When you’re born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, genteel grace and charm are just a natural byproduct of your upbringing. But Martha’s deep understanding of the art business and tenacious drive for business success are something all her own. As our CEO and Co-Founder of NINE dot ARTS, Martha oversees business planning, company finances, marketing and sales, team development, and is basically our head cheerleader and evangelist to the world. Martha left Alabama at 18 to expand her horizons and graduated from Colorado State University with a dual major – Communications and Fine Arts – to launch her journey. With her two diplomas in hand, she started her career with Walker Fine Art gallery in Denver, then moved on to the most prestigious art consulting firm (at the time) in the region, McGrath and Braun, from which NINE dot ARTS was born. Martha loves the business of art and finds tremendous satisfaction in helping new and emerging artists discover that you can actually get paid for your talent. She also loves using both sides of her brain on a daily basis, which can mean touring an amazing new NINE dot ARTS art experience in the morning and reviewing equally inspiring spreadsheets in the afternoon. When she’s not bouncing from meeting to meeting around our office, talking to movers and shakers in the art world, or giving high fives (with a handmade artistic hand, naturally) to team members, you might find her shopping at estate sales, urban hiking, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, or making cool stuff with her three art loving children. Martha supports the art community by: currently serving on the Board of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts and serving as Executive Director for Union Hall. Past experiences include lecturer for the Americans for the Arts conference in San Francisco on Art & Placemaking, serving on the Planning Committee for Stuart Semple’s Happy City, speaking on the CBCA Arts and Real Estate Panel, lecturer for the artist education series, Moxie U, and lecturer on Artist professional development for the Pueblo Economic Development Council.
Where did the idea for NINE dot ARTS come from?
NINE dot ARTS’ name is derived from the nine dot brain teaser puzzle, which is a grid made of nine dots that must be connected with four straight lines without picking your pen up off of the paper. The only way to solve the puzzle is to think outside the box. We use that as a guidepost for our company and how we approach our work in that we’re not conventional. In other words, we aren’t just coming to the table with a preconceived notion of what type of artwork goes where, nor do we aim to match the throw pillows on the sofa to the art on the wall above. We like to think big, ask hard questions and consider all the assets and cultural vision of a place. It’s well beyond the standard approach. We want to help you see things that maybe you don’t see, bring an artist’s vision to the table, share new voices, create opportunities and add perspective.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day for me begins when I wake up, I make my bed. I believe if you can win the morning, you can win the day. I brush my teeth with my non-dominant hand to try to activate new parts of my brain, followed by a 20-second cold shower and then I am very awake. Another thing I have started doing in the work-from-home era is taking a short walk around the block in the morning before I begin my work, marking the start of the day, and then a walk when I finish to mark the end of the day. I like to mark a beginning and an end to the workday at home, so that your work doesn’t become your life in your home environment.
In Colorado, we are also very fortunate to have big skies. We can see skies and mountains for miles, and I love to go outside whenever I need to make big decisions, negotiate contracts, or work with clients — I try to keep the long view in mind. Scientific research shows that if you are looking at a landscape or a long horizon, out into the vista, your mindset becomes more long term. So I try to put myself in positions when we have to make strategic decisions or negotiations that I’m actually looking out onto a horizon. Oh, yeah and I try to read a lot, too!
How do you bring ideas to life?
So everyone works differently in their creative process. My style is no holding back — I come at problems with an abundance of ideas, an abundance of solutions, let them sit, then come back and pare them down. My process creatively is deductive — start big, start with everything you can think of and then whittle things down closer to your finished product or goal. I think other people know their idea before they begin and then they execute on it the whole way through. However, for me, it’s a stylistic preference. I can’t have that sort of limitation at the beginning. I just have to start with so many ideas — all the big things — and I rely on my colleagues to help me edit!
I also like to draw inspiration from things that are completely outside the art world, and that aren’t necessarily related. Unrelated topics help me process information, like comparing an art project to the evolution of the dinosaurs or behavioral psychology influenced by microbiology. I like to have different sources that are scientific, social, or come from nature to inspire creative and artistic solutions.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Black Lives Matter, although it’s more than a trend. While inclusivity is everyone’s business, companies are finally recognizing that inclusivity is not optional. To come to the new age, grow talent and be competitive in the marketplace, you must participate in inclusivity and bring new people onto your team that see new perspectives. Companies must hire for deficits rather than similarities. Black Lives Matter has helped our entire society understand the dominant forces of white supremacy that have run our nation for hundreds of years. This movement is just an example of all the ways that our culture has been built and influenced, and then all the ways we can change it. The more diverse your perspectives, the more you realize the truth of the world. For NINE dot ARTS, I am excited about our team because we now have multiple people who speak Spanish and English, and even that kind of diversity on staff now allows us to speak with other countries. We recently utilized this resource on our team by creating a bilingual curatorial packet for a project with Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.
