About Andrew Clarke
Andrew Clarke is the Founder & Executive Director of Braata Productions, a non-profit arts company founded in 2009 and based in New York City. Braata (Pronounced “Bra-ta”) is a Jamaican colloquial term meaning ‘extra’ or ‘more’.
Through the visual and performing arts, Braata promotes Caribbean culture by preserving and showcasing its history, lifestyles, traditions and customs. Braata’s awards include:
- Two silver medals and one bronze medalIn from the 2012 World Choir Games in Cincinnati Ohio.
- The production “Not About Eve” was an official selection of the world-famous National Black Theater Festival, held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2013.
Andrew who is also stage actor and vocalist, represented Jamaica as a vocalist at the 2008 World Championships for the Performing Arts in Hollywood, California where he was crowned Grand Champion Performer of the World. In 2008, Andrew received the Jamaica Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture. Recently, Andrew was selected as a participant in the New York Foundation of the Arts (NYFA) Emerging Leaders Boot Camp.
Tell us more about what you do
As the Executive Director, I am responsible for overseeing the day-to-day administrative operations of the organization. I am involved in every aspect of Braata’s activities, including writing and securing of grants, choice of performance material for Braata Folk Singers, Braata Education & Outreach and Braata Theater Workshop.
Who or what has inspired you the most to choose this career or start this business?
I was inspired because of the lack of opportunities for Caribbean performers to showcase their talent in an authentic fashion. There is work on Broadway for Americans, mostly white performers but the roles for black Americans are few and far between. As a Caribbean performer the challenge is compounded if you have a Caribbean accent. There are very few roles and on a rare occasion [when there are] roles [that] need a Caribbean accent, we find that Broadway and Hollywood will sooner have a celebrity learn the accent than to hire an authentic talent. So I figured we have to create work to showcase the work we do on the highest level. And we have to do away with keeping our art and talent hidden away in the Boroughs [of New York City] assuming that only our people will appreciate and understand it.
What’s the best part about your career or business? What’s been the most challenging part?
The best part would have to be the comments we get from audience members many of whom could be my parents or grandparents. They say thank you for keeping the culture alive, for reminding them of their childhood days, for bringing them back to a time they had long forgotten or experienced. That is most gratifying because it says we are doing good work. These folks are not paid to give us good reviews or do it out of obligation, but it comes from the heart, from a place of pure unbridled gratitude for having had a great experience. As a performing artiste it is one of the most rewarding things, that we are making an impact on people.
The most challenging would be battling the fact that you are seen as young and not taken seriously because you aren’t in a certain ‘league’. There is also some resistance from established persons who you look to for help or advice and they choose not to be of any assistance.
What tips do you have for anyone who is trying find their passion or purpose and turn that into a business or career?
Look within yourself to find that passion or purpose you seek. When it comes from within most times that is where you want to go or need to be. If your heart is telling you something trust that and go with it, even when you aren’t sure where the path may lead. Some may say make a plan and yes that is good. But sometimes there is no path where you want to go and you have to create that path. Don’t be afraid to blaze a trail, set a trend and do things differently. Go with your gut usually that is what you are meant to do and will give you true happiness. Even if it is not the most financially rewarding, make it your career because happiness can come in many forms. There are some in the most ‘successful’ well paying jobs who go home at night unfulfilled and unhappy.
Starting a business is one of the most challenging but rewarding adventures you can ever embark on. Be ready for bumps in the road but also for those times when everything comes together and you reflect in awe that this is ‘your baby.’ Starting your own business means being in control of your own destiny and that can be such a great feeling.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to work & life?
That would be the learning curves. Sometimes these curves knock the wind out of you, knock you right off your feet, even on your face; but draw strength from these experiences. Challenges can either break or build you. If you don’t have challenges the reward at the end may not be as lasting. “Easy come, easy go.” So embrace that and use it as a stepping stone to grow and continue to learn. In life you are always learning no matter what the experience or how old you are. If you are not learning you are stagnant, making no progress and that’s no way to live.
What tips, tricks or rules do you have that help you to carve out time for family life and personal time?
Oh I am still working on that one. Work life balance especially for a young entrepreneur can be hard because you have to work three times as hard as the big man to make your mark. I have found that my time for family and true personal time where there is no work tends to be limited but that is changing.
