PearlDamour: A Case Study of How Creative Capital Supports Artists

PearlDamour, How to Build a Forest performance installation at The Kitchen in New York, 2011
PearlDamour, the Obie-award winning collaborative team of Katie Pearl and Lisa D’Amour, creates performance projects both inside and outside traditional theater spaces. This week, they are presenting their performative installation, How To Build A Forest, at Duke University’s Paige Auditorium (October 19-21). This truly unique project, created in collaboration with visual artist and costume designer Shawn Hall, is a durational interdisciplinary work—part visual art installation and part theater performance—in which an elaborate forest is built and dismantled over an eight-hour period. The work was inspired by the loss of 100 trees at D’Amour’s family home in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, and subsequently informed by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
PearlDamour received their Creative Capital grant in Performing Arts for How to Build A Forest in 2009, and the life of their project provides a wonderful case study in how Creative Capital supports artists pursuing ambitious projects with a combination of financial and advisory support.


As with all our grantees, PearlDamour was selected through our open-call, three-phrase application process. Nearly 100 arts professionals from across the country serve as readers, evaluators and panelists who review the applications and help to determine the projects that are awarded Creative Capital grants.
Remarkably, Creative Capital’s grantmaking process created an  opportunity for PearlDamour to develop their project before they even received a grant.
Karen Farber, director, University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, became familiar with How To Build A Forest during the application review process, since she was one of Creative Capital’s readers for our 2009 grantmaking round. She was so impressed by PearlDamour’s project that she offered the artists a residency, a wonderful opportunity that both artists noted was critical to the development of the project. This is exactly the type of opportunity that Creative Capital’s intensive grant selection process, in which at least two arts professionals read each application submitted, is designed to foster.


In the three years since PearlDamour became grantees, Creative Capital has provided $50,000 in direct financial support for How To Build A Forest, the maximum amount of possible funding. Creative Capital’s venture capital-inspired approach to supporting artists provides funding at strategic moments throughout a project’s development, so that the artists can meet project expenses as they arise.
The artists received $10,000 in initial funding in 2009, which supported the hiring of a company producer and the creation of the PearlDamour website. In March 2009, the artists presented a work-in-progress version of How To Build A Forest at the Mitchell Center for the Arts.
In 2010, PearlDamour received $10,000 in project funding to research old-growth forests and gulf coast ecosystems, and to support their work with a collaborator in New Orleans. In fall 2010, PearlDamour began building the piece with Shawn Hall in her New Orleans studio. They also added a fabricator and PR consultant to their team.
In early 2011, the grantees received $5,000 in infrastructure funding to hire managerial and administrative support staff, and in April 2011, they received another $18,000 in project funding to cover fees for the artists, design costs and promotion of the project’s premiere at The Kitchen in New York (June 2011).
In addition to the direct funding that PearlDamour received from Creative Capital, the artists also leveraged Creative Capital’s partnership with Kickstarter to run a successful online fundraising campaign that raised over $10,000 in additional funds for How to Build a Forest.
The artists told us that Creative Capital’s financial support “allowed this piece to happen… It has allowed us to dream much deeper than we usually can as we make work.” When Creative Capital provided the funds to pay a company manager and administrative support staff, Katie wrote to us, “We will get to be artists on our own project, amazing!”


Creative Capital’s approach to supporting artists goes far beyond funding alone. Throughout the life of the project, our Artist Services staff provides the artists with ongoing guidance and advisory services designed to enable the project’s success and help the artists build sustainable careers.
In Summer 2009, Katie Pearl attended the Artist Retreat, which brings together nearly 250 grantees, consultants, staff, supporters and advisors for three days of presentations, focus sessions, one-on-one consultations and more. Katie participated in a “Pre-Retreat” professional development intensive for all 2009 grantees, including sessions on strategic planning, budgeting and promoting your work. Katie also presented on How to Build a Forest at the Retreat to a group that included performing arts programmers and producers.
Although Lisa D’Amour was unable to attend the 2009 Artist Retreat, she took advantage of other services offered by Creative Capital. For instance, she worked with a financial planner through one of our advisory service clinics.
In January 2011, when PearlDamour confirmed that How to Build a Forest would premiere at The Kitchen later that year, Creative Capital convened a stakeholder meeting with the grantees and key staff from The Kitchen. The group discussed marketing, publicity, outreach, ticketing, possible partnerships and how to categorize this multi-disciplinary performance installation—all with the goal of maximizing this crucial premiere opportunity for the artists.
Before the show opened at The Kitchen, Creative Capital promoted the project premiere in a dedicated announcement to our 30,000+ email subscribers, and through our website and social media channels. In advance of the presentation, a preview article ran in the Wall Street Journal. Katie and Lisa were also interviewed for The Brooklyn Rail.


After the New York premiere, PearlDamour received the Lee Reynolds Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women, which is given annually to a woman or women active in using theater to illuminate the possibilities of social, cultural or political change.

In September 2011, Creative Capital awarded PearlDamour $2,000 in expansion funds for a company retreat to evaluate and celebrate their collaborative process and the outcome of the premiere, as well as to plan for upcoming projects and build on the success of the piece. The artists also received the last $5,000 of their project funds in March 2012 to support a presentation of How to Build a Forest in New Orleans.
Katie told us, “Creative Capital’s impact has been huge. The retreat at the beginning of this process really set us off on the right foot. Consultations with [Artist Services staff] helped keep us on track the whole way, and our stakeholder meeting was quite useful… Creating this project was a huge step for PearlDamour. We are in an amazing place to move forward.”
PearlDamour presents How to Build a Forest at Duke University’s Paige Auditorium, October 19-21. The artists have been in residency at Duke since October 10.

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