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Artist As Businessman

Founder Of Animation School A Cartoonist Who Adroitly Manages His Time

January 24, 2007
By JANICE PODSADA, Courant Staff Writer

For Joe Young, a nationally recognized cartoonist and founder of the Hartford Animation Institute, business comes first.

He may don an artist's beret on cold days and wield a mean felt-tip marker when he's teaching children to draw, but the daily planning and production schedules he creates shout businessman, time manager and stickler for detail, said Geannetta Bennett, the institute's planning coordinator.

"When Joe puts a production schedule together, it is to the letter," Bennett said.

Hey, wait a minute? Aren't artists supposed to be unfettered spirits, exempt from timetables, free to muse?

Sure, if you like starving, Young said.

"Being an artist is 70 percent hustle and 30 percent craft. The ones who make it have a business mind," said Young, creator of the "Scruples" comic strip.

"Scruples" was distributed to weekly newspapers through the Religious News Service in the early 1990s. Now its multicultural characters star in many of Young's animated videos.

Young, 43, is executive director of the Hartford Animation Institute, a 3-year-old nonprofit organization that teaches the art and business of digital animation to children and adults. Last year, it served more than 100 children, many of whom are disadvantaged, said Robbin Latimer, who coordinates the program at the Community Renewal Team's Youth Arts & Technology Center in Hartford. The institute holds classes at three Hartford locations, offering day and evening classes in drawing and cartooning, computer animation, audio and music production, and script-writing and creating storyboards.

In 2004, Young founded the animation institute with $100,000 in grant money and in-kind donations from sources that including Catholic Family Charities, Connecticut Light & Power Co. and Capital Community College, which donated computers, Bennett said.

Three years later, the institute, whose operating budget is about $100,000 a year, is nearly self-sufficient, Young said.

"Most of our money comes from the services we provide. Ninety-five percent comes from fee-for-service; the other 5 percent is from grants," he said.

The institute employs a part-time staff of eight. Volunteers from colleges and high schools assist them.

In December, the institute completed a yearlong project - the creation of three 90-second videos featuring the "Scruples" characters. The office of state Treasurer Denise Nappier helped develop the animated series, "Big Time Saver," aimed at teaching children the importance of money management. Funding for the $40,000 project was provided by Bank of America and local businesses. The videos appeared locally on WTIC-TV, Channel 61, during morning programming for children and nationally on the Black Family Channel. More than 25 students worked on the project to create the animation and voice-overs.

Through the years, students have helped design everything from anti-drug use materials for The Institute of Community Research, a Hartford nonprofit group, to brochures for the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association.

Young, who also works as the community arts coordinator for the Community Renewal Team, puts in about 20 hours a week at his animation institute, earning about $10,000 annually, he said.

Classes are free to qualified students.

"We look at the needs of the child, the family situation, whether or not they have support," Bennett said. Classes for adults are available on a sliding fee scale, based on income.

For the past five years, Bennett has watched Young at work - and by work she means the effort he puts into cutting a deal, cobbling together the grant money for a project or negotiating a price.

"He likes negotiating," Bennett said. "I can see him getting into the flow of a meeting. It's almost like a dance. It becomes an art form - the art of the deal."

His reading list reflects that bent; it includes "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," by businessman Stephen Covey; "Succeeding Against the Odds," by John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazine; and "The Art of the Deal," by Donald Trump.

"He can quote passages from Trump's and Johnson's books," Bennett said.

Young has been putting himself on a schedule since he was a young artist.

"Before computers, I used a legal pad and a ruler to draw up my schedules. I'm an artist first, but I want to eat at the same time," he said, laughing.

The key to success?

"You find out what your boss needs, and you give them that. I know so many talented artists whose egos get in the way. They would rather work at a fast-food restaurant and hate what they're doing than give someone what they want. You can put your style, your flair, into your art when you get to be successful."

And until you reach that level, keep your day job, he said. "Get up early and work late."

Young said he recently told a talented young animator that he needed to get a part-time job.

"He told me that would interfere with his other projects during the week."

Quick on the draw, Young snapped back.

"I said, `How are you going pay for the postage for the publisher to look at your work?'"

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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