First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Evan La Ruffa: Luckily, we are doing OK. We, unfortunately, have lost a few friends and extended family members to the virus, which in addition to the state of the economy, has been hard. That said, I do feel extremely lucky overall. My parents, wife, and children are all healthy and well at the moment! Thanks for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded IPaintMyMind.
Evan La Ruffa: I’m a global citizen from Chicago with parents who were born on opposite sides of the globe. I love cities, art, culture, and people. I founded IPaintMyMind in 2012 after starting it as a blog that featured all sorts of emerging multidisciplinary art. That melded with my background in nonprofit strategy and development, as well as my thirst for learning, entrepreneurship, and connecting people through cool new solutions. IPaintMyMind became a 501c3 nonprofit organization in 2012, and ever since, we’ve been dedicated to supporting artists, engaging businesses, giving back to local communities, and rallying our supporters to do it all over again.
How does IPaintMyMind innovate?
Evan La Ruffa: Our model at IPaintMyMind is super unique. We use revenue from our creative services like Art Rentals, Art Consulting, and Mural Commission services to fund the FREE and low-cost art programs we provide to local public schools, youth centers, and libraries. It’s all about mission sustainability, about building value into our model, and about solving real problems of access, creativity, and inclusion, all while turning people on to art that gets them excited about what they might contribute to the world. We also recently released an entire art curriculum that is available to teachers and parents nationwide via IPaintMyMind.org – we’re super excited about it.
But the heart of our model is all about innovation and freeing up the space to think ahead and design new solutions collaboratively with the communities we serve.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Evan La Ruffa: The pandemic certainly made us think critically about our art rental services. When everything hit the fan in March, we decided not to freak out and move too quickly, especially since most of our art rental subscription clients weren’t up for renewals until this fall. That allowed us to really focus on what we could control by investing in the creation of The IPaintMyMind Arts Education Curriculum & Resource Guide, which is the plug n play visual arts curriculum I mentioned above. It’s available for $197 on our website or via Amazon on Kindle!
We’ve also really focused on streamlining operations, examining costs, and reducing recurring costs when possible. Luckily, we were also able to pivot our Art Rental services to allow our clients to have their employees take a piece of art home as long as they are working remotely during the pandemic! Cool, right?! Anyway, we’ve been excited about the opportunities to evolve.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Evan La Ruffa: We did. We had to reduce pay temporarily for our contractors as well as myself, but we’ve since been able to reinstate and even increase pay for our core team members. The main lesson I’ve learned is not to move too quickly, basically freaking out, overreacting, and overbuilding to avoid whatever disaster you think you’re avoiding. We’ve been bolstered by slowing down, listening, and really being more focused on the super-efficient tweak as opposed to the full-on pivot. I think there is a sweet spot there. It’s like jerking the wheel when you have to act quickly when driving a car to avoid an accident – doing so can turn out even worse than if you hadn’t overcorrected so drastically. I think there’s a lesson there regardless of what era of history we are living in.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and IPaintMyMind in the future?
Evan La Ruffa: This is such a great question. And thanks for asking it. I’m glad we aren’t pretending like life is normal! Because it isn’t! I have never really thought of myself as an anxious person until a few years ago when I convinced myself I was ill. No real reason, just the culmination of anxiety all balled up and compounded. Over the last few years, I have connected de-stressing with long-distance running, so that really helps me reset, get outside my head, and just run.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Evan La Ruffa: The thing about IPaintMyMind is that a typical competitive analysis would be difficult. We connect people through art programs, which is separate from what we do and specific to that service, product, or initiative. It’s actually that creative versatility that we have as an organization that keeps me super interested in the work to this day. Inflection points like Covid-19 are really just a chance for IPMM to think collectively, “how can we meet this mission of inspiring people through creative connection in a new, efficient, and evolutionary way?” That’s the kind of stuff I pop right out of bed for.
Your final thoughts?
Evan La Ruffa: It’s been an intense year, and we owe ourselves and each other a ton of compassion. To be right, to be wrong, to not know, to be confused, to be uncertain. It’s all there, and that’s why it’s such a raw time for so many of us. That said, I am lucky and grateful to be focused on optimism, and the opportunity to create badass new solutions for all the issues that have been exacerbated by everything 2020 has thrown at us. I feel hopeful. I hope we all can begin tapping into more of that soon.
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