RAW: Madison’s New Indie Arts Network

Posted on March 3, 2012

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This past month, RAW — an independent arts organization that operates in over 21 cities across the U.S. — put their grassroots down in Madison, Wis. I attended their first launch event, entitled “Activate,” to get a glimpse of their mission in action: spurring on local talent and cultivating creativity. The vibe? Cirque du Soleil of the underground.

At “Activate,” I was able to experience it all: a short film, live music, photography, artwork, accessories, a fashion show, and dance performances to name a few. Because RAW provides local artists a platform to be able to display, express, and perform all under one roof, there was a wide array of creativity to take in and many different genres to explore.

But if you showed up expecting haute couture and fine china, you might have been disappointed. Rough edges and personality were present, and the atmosphere, refreshingly inclusive. These are attributes I can appreciate from an arts org (and cocktail attire event) that focuses on creativity and growth rather than status and perfection. Like its name implies, RAW embraces and seeks out artists that are emerging it their fields and looking for opportunities to shine.

After experiencing Madison’s first RAW showcase myself, I wanted to hear more about what they have in store for 2012 from someone hard at work behind the scenes. Who better than RAW’s new Madison area Director, Samiera Kookasemkit? And here she is. Welcome. Welcome.

Why don’t you start us off by telling a bit about your own background and creative journey?

From the very beginning, my passion was music. I used to sing and perform at Sunday school and in local talent shows with my mother. I was fascinated by the way that music could move you, how it allowed so many people to relate and connect on a different level, and how it could truly soothe your soul. I also loved photography at an early age…the idea that you could capture moments and keep them forever. (I think I have about 30 boxes of old photographs at my parent’s house!) I also took dance lessons, played the piano, wrote poetry and lyrics, and just about everything in between.

In college I studied Photography, Graphic Design, Visual Affects & Motion Graphics, and Fashion Marketing. After jumping from Major to Major, I finally ended up with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business: Marketing from Edgewood College. I decided that my true passion was…everything ART! And, somehow, someday I would get a chance to utilize my passion and skills for the ARTS as a whole!

What was your first experience with RAW?

I started out with RAW as a Production Assistant in the Madison area. I don’t think I have ever wanted a job so badly in my entire life. It maybe wasn’t ideal to take an unpaid internship position at 26 years old, but I didn’t care about the money. For me, it was more about realizing that if I didn’t chase my dreams now, I might never get the opportunity again. Having just had my son, I realized that if I didn’t chase my own dreams…how could I push him to chase his without feeling hypocritical? I knew that this was my chance to do what I love and to finally love what I do!

What are your goals for RAW Madison this year?

As a city with such a large Arts community and so much local talent, Madison really lacked an organization that could help artists connect with one another, gain the exposure that they need in order to grow, and the opportunity to give back to the community. My hope for this year is simply to show Madison that these things are what RAW is all about. I want people to know who we are. I want people to know what we do… and I want people to feel good about what we do.

RAW Madison makeup

Were there any people in “the industry” that attended the RAW Madison launch event?

It’s hard to say. We put our best efforts into inviting out the press, and reaching out to local industry professionals. Often times they may be present and we may not know about it. While we can’t make any guarantees they show up, we do hope they take notice. The nice thing about RAW is we’re here every month with a new group of artists to present to the Madison scene. If they didn’t make it out to our launch event, we’ll have plenty more for them to attend!

How do local artists and the community benefit from RAW’s monthly showcases?

Each and every show is a chance for the community to support its local artists. And each and every show is a chance for new and emerging artists to gain the spotlight and audience that they need in order to successfully grow. Our shows allow the local artists to connect and collaborate with one another, as well as connect and build relationships with the guests. It also allows them to be exposed to a greater audience beyond their own fan-base.

What are the criteria for submissions?

RAW is looking for talented, local, and emerging artists in almost every genre imaginable. Generally we are looking for artists in the beginning of their career, who are not necessarily the most well-known artists in the community. These are the artists that will get the biggest return from RAW and really who we hope to help be seen, heard, and loved!

RAW Madison musician

Is RAW for every artist?

If an artist already has a well-developed network and following, it may not be a great fit. Since we strive to connect artists to a new audience and help them gain footing and exposure, an artist that has this base may not be well suited. Still, we do provide additional opportunities that may appeal to an established artist such as showing their work in another location, a chance to participate in RAWards, and exclusive opportunities available only to the RAWartists network.

What are RAWards?

RAW’s Annual Indie Awards Show takes place at the end of each season (monthly events run from February to October). The community will then vote for their top five favorite artists of 2012, and one winner from every city in every category (film, fashion, music, art, photography, performance art, accessories, hair and makeup) goes on to be judged based on skill, creativity, wow-factor, and professionalism. The winners will be announced online in December and get honored at the annual RAWards Show in Hollywood, California!

What’s Next?

The next RAW Madison event “STIMULUS” will take place on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 from 8-11 PM at Segredo and will feature another new group of handpicked local artists. Get tickets here.

To find out about RAW in your city, or to submit your work, visit www.rawartists.org.

[Photo Credits: Angela Voell of Green Paint Photography]

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