Meerkat Media: Promoting Artists of All Stripes

If the word Meerkat suggests to you a savvy cartoon rodent speaking in the voice of Nathan Lane… think again. Jay Sterrenberg, co-founder of the arts collective Meerkat Media, explains how we can all take example from the striped mammal known for its communal habits. Following suit, Sterrenberg and the members of his collective attempt to make skill-sharing, role-swapping and shared creative authorship central to their creative endeavors. All while still making time for their day jobs. We caught up with Jay to discuss how Meerkat Media keeps things ticking.
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omprised of filmmakers, musicians, illustrators, and writers, The Meerkat Media Arts Collective thrives on the belief that working with a team one can admire and trust is the backbone of getting ideas off the ground. While some of their video projects are completed during a 48-hour creative blitz and others develop slowly during once-a-week meetings over the course of a year, all share the common thread of collaboration.

Sterrenberg says, “When we all come into the project together from the start and share a collective vision and shared sense of ownership of the work, we tend to hold each other accountable and keep each other motivated throughout the process.” Adding that, “Very little gets done without deadlines,” Sterrenberg explains that if the project is not for a competition with strict deadlines, Meerkats self-impose their deadlines. It is this discipline that helped launch their success.

The collective was born one day when a few friends got together to discuss their disappointment with their creativity and their activist efforts since graduating. While still in school, they had worked on various video projects together. “We realized we had stopped being creative,” Sterrenberg says. “We were all just working to make ends meet, but we still had the same creativity as we had in college. Before we could make a difference in the way we wanted to, we needed to become comfortable making things in New York.”

And with that caveat in mind, the original group entered into a two-week film competition, and to their surprise, they placed. This initial success led to their next assignment which was to create a new film every week.

We realized we had stopped being creative. We were all just working to make ends meet, but we still had the same creativity as we had in college.

In the three years since their founding, Meerkat Media has produced over twenty award-winning short films, finished a feature length documentary, and launched an ongoing series of workshops and parties for their growing creative community. And this is when they’re not working as educators, bloggers, activists, youth empowerment organizers, and cinematographers. Sterrenberg himself is working as an editor on a feature length documentary for broadcast. He says he keeps things moving on his Meerkat projects by waking up early in the morning to answer emails, keep up with contacts, and put an hour or two into his current projects. “When I don’t have the luxury of working on something full-time, doing a little bit every day keeps the project moving, and keeps me feeling motivated,” he says.

And how does the collective stay motivated as, well, a collective? Sterrenberg outlines their effective 3-meeting system that keeps Meerkats in the loop and on top of their projects:

  1. During the monthly Nuts & Bolts meeting, “a smaller group of Meerkats who love doing what others think is boring” check in to discuss the collective’s administrative tasks.
  2. The monthly Sandbox is like calisthenics for artists. During these meetings, Meerkats share skills and practice their craft through games, super-short filmmaking, critique of works-in-progress, and planting seeds for new projects.
  3. Monthly Media Mixers are a Meerkat’s time to let loose, brainstorm, meet new artists, and view screenings of Meerkat work.  During the mixers, a networking “shareboard” is posted to allow people to showcase their resources and skills in the hopes of further collaboration.

Sterrenberg ended our chat with a piece of advice for other artists: “Do the work that you want to do, even if you’re not getting paid for it yet, because people will see the work that you’re doing and recognize you for it.”

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