Bringing Data to Creatives: Fort Wayne-born Jasmine Russell and Monicat Data

Bringing Data to Creatives: Fort Wayne-born Jasmine Russell and Monicat Data

Written by Kara Hackett, Input Fort Wayne

In the last decade, Minnesota has become the top state in the nation for per capita public funding for the arts.

This is largely thanks to the state’s Legacy Amendment, which has provided $200 million to artists and arts organizations since 2009, fueling an explosive creative economy with innovative projects and active community theatres.

 For the past four years, Jasmine Russell, 31, has enjoyed this atmosphere firsthand.

A former Fort Wayne resident and Northrop High School graduate, Russell moved to Minneapolis in 2014 to pursue opportunities in the evolving field of digital analytics.

While there, she started working with creative individuals and community leaders as a curator for TEDxMinneapolis, and she discovered something missing in the state’s creative growth.

Although organizations and individuals had the funding to pursue projects, they didn’t have the strategic data and technology acumen to learn what was working and how to maximize their results.

So Russell and her business partners combined their interests in the arts and technology to launch a new venture called Monicat Data, “The Business Behind Creativity.”

Today, their work involves helping creative businesses—both individuals and organizations—with three core services: Strategy, Data Management & Research, and Technology Design & Tool Development.

Russell and Monicat Data are considering Fort Wayne as a potential market for expansion beyond Minnesota.

Question: Tell us about your background. What was it like growing up in Fort Wayne?

Jasmine Russell (JR):  I was born in Westchester, Pennsylvania, and my family moved to Fort Wayne when I was about three, so I pretty much grew up in Fort Wayne. Most of my family is still there.  It was a fun time, growing up.

I went to Northrop High School, Shawnee Middle School, and Memorial Park Elementary.

My grandma, Thelma Russell, owned the Gingerbread House in Fort Wayne, where she ran the pre-school for many years, so my family is connected to the community.

I grew up simultaneously being involved in the arts and sports. I did visual arts, [played] the clarinet, and sang with the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir.

I also danced at a studio that is still run by my cousins, SheeKriStyle Dance Academy of Dance, and I did track and field in high school, which was very competitive.

Question: After college, you became a young part-time MBA, working two jobs in Indianapolis while pursuing your masters at IUPUI, Kelley School of Business. How did that lead you to starting your own company?

JR: I’ve always wanted to master one thing at a time, so throughout grad school, I stuck with my data focus.

Then, in my spare time in Indianapolis, I attended networking events where I talked with local leaders and technologists about data being used in alternative models and industries.

These events and conversations provided me with a grounded perspective of where I wanted to go after grad school.

Once I came to Minnesota, similar conversations with creatives here continued to shape my view of the need for strategy, data, and technology support in the creative economy.

My fellow co-founders, Kurt, Cassie, and I all shared that desire to focus on an industry we care deeply about.

Kurt has a background in dance and education. (He danced professionally for six years.)

Cassie has a background in computer science and vocal performance. (She is an opera performer in her spare time.)

Together, we realized that although creative businesses bring great joy and inspiration to communities, they’re often some of the most overlooked businesses, as far as processes and operational support goes. So we created Monicat to fill that gap.

Question: How does Monicat help creative businesses achieve stability? 

JR: We’re helping creative businesses of all sizes enhance their daily tasks and operations with data management and technology solutions.

As a creative, there’s often a process of being inspired and working out of creative inspiration. Or even as a nonprofit that supports creative businesses, you might find yourself selecting projects to fund based on the notoriety of a particular artist rather than a sound interest from the community.

But with data, you can analyze the sales and realize how you can reach audiences better or build out your management systems to create new revenue streams for your work.

Question: Can you give us a few examples of finished projects?

JR: We’ve worked with entertainment labels, like Rhymesayers Entertainment, and groups like the Local Initiative Support Corporation with creative place-making reporting. We’ve also worked with organizations like Forecast Public Art in developing a Learning Management System, to expand their consultancy to more small- to mid-size cities.  And Theater Mu with helping them develop their backend customer relationship management (CRM) system, to foster better communication within their team.

Question: What makes you interested in Fort Wayne?

JR: There’s so much potential for creative economies to grow. I came back to attend Design Week Fort Wayne this year, and it was such an incredible platform for the creative economy.

It’s exciting to see the momentum that’s being built with groups like Wunderkammer Company and the public art around downtown. There’s so much opportunity for the community to support these groups and push them forward.

Article was re-published with permission from digital magazine Input Fort Wayne:

Jasmine Russell (center)

Jasmine Russell (center)