Waking up at 4 am to stand in line for an audition that starts at noon. Spending hours carefully editing dance videos for Instagram with hopes that you'll be discovered for your dream job. Stalking a fellow dancer on social media to figure out just how they got that lucrative weekend gig dancing at kids' birthday parties.
These are just some of the crazy-demanding norms that come with the territory of launching a professional dance career. "There are so many things we've just learned to accept. But we don't want to anymore," Nick Silverio says. Along with Ramita Ravi, the two NYC-based dancers are on a mission to make artists' careers more sustainable, equitable and enjoyable, through a new professional networking site called Artswrk.
Ravi and Silverio, who met as classmates at the University of Pennsylvania, had been brainstorming how to make the often-unpredictable career of an artist easier for a while. When COVID-19 completely shuttered the arts industry back in March, however, ideas turned into action. "Seeing all of our friends and co-workers massively impacted by the pandemic with no safety net, we felt compelled to help make being an artist a legitimate profession that isn't stigmatized," Silverio says. "No one should be a starving artist anymore."
Ravi and Silverio envisioned a one-stop shop where artists from every field could access the tools they need to build their careers: professional networking; health care and financial assistance; branding and housing resources; and more. And from that vision, Artswrk was born.
According to Ravi, Artswrk is a bit of a hybrid between LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook, created by artists, for artists. Aside from using it as a resource hub, new members are able to create and customize their own profiles on the platform, including photos, videos, resumés and any other skills or interests. Members can also track and organize all of their work history and, more important, who they've worked with.
"The cool thing is, if I did a job with Nick, I could tag him in that job, and then see everyone who has also worked there before on one page," says Ravi. According to Ravi and Silverio, that feature will be particularly important to dancers, who tend to book work more from friendly recommendations rather than formal open-call auditions. Silverio explains: "Artists are going to appreciate being able to have all their gigs in one place, and be able to make actual referrals on the platform instead of word-of-mouth, Instagram or Facebook Messenger."
Artswrk founders Ramita Ravi and Nick Silverio (Photo by Raashi Desai, courtesy Silverio)
To help bring Artswrk to life, Ravi and Silverio drew from not only their time as professional dancers in NYC, but also their knowledge and interests outside of dance. With professional experience consulting for start-ups on user experience design and product management, Ravi took the lead on the development side. Meanwhile, Silverio, who studied economics with a concentration in commercial dance management, focused on building Artswrk's brand and promoting the new platform. When it came to actually creating the website, the pair enlisted the help of some fellow multitalented artists. "Neither of us are coders, so we hired two engineers to build the site. We also took on a marketing intern and a development intern," says Silverio. "Almost all of them are dancers-turned-something-else, which is exciting." After many rounds of user testing and collecting feedback, the platform's beta waitlist is now open ahead of Artswrk's official public launch in 2021.
We've seen the power of #SocialDisDancing together this year, and Silverio and Ravi are hoping that Artswrk will fit right into the virtual mix as a space for artists to build each other up. "I've personally felt like there aren't that many South Asians in the arts industry, and I wish that I had been able to go somewhere and meet other brown people, even if they're just actors or singers," Ravi says. "During this pandemic, we're really seeing the power in community and sharing." Case in point: One of the platform's first initiatives ahead of Artswrk's official launch is a holiday market promoting artists' small businesses. "So many artists have started side jobs this year, and we want to help them find consumers who are interested in supporting the arts," Ravi says.
Ultimately, the team's goal is to help advocate for the arts industry as dancers make their return (hopefully soon) to the fast-paced hustle of auditioning and working again. "I want to have an Instagram that's just mine, personally, not a place that I have to show off all of my work all the time," says Silverio (who knows a thing or two about going viral on social media). "We want artists to feel like they aren't fighting to stay relevant, online or off-. We're all equals in this. As the industry starts to grow back, we want Artswrk to grow with it."
Ravi and Silverio's venture is a natural culmination of interests and skills the pair had already been honing throughout their professional dance careers. Both dancers are grateful to have been able to weather the pandemic in NYC, thanks to their nondance jobs, and they want to encourage other dancers to not be afraid to explore their other passions.
"Since there aren't many dance jobs, artists are branching out or pivoting into other fields. But doing those things while you're still a dancer, just to make your life as whole as possible, is also a great idea," says Ravi. Silverio agrees: "I love to bake, I love Excel...we all have those weird things that make us happy, and capitalizing on those things to support yourself doesn't mean you love dance any less. There are so many ways you can drive your joy and passion as an artist."