I also have a fascination with the trend of floating infrastructure and cities. This is a particular love and interest of mine because I come from Alabama’s Gulf Coast, and my hometown will be underwater in about 20 years due to rising sea levels. Therefore, I am interested in what is going to happen to our coastal communities globally. There are going to be a number of people who are going to be displaced because their homes are going to become uninhabitable. This method of architecture has been used for a few decades in the U.S., but even longer in Asia, people have actually built floating houses. So people who are in a coastal community are still able to stay in their homes. However, their home is not on land and instead sits on the water, and then the house moves with the tide shift. There is a whole floating home community in Seattle on Lake Union; a few communities in Copenhagen, Denmark, Amsterdam. And then a lot of communities in Asia where they have a more dense coastal population.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am very open to new ideas, and it is a blessing and a curse. I do not want to get stuck on tradition. I appreciate a fresh approach, and I think constantly evaluating what you are doing and whether it’s serving your company in the right way creates an innovative business culture. As an entrepreneur, being willing to embrace new ideas has been an asset.
The other thing that I think keeps me productive is that I am unphased by rejection. As an entrepreneur, you get rejected all the time, and you have to learn to roll with it and not let it stop you. Being resilient to handle rejection keeps you productive towards your goal. Just because someone doesn’t believe in your dream and ideas doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea; you just haven’t talked to the right person yet. One of my favorite artist quotes comes from Bob Ragland, who says, “I eat rejection in a sandwich.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
Set ten-year goals. I’m used to setting monthly, yearly, or even five-year plans, but setting a ten-year goal is equally important. I read a quote from Bill Gates the other day that said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in a year, but underestimate what they can do in ten.” You can do big things in a decade; don’t underestimate yourself. Think big, and think long-term.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think about my grandma when I think about this question. She didn’t go to college, but she is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. I love schooling and education, and I promote that in my household with my children. However, I believe the best things you can learn in life aren’t things you are taught in a classroom or that can be bought with a formal education. Rather, they are just things that come with wisdom, humanity, and compassion; things you learn from simply being a human.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Challenge your assumptions and surround yourself with people who will do that as well.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I think it is useful for any business to write a business plan and benchmark against it over time. It is essential to write out a vision for the business, and when you hire a team, communicate that vision; set your stake in the ground, and mark your milestones as you go along. Every time our team has done that, we are unified towards our shared goals and we can celebrate our accomplishments together.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I spent too much time and money on robust custom technology when we should have built more simply. To fix it, we scaled back, simplified, and identified our main goal for the technology to be successful.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Like I mentioned earlier, the idea of floating communities is near and dear to my heart. I’d love it if someone would establish floating home developments in the Gulf Coast regions, such as eastern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, to help those coastal communities adapt to the consequences of climate change.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently got a white, fuzzy blanket that I snuggle in when things get weird in the world. I can wrap myself in my blanket and feel childlike, if only for a moment.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
It’s simple, but I love using voice memos. It’s a simple, personal way to connect without encroaching on someone else’s time. I love sending a voice memo “Happy Birthday” song or takeaways from a meeting.
I also recently discovered a newer app, “INK,” that allows you to send custom stationery and greeting cards to friends, family, colleagues, and clients and also links to your photos. For example, over the holidays, after spending time with my family and newborn nephew, I sent a memorable card when I returned home. It’s great, because if you are meeting with a client and want to send a thank you card with that personal touch, it’s an excellent tool for that. The other great thing: I can do it on-the-go through my phone. It’s using technology to make human connections, and I love it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Painter” is an excellent book about an artist who lives in New Mexico. It’s written by a contemporary Colorado author and is an adventure, murder, romance mystery. What I love about it is, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys throughout the story. It shares the lesson that, in life, you are sometimes in that position where there’s a lot of grey, so you might as well polish up and study it. It’s complicated — the characters are really complex and there’s a lot of depth to it.
What is your favorite quote?
I use quotes a lot, but I think my favorite is Winston Churchill’s “Success isn’t final; Failure isn’t fatal.”
- Things are shifting, power is transitioning and the future of our culture looks different as our society grows into its new self as a nation.
- Challenge your assumptions, and surround yourself with people who will do that, as well.
- It’s important to make as many personal, human connections as possible, even in this digital world.
- Change your scenery, look out into the horizon and breathe when you’re making a big decision.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.