Editor’s note: KCultivators is a new, lighthearted profile series we’re kicking off to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Check out our features on SEED Law’s Adrienne Haynes, Code Koalas’ Robert Manigold, Prep-KC CEO Susan Wally and community builder Donald Carter.
You’re most likely familiar with Erin McGrane when a ukulele accompanies her crystal clear voice with the Kansas City band “Victor & Penny.”
But when she’s not planning tours or writing lyrics for the Prohibition-era jazz duo, McGrane is busy helping Kansas City artists create a sustainable career for themselves. McGrane, along with her partner and husband Jeff Freling, work to build not only a community of area artists but also to help equip them with tools to grow as entrepreneurs.
Raised in a Northern Iowa town of 9,000 people, McGrane cultivated an early love and talent for music as an actress and poet. That passion culminated in the early 2000s when she decided to pursue her artistic crafts full time.
A University of Missouri-Kansas City grad, she now tours the U.S. as part of Victor & Penny, having performed more than 1,000 concerts in 39 states. Startland sat down with McGrane to learn more about her motivations as an artist and community builder.
Occupation: Co-founder of V&P Productions LLC; Presenter and peer facilitator for Artist INC
Twitter handle: @VictorAndPenny
Hometown: Spencer, Iowa
Favorite drink: Besides a breve latte, an old-fashioned.
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: We travel all the time, so I wish there was a company that vetted and insured people to come and water my plants, get my mail and takes care of my house while I’m out of town for the week. … And it could be a different person each time because the company is securing them for me and I don’t have to employ all the time. … It’s like a for-hire personal assistant.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Maya Angelou. I read her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a kid and it moved me. It was my first real glimpse into empathy and seeing another person’s story that was so different from my own. It moved me in a way that changed me and I began to understand the power of story. She’s inspirational.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Fried crickets.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: My own cat.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: “Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: We need to build more audiences for artists in Kansas City. Many artists are moving here and staying here because of the opportunity to make art, but it’s still not a great place to make a living by making art. … I’d like to see initiatives to help build bigger audiences and more people interested in going to see art.
Favorite food joint in KC: Westside Local.
An influential book in your life: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse .
What keeps you in Kansas City: A couple reasons. From a business point of view, it’s centrally located. Travel is an intrinsic part of our business so being in the middle works great. … Also the cost of living and a rich, vibrant arts community and my peer network. But beyond all that, I just love this city. It’s a beautiful, green city.
New technology that you’re most excited about: Jack Conte from the band Pomplamoose launched Patreon in 2013. They call it Kickstarter 2.0. … It’s a more of a patron-based system like we used 100 years ago. The idea is to help creators make a sustainable career. So instead of supporting just one project, patrons can support your career.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: I think I’d spend more time encouraging other artists. We’d like to buy a space — a building in Kansas City — that does more of what we’re doing with Artist Inc.: Mentoring, encouraging and sharing knowledge among our peer network. We want to create a hub for new work, a safe place for people to try out new work and to build a bigger audience for artists in the city.
What pisses you off: There’s a prejudice that sometimes happens with artists that art is just all fun. By the very nature of what we do — especially with music — it’s fun. People come to have a good time and I do too. I love my job, but it’s also very difficult. Sometimes with people that work 9 to 5 like I used to don’t understand how hard it actually is, so there’s very little sympathy. … It can be discouraging and that’s why it’s that artists have these conversations and these peer networks.
Favorite KC organization or brand: MOCSA, the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault. I love the work they’re doing.
What you hope you’re remembered for: For making a positive impact in my community, encouraging and motivating other artists, and a body of good, respectable work.
Biggest failure: Self-doubt. We talk a lot about the fraud police and feeling like someone is going to come along and take away your art card. It’s the idea that you’re just not good enough to do it. That idea has stopped me many times and it’s something I continue to work on.
An inspiration in your life: My mom, Nancy. She passed away when I was younger. She overcame a lot of adversity in her life — physically and in other ways. Her grace and determination to make like better for herself and her kids has always been my inspiration and motivation. She suffered from a long-term illness and held herself with such grace. She told me that life’s short and live it now.
You can’t invest or save it — how would you spend $1 million: Buy a downtown building and build an arts hub in Kansas City. Then, I’d travel the world.
Man crush: Seth Godin, for some reason it seems like he’s been sending me personal blog posts. … We’re really in sync lately but he doesn’t know me of course.
Girl crush: Meryl Streep, she carries herself with such elegance.
Recent weird dream: Recently I’ve been having an action-adventure dream where I have a superpower and can leap from building to building and they crumble beneath me — like I’m one step ahead of them.
Favorite travel locale: Paris, France.
Your mantra or motto: Life is short, live it now. Those are the words my mother spoke before she passed.
Hidden talent or ability: Spreadsheets. It’s a joke but sometimes when we travel with the band, if I’m getting anxious or cranky in the car with five people, sometimes they’ll joke and say, “Erin, go work on your spreadsheet for a while.” It calms me down.
You’re awake at 2:00 am, what’re you doing: Working on ways to stabilize my business, thinking about ways to expand our business and spend more wisely.