What is one technology tool or app you can’t do without?
Facebook. It is such a connector. It is both a social tool for me to keep in touch, share ideas and yes learn. There are so many things that have been shared on Facebook that were enlightening, encouraging and I may not have seen them had I not been on there. But the greatest use for Facebook for me has to be promotion. For a business person it is free press, [and] depending on your friend’s list hundreds even thousands of potential supporters. Once you get a hang of marketing and PR with Facebook it can be a great resource.
How do you manage technology distractions? Do you ever fully unplug from technology or are you always connected?
I don’t manage them well I must admit. I am always connected. It’s even worse now that you can get emails on your phone. I hardly use my laptop anymore. Everything now is at the tip of your fingers and that is both a blessing and a curse. You are constantly connected to your devices but quite often disconnected from people.
When it’s time to unwind, what is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
Listen to music & watch TV. Music is soothing and uplifting thing. No matter how you are feeling, you can find an artist or song to fit that mood. As a singer myself I find that music offers for me an escape if only temporarily from the stresses of the day and the ‘troubles of the world.’ Listening to the right song at the end of a long day can make everything alright. But when I turn my television on that is the truest of escapes. My work in the arts is meant to be moving, inspiring and thought-provoking but whether it is watching Family Guy or CSI, I don’t mind not having to think about reality and just be taken into the world of these shows that I enjoy.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
Ghana. I went there for a month with school, not exactly on a vacation but it felt like one. We did all the tourist sites and traveled across the country. As a man working in culture, it was good to step foot on the motherland. Ghana reminded me a lot of Jamaica especially back when I was a child. When I told them I am a Jamaican, it was like I became royalty. There were Jamaican and Rastafarian flags everywhere even on buses and taxis right along the Ghanaian national flag. If every Jamaican got a chance to go ‘back to Africa’ I would easily recommend Ghana. We spend our holidays often in America, quick to rush off to the land up north but I think we could save some of those trips and take a trip to the other side of the world and take a peek into a place we have much more of a connection to than America.
How do you define success?
Such a tricky question. (Haha) Success could easily mean money and tons of it, doing what you love of course but beyond that, success is happiness in what I do. The arts may not be the most rewarding profession especially when you don’t have a celebrity status; but I have been in corporate jobs making good money and having all the ‘fixings’ that spell success and I was not fulfilled. I gave that up to pursue what I love even though I wasn’t making as much money, I was happy [because] that was success for me. For performing artistes, success could be seeing your name in bright lights and being recognized everywhere you go. I won’t lie, yes, that is success too but success can simply be, being able to do what you love, being happy doing it and of course making some money while you’re at it.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about success and failure?
I’m still learning, but every failure shouldn’t be taken to heart and neither should success. The phrase, ‘the same people you meet going up are the same ones you meet coming down’ comes to mind. It reminds me to stay humble in success because that may not last forever and be hungry even in failure because these are learning opportunities. So often we are beaten down by the idea of failing at something that we miss the chance to learn from it. Failure is just a stumbling block and the attentive student builds with them instead of allowing them to stand in their way.
Share one of your personal habits that contributes to your success?
Persistence & Humility. I don’t take no for an answer and I don’t pay much attention to the ‘you can’t do it.’ I learn this word from my minster in church growing up and as a child it was just a funny word but as an adult I discovered that it is this very thing that can spell success or failure. “Stick-to-it-iveness” which means I stick to whatever I set my mind to. My company has had moments of real challenges but I remembered “Stick-to-it-iveness” I keep that in the forefront of my mind and stay the course because persistence pays off in the long run. I am living proof of that. Sure I have a long way to go but when I look back at 5 years ago I have come a long way as well. If I listened to the naysayers, got defeated by the stumbles or got too high off my own ego I wouldn’t be where I am today. Sure there is cause for celebration in times of success but I am constantly reminding myself not to let small victories get to my head and cloud the view ahead.
Andrew will be a guest on The Carry On Friends Podcast. Do you have a question for Andrew that you’d like me to ask during the podcast? You can send your questions by:
1. Leaving a comment below;
Submit your questions by February 7th.
UPDATE: The podcast has already been recorded. Click to listen to episode #4 with Andrew as guest.