Photo: (c) 2010, Shirley Miranda-Rodriguez, Somos Arte
It is truly rare that a person is able to create a viable business around their love of art or community. Clyde Valentin is one of those entrepreneurs who has been able to not only turn art into business, but to also educate and pay forward his love for Hip Hop, performing arts, culture and community simultaneously.
As the co-founder of the Hip Hop Theater Festival, which is currently running in New York (Sept. 25-Oct. 16), the annual Black August benefit concert series and the critically acclaimed Stress Magazine (’95-’03), Valentin has no doubt made his mark in our generation. The Hip Hop Theater Festival has been showcasing original performing arts works for a decade now, and shows no signs of slowing down with 25 shows in 25 days for 2010.
In this exclusive interview with UrbLife.com, Clyde Valentin drops some gems on fortitude and passion. Read on as this community mentor speaks on the best advice he’s ever received, and how the recession has affected his life’s dreams.
Over the years, you’ve been involved in creating several ventures that stem from your love for Hip Hop, which also incorporate your education and business experience. Can you talk a little about how important it’s been for you to be able to mix passion and practicality in your career?
Clyde Valentin: I was just telling Mare [Carlos “Mare139” Rodriguez] the other day that I’m good with the choices I’ve made so far in my life, because the foundation being laid is crazy solid. As I like to remind myself and those around me, we have a lifetime of work to do, we have goals and dream to fulfill, challenges to overcome. So when you are on the grind as hard as I am, it’s got to come from the gut and its got to come from love and sometimes, sheer will.
Stress Magazine has quite a legacy for those who were fortunate enough to read it (and even collect the issues). What do you miss most about publishing a magazine? What were some of the biggest challenges?
CV: I miss getting excited when the latest issues would arrive to the office hot off the presses. It’s a great feeling. The single biggest challenge was that we didn’t have our business right, everything else was more or less something to overcome. But being novices in business, cut the magazine and the companies potential short. I took those lessons and applied them to HHTF.
You’re also involved in the Black August concerts, which represent a much deeper movement. Why do you feel the arts surrounding Black August are important to this generation, and what do you hope people are getting from the events you’re bringing them?
CV: Black August to this day represents so much more than its original intention, it represents the hope and the hard work those fans, this generation embodies everyday with their lives. Art is as much about agitation as it is about beauty or pleasure. Artists have to challenge and question the world around, there just way too many followers… and that is my hope around the work we support. To inspire and challenge people while having some fun along the way, like eating vegetables that taste good and are just good for you.
You’re celebrating a decade now with the Hip Hop Theater Festival. How has the recession affected funding/sponsorships the past couple of years, and how have you survived it?
CV: The truth is we are doing better today than before the recession hit, and that’s because we got smarter about how we managed our business and our resources. We anticipated the recession and decided that a goal was to come out stronger on the other end – and that is exactly what we are doing. Not a lot of businesses can say that today.
What are the most important things you want people to know about your life’s work thus far? What effect on others have you seen from your work?
CV: That I operate from a place of integrity and sincerity. Growing up, I wasn’t the coolest kid, the smartest or the toughest, but I knew how to navigate my surroundings. In terms of the work to date, that’s all we are doing – navigating our surroundings, working in an environment that isn’t the most hospitable for the type of work we do, but laying a critical and necessary foundation for a platform to support the continued development of the culture. I think our organization does a great job of nurturing leaders.
What is your most memorable career moment?
CV: There are many and hopefully many more to come. I give thanks, because I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had thus far. But I have to say watching Danny Hoch perform Taking Over, his last solo play about gentrification in Williamsburg, in a public high school auditorium in Williamsburg in front of 1,000 people.
I was happy for our organization and our ability to create an amazing night of theater, and I was happy for Danny, because I know that night he was living a dream.
How are you able to balance business, art, family, friends and personal space day to day?
CV: It’s hard. I work like a beast, but I know how to shut it down and be present with my family. It’s a must to have moments of respite.
What is coming next for you once the Hip Hop Theater Festival is over?
CV: We received a grant from the Ford Foundation to build out a gallery in East Harlem, so I’ll be focusing on that and programming the inaugural art show for that new space. The Gallery will house our main office and become our first public programming space.
What is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
CV: Always listen to your instincts kid.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur with the dream of turning their passion for the arts into an every day business?
CV: Be thoughtful about your intentions; always do your due diligence; never leave anything assumed and move on when you stop loving what you are doing.
Watch the 10th Annual Hip Hop Theater Festival Trailer