Founder Story: Cultivate by Mallory Shotwell






Series A

We're excited to showcase an amazing startup called "Cultivate", a trailblazing artist-run organization from Grand Rapids, Michigan, that beautifully merges contemporary art with entrepreneurial innovation.

Founded and directed by Mallory Shotwell, Cultivate operates as much more than a typical art gallery; it's an incubator for artistic talent and commercial viability.

They provide a contemporary art gallery, fine art education, and an artist resource center, all under one roof. Cultivate stands out by not only focusing on artistic creation but also on the scalability and sustainability of art as a business, ensuring artists can thrive in today's competitive market.

Their commitment to making art accessible while supporting professional development allows artists to not only create but also live off their art. With innovative programming and a focus on community engagement, Cultivate aims to leave a lasting impact on both local and national art scenes.

Keep reading as we explore more about Cultivate. We'll hear directly from the founder, Mallory Shotwell, about how they're changing the world of art and business.

Please Introduce Yourself and Tell Us About Your Startup?

My name is Mallory Shotwell, and I am the founder and Director of Cultivate, a pioneering arts organization based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that operates at the intersection of contemporary art and entrepreneurial innovation.

Cultivate stands as a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit in the arts sector, embodying both a contemporary art gallery and a comprehensive fine art education program, alongside a resource center dedicated to empowering artists.

At its core, Cultivate is an incubator for artistic talent, fostering not just the creation but also the commercial viability of art.
Our mission extends beyond the traditional gallery model to embrace the dynamics of a startup, focusing on scalability, community engagement, and sustainable growth within the art world.

We are committed to breaking new ground by providing artists with the tools, platforms, and opportunities they need to thrive in an increasingly competitive market.

Our organization reflects a unique blend of creative passion and business acumen, making art accessible while also supporting artists' professional development. Through innovative programming and a steadfast commitment to the arts, Cultivate aims to make a lasting impact on the local and national art scenes.

We are passionate about creating a vibrant ecosystem where artists can succeed not only in creating but also in living off their art, reinforcing the idea that artistic endeavors are vital, valuable contributions to the economy and society.

Overview of Cultivate

Cultivate, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a unique artist-run arts organization founded by Mallory Shotwell. It stands out as an innovative fusion of a contemporary art gallery, a fine art education program, and an artist resource center.

Designed to operate locally, regionally, and nationally, Cultivate is committed to empowering artists and fostering commercial viability through a blend of creative passion and business acumen.

At its heart, Cultivate serves as an incubator for artistic talent, providing emerging artists with crucial platforms and tools to showcase their work and thrive professionally.

Beyond traditional gallery offerings, the organization extends into dynamic educational programs and a resource center that focuses on both personal and professional development for artists.

Cultivate mission is to make art accessible and sustainable, engaging the community with scalable programs that contribute significantly to the art world. This mission is driven by a commitment to breaking new ground in how art is presented and supported, making it not just a cultural activity but a viable career path for artists.

By integrating the dynamics of a startup into the art sector, Cultivate aims to nurture a vibrant ecosystem where artistic endeavors are seen as vital, valuable contributions to the economy and society, ensuring that artists can not only create but also live off their art.

What Problem(s) Does Your Startup Solve?

Cultivate addresses critical gaps in the art world by offering a platform for emerging artists to showcase their work, providing professional development resources to navigate the business side of art, and facilitating art education for the community.

This multifaceted approach helps solve the challenges of limited exposure for artists, the need for business acumen in the art profession, and the community's demand for accessible art education.

By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, Cultivate strengthens the economic viability of artistic careers and enriches the cultural landscape, making it a unique nexus between creativity and entrepreneurship in the arts sector.

How Did Your Startup Gain Its Initial Momentum? Share Successful Strategies or Future Plans.

Cultivate’s exponential growth strategy hinged on community engagement, digital expansion, strategic partnerships, and a scalable operational model. By establishing a base through local art exhibitions and educational initiatives, we quickly embraced online platforms to widen our reach and create new revenue streams.
Key to our expansion was forming strategic partnerships at both local and regional levels, enabling us to serve our constituents more effectively across local, regional, and national spheres.

These partnerships, with businesses, educational institutions, and cultural organizations, amplified our visibility, extended our programming, and broadened our audience base.

This multi-tiered approach, underpinned by a commitment to our core mission of supporting artists and enriching the community, ensured our growth was not just expansive but also meaningful and aligned with our foundational values.

This blend of community focus, digital savvy, and strategic collaborations has been central to Cultivate’s ability to maintain momentum and achieve exponential growth.

What Were the Biggest Hurdles in Gaining Traction, and How Did You Overcome Them?

