Assisting Clients in
Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties
hosted by: Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County (EDC-VC) SBDC

Learning the Art of Business


Kristen Gunn has been involved in the arts since age 2. As a teacher in San Bernardino, she worked
with a program The Music Center in Los Angeles created to bring musicians, dancers and artists
into schools. Eventually, she began administering the program at The Music Center, where she
met Robert Gilliam, a hip-hop dancer from Watts with his own dance company. In 2005, they
launched The Artist Collective. At schools, summer camps, community events and juvenile halls,
the organization unites artists and young people. The goal, says Gunn, is to show creative kids—
often from troubled and disadvantaged backgrounds—that “they can develop a career doing
what they love.”

Best Advice:

Gunn came to the Ventura SBDC in January 2009 seeking help with the business side of her
organization, and assistance applying for 501(C)(3) tax-exempt status. Business Advisor Harriet
Cohen met with Gunn monthly, helping her with her business plan, marketing and networking.
She took classes in Constant Contact and e-mail marketing, and joined a Business Fast Forward
group. The SBDC helped her create sponsor letters and linked her with people who could assist
with her nonprofit. Gunn also learned about job descriptions, creating procedures, creating a
financial plan and developing action plans.

Lessons Learned:

• Sell benefits. “I learned that everything I do when talking to other people needs
to be about the benefit to them,” Gunn says. “It’s not about what you can do, but
how you can help them.”
• Set goals and prioritize. “Setting goals [and breaking them down] is really important,”
Gunn says. “I do this with our artists, but Harriet helped me apply it to
• Get support. “It’s important to have a cheerleader, and Harriet is the positive
voice I hear,” says Gunn. “Before I met Harriet, I’d had people willing to help me—
but we’d have lunch and chat, and that was it. Meeting with Harriet once a month
has been incredible. She keeps me on track and puts me in contact with people
who help me get unstuck.”


The Artist Collective has sustained its income in a tough economy and will soon get taxexempt
status, becoming eligible for grants. This year, public recognition exploded thanks to
new projects: They were part of Mayor Villaraigosa’s Summer Night Lights program, bringing
dance and music to L.A. projects. The Community Redevelopment Authority asked them to
help develop an arts venue. They are working with USC football coach Pete Carroll on gang
intervention. Sheriff Lee Baca asked them to create Krumping leagues (an urban dance) and
promised support.

Future plans include starting a charter school in Watts and programs in Panama and Tijuana—
with continued support from the SBDC. “As Kristen starts each step,” says Cohen, “I make sure
she has all of the resources she needs.”

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