Spy Hop Cultivates the Next Generation of Artists

Spy Hop is a non-profit organization with the mission of mentoring young people in digital media arts. They empower youth to find their voice, tell their stories, and affect positive change in their lives, communities, and beyond.

Big Cartel CEO and co-founder Matt Wigham is on the board at Spy Hop, so last week some of our crew attended their biggest fundraising event of the year to show our support and document the evening. After the event, we caught up with Kasandra VerBrugghen, Executive Director of Spy Hop, to talk more about their mission and how you can help.

What are some of the benefits of getting involved with art and digital media from an early age?

Knowing how to collaborate with others and to communicate your ideas, opinions, and thoughts through digital media is an extremely helpful tool in the 21st century. Young people who learn how to do this early on in their lives are just that much more prepared for this crazy, 24/7 world we live in. Those skills are completely transferrable to any field they choose to pursue. Being able to think critically about the world we live in and to use our creative skills to solve complex problems is the key to our success.

What classes and events does Spy Hop run? How do you decide on the mix of programs you offer?

We have 25 different intro, intermediate, or advanced classes in film, audio, music, and design that serve about 2,000 young people a year. On top of our classes, we also hold six of our own events each year, showcasing student work, and participate in another 10 events that other organizations put on, such as the Utah Arts Festival. We have been slowly building our programming over the past 16 years. Determining what we do is based on what our teaching artists are passionate about doing. We have filmmakers, musicians, audio engineers, and graphic and game designers on staff. Their passion for their work directly translates to successful programs and events. We wouldn’t be where we are or offering the kinds of programs we do without them.

Can you tell us about your annual fundraiser? How does your team work towards achieving such a big goal?

We’ve been holding an annual benefit for Spy Hop for about 15 years now. The event has morphed over time based on feedback we’ve received from those who have attended as well as our own need to fundraise for more and growth of our programs over the years. Early on that event was actually called Pitchnic and was a way to get our student films funded (students “pitched” their films during dinner). But over time, as our programming increased, we realized the need for other students to pitch their programs too, so we changed. It’s definitely an ever-evolving event that we’re continuously trying to perfect. We spend over six months planning the event and work with a team of staff to do so. Our board also plays a significant role in both sponsorships and getting people to the event. Of the $100,000 we raise each year, board related contributions (such as friends, family, colleagues, and companies) are about $65,000. It really is an all hands on deck event!

Can you share some of the effective ways you’ve generated external support for Spy Hop?

Spy Hop wears many “hats.” We’re an arts education organization, youth development organization, prevention based organization, and a workforce development organization. Because of this, we are able to generate support from many different funders, including government, foundations, corporations and individuals. Our programming is also very innovative and that appeals to a lot of young, creative professionals (like yourself!). We also collaborate and partner with other nonprofit organizations, creating videos, games, audio productions, music, and more for them. This helps to spread the word about Spy Hop. Our network of collaborators is far and wide. And our students’ work reaches audiences locally, nationally, and internationally, which is awesome!

What’s the best way for someone to support Spy Hop?

The best best way is through actual contributions to the organization. We have to raise $1.5M every year to keep our doors open, and that’s no small task. We also greatly appreciate social media love. Sharing, posting, liking to a broad network is invaluable for an organization like ours. And we are always looking for creative industry partners who are willing to hire our students as interns and come talk with our students about their work and their educational and professional journey. Helping our students understand how they can use their love and passion for their art to actually make money is so important to helping us continue building a pipeline to the creative industry here in Utah.

How long have you been involved with Spy Hop? And what’s your favorite part?

I joined Spy Hop in May 2008 as our Managing Director and then became our Executive Director in September 2010 when our founder and ED Rick Wray stepped down. My favorite part about of my job is the fact that I get to hang out with a bunch of creative teenagers and be inspired on a daily basis through their amazing work. I have full faith in the next generation of creative leaders in our community and feel honored that I am contributing to their success.

You can find Spy Hop on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Andy Newman

Community at Big Cartel, editor of Workshop, filmmaker, and dad of three.

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