In navigating its journey, Cultivate encountered significant challenges, notably in securing sustainable funding audience engagement in a post-Covid digital landscape, finding footing and establishing our business model admist low first year business survival rate, all while scaling operations and maintaining artistic integrity.

The competitive landscape of arts financing required us to diversify our revenue streams through memberships, educational programs, art sales, and digital platforms, which, alongside our efforts to showcase the impact of art on the community, helped attract crucial investments and grants.

Engaging a national digital audience necessitated a shift towards high-level virtual work, "edutainment" on social media, and online workshops, leveraging social media and digital marketing to extend our reach.
As we grew, ensuring operational scalability without compromising the quality of our offerings was crucial, achieved through strategic investments in technology and aligning our team’s expansion with our operational needs.

Throughout, preserving our artistic integrity remained paramount; every decision was guided by our mission, ensuring artists felt supported and valued.

This approach, blending creativity, strategic planning, and a commitment to our core values, enabled Cultivate to overcome obstacles and thrive in the contemporary arts scene.

From Your Perspective, What's Missing in the Current Startup Environment?

In the broader startup market, there seems to be a significant gap in cross-sector collaboration and the integration of art into technology solutions.

Startups, particularly those at the convergence of art and entrepreneurship like Cultivate, could greatly benefit from deeper, structured partnerships that span across various industries, including technology, healthcare, and education.

Such collaborations could harness the unique perspectives and skills of artists to foster innovation. Additionally, while there's no shortage of technology startups, few are dedicated to blending artistic creativity with technological advancements.

This presents an opportunity for startups to develop art-integrated technology solutions, addressing challenges like enhancing user experience or creating more engaging educational tools.

Tapping into this potential could not only fill a crucial gap in the startup ecosystem but also elevate the role of art in driving societal and technological progress.

Can You Share Your Experience With Fundraising? What Was Your Approach?

Cultivate funding strategy has been firmly rooted in financial independence, primarily relying on enrollments from our educational classes. Without significant donor contributions, grants, or seed funding, we have built and sustained our operations through the direct support of those who enroll in our courses.
This model allowed us to start with a focus on delivering high-quality art education, directly linking our revenue to our core mission of fostering art appreciation and skills development.

As we continue to grow, our commitment remains on enhancing and expanding our educational offerings, ensuring that our approach to funding aligns with our goal of enriching the community through art education.

This self-sustaining model underscores our independence, allowing us to focus on what we do best: educating and inspiring through the arts.

What Hurdles Did You Encounter While Fundraising, and How Did You Tackle Them?

When Cultivate began, we faced two major financial challenges: a significant lack of arts funding and low brand awareness. The competitive landscape for arts funding made it difficult for a new entity like ours to secure traditional financial support, compelling us to rely on class enrollments as our primary revenue source.

Simultaneously, establishing our presence in our market without initial brand recognition meant attracting students and generating sufficient revenue was an uphill battle. These hurdles necessitated a creative and strategic approach to gradually build our reputation and ensure our sustainability in the arts sector.

Despite these challenges, our dedication to our mission and innovative engagement strategies enabled us to navigate these early financial obstacles.

What’s Next for Your Startup? Any Exciting Developments on the Horizon?

Looking ahead, Cultivate plans to broaden its impact and enrich its offerings. Our next steps include diversifying our course catalog to incorporate current trends and interdisciplinary subjects, upgrading our digital learning platforms to enhance accessibility and user experience, and forging stronger partnerships with local entities to expand our resources and reach.

We're also focusing on community engagement through new art initiatives and workshops, aimed at making art more accessible. Sustainability, in terms of both environmental practices and financial models, will guide our growth, ensuring that Cultivate continues to thrive as a beacon of art education and community enrichment.

This forward-looking strategy is designed to solidify our presence in the art education sector and deepen our connection with the community we serve.

In the art education sector, we're excited about the potential of digital transformation to broaden access to art education through online platforms, making learning more flexible and inclusive.

Additionally, the growing interest in interdisciplinary approaches that blend art with technology, environmental sustainability, and social justice themes presents an opportunity to enrich our curriculum and engage students in new ways.

However, we're concerned about the sustainability of funding for the arts and the challenge of maintaining high-quality, personalized education in increasingly digital formats. These trends represent both opportunities for innovation and challenges to navigate as we strive to fulfill our mission.

If You Could Go back and Give Yourself One Piece of Advice at the Start of Your Journey, What Would It Be?

If I could go back and give myself one piece of advice for the start of this startup journey, it would be to prioritize building a strong support network early on. Surrounding myself with mentors, advisors, and fellow entrepreneurs who share our values and vision can provide invaluable guidance, insights, and encouragement throughout the journey.

Cultivating these relationships from the outset can help navigate challenges more effectively, spark creativity, and foster a sense of community that sustains us through the ups and downs of startup life.

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