Roman Mars taking the stage.