Elon Biology major creates platform for local musicians to thrive

At West End on Wednesday March 20, people gathered to listen to local musicians strumming along on a dimly lit stage – it was not the typical atmosphere of a night at the bar, but this was the launch event for Elon University senior Alexander Zito-Wolf’s new company, Locallive.

Zito-Wolf, a biology major and business and psychology double minor, started a company similar to a large scale booking agency, but with a public relations and social networking component.

“The project I’m starting is sort of a social networking project with the aim of linking talented local artists with the venues and the fans that are appropriate for them,” Zito-Wolf said.

He first got interested with the concept when he acted as a booking agent for his friend, Jon Harrison.

“Halfway through I got the inspiration, like wow, this is a really cool atmosphere, this is a really cool scene,” Zito-Wolf said. “I wish that there was more of this available at Elon and also in the larger world.”

Zito-Wolf decided he wanted to partner with a local venue for the launch of Locallive, and the first place he thought of was West End Station. Owner of West End, Josh Ezrine, was excited to collaborate because West End is currently going through a lull and they are seeking a way to attract more people to the bar.

“They used to have this big West End Wednesday with an influx of college students and it’s been dying down a little bit,” Zito-Wolf said. “[Ezrine] said, ‘Wow, I would really like to work with you and get something started. If it’s going to bring me business and allow you to launch this project, it seems like a great deal.'”

The main importance of this project, according to Zito-Wolf, is having the ability to match musicians with venues that suit them and to make them accessible to their fan base. He recently went to Fat Frogg, a bar, grill and live music venue in Elon, and saw a band perform there that was completely inappropriate for the crowd that was in attendance.

“It was this hair metal band and we’re sitting around with a bunch of families and everyone’s like, ‘Oh God no, oh God no!’ and that doesn’t need to happen,” Zito-Wolf said. “Those people can be playing for their hair metal fans who are going to have a blast, who are going to really enjoy that and you can have a local acoustic show when there’s a family restaurant that wants that.”

Zito-Wolf believes there is a lot of interest for live performance at Elon but that it’s hard to come across a way to access it.

“I’ve been going to open mics and there’s always a lot of people there, there’s always a lot of interest,” Zito-Wolf said. But, being in a few bands himself while at Elon, he found it hard to find places to play.

“[There is] not a lot of place for hobbiest musicians [at Elon] – musicians who have talent but aren’t music majors or something like that,” Zito-Wolf said. “There’s little access to playing time if you’re not a music major.”

Along with Locallive benefiting the Elon community, it will also kick start what Zito-Wolf hopes to do in the future. A career path he is thinking about is expanding the business. He wants to find someone to take over the Elon branch of Locallive after he moves back to Boston and starts a new branch there.

“I’m trying to establish someone who’s a good all around person and who is really passionate about the mission,” Zito-Wolf said.

Zito-Wolf also thinks he can bring some of his public relations social skills to the science field. He thinks there is a huge unfilled gap to make science more communicable and more transparent.

“Science itself is this really collaborative field led by really anti-social people,” Zito-Wolf said. He believes by helping with communication throughout the science field, improvements can be made in the communication of science globally as well as the collaboration between scientists and science corporations.

Communication is a specialty of Zito-Wolf’s and that’s one of the main forces behind this project.

“The idea of the company is to facilitate fans finding the music that they like and that they want to see wherever they are, and to facilitate musicians finding and connecting up with those venues and those fans,” Zito-Wolf said.

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Painter’s Roost Creates New Community Environment

On the easel at the front of the studio sits a canvas painted with a wispy black tree and a bird guarding its nest. Remarks are made by the six adults taking the class about how they would never be able to recreate that piece as they sit down at the counters, lined with canvases, on top rooster-printed stools.

Anita O’Donnell, owner of The Painter’s Roost located on Huffman Mill Road in Burlington, strives to create an environment where people can escape their daily lives, and their attachment to technology, and do something fun and creative.

O’Donnell, who grew up in Asheboro and currently lives in Julian, had been in the construction business for 21 years and worked as a project manager, but was laid off in March of 2010. For a while, she couldn’t find another job in the field of construction and even drew unemployment for a while until she was told that unless she was losing her house or starving, there really wasn’t much they could do for her.

“My husband said, ‘Why don’t you stay home for a while and you might like it.’ But after a while, he said, ‘You need to get a job, you’re driving me crazy,'” O’Donnell said.

After thinking about opening up a few different franchises that weren’t really what she wanted to do, O’Donnell learned about the concept of paint party studios.

CHECK OUT OTHER PLACES TO PAINT IN NORTH CAROLINA

“My daughter-in-law found out about this concept in Charlotte,” O’Donnell said. “She and I went with some friends and took a class, and I just kind of fell in love with it and eventually, about 2.5 years later, I convinced my husband to back me up on this.”

O’Donnell’s husband, who also owns his own business – a shredding company – thought that it would be good for her to learn how to open up a business on her own. This led O’Donnell to scour the Internet for information on getting a license, dealing with sales tax, getting a permit and creating her own domain name.

“With me being in construction, I think I got a little too involved with the renovation part,” O’Donnell said.

Being a former project manager in construction, it really helped O’Donnell with the development of the business. She helped with the designs and even did some of the renovation work herself, such as the paint-splattered floor.

Patrice Baldwin, an artist at the studio, heard about a job opening at The Painter’s Roost from a friend after also becoming recently unemployed.

“[My friend] said give Anita a call and I did, so it’s been great,” Baldwin said.

If not for the opening of this small business, O’Donnell and Baldwin both might still be out of work, along with the other approximately 10 percent of North Carolina residents, as of Dec. 2012.

According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, “approximately 543,000 new businesses were created each month in 2011,” which is down from 2010, but still higher than in recent years.

Unemployment Rates by Percent

Information retrieved from Google Public Data

According to the Wall Street Journal, the survival rate of new businesses has dropped. New businesses are more likely to survive past two years, but not past five. Despite these statistics, The Painter’s Roost, so far, has been a success in O’Donnell’s eyes.

After opening a little over a month ago, there has been a significant amount of interest, with the studio having already booked a good amount of private parties, mostly thanks to the giant farm animal O’Donnell has chosen to use to represent her shop.

“I have had just so many people drop by,” O’Donnell said. “You know I have a huge rooster on a sign out there and people are just wondering what that is and I think I just had to have a little bit of the country girl in me come out. I love roosters and I have roosters in my kitchen at home.”

She said it took her so long to come up with a name that she thought her business would be open before she knew what she was going to call it.

When you take a class at The Painter’s Roost, an artist, such as Baldwin, teaches you how to go about painting the piece chosen by the group. There is another artist, or O’Donnell herself, assisting students in the room if there are questions. Everybody paints the same piece, but it doesn’t always look alike.

“They’ve put their own spin on it and [show] their personalities and it’s great,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said painting is a time where people can escape technology by not looking at their phone and getting away from the computer.

“People come in and their days are hectic from work or kids or whatever and you can just slowly see them start to relax, and laugh and have fun,” O’Donnell, said.

Even if customers don’t know how to paint, O’Donnell and Baldwin both said that participants leave wanting to come back.

“People say that they don’t know how to paint when they come in but when they leave, everybody has really liked what they’ve done,” Baldwin said.

One time, a man attended a lesson at The Painter’s Roost with his wife. O’Donnell said, at first, he didn’t look too thrilled to be at the class, but by the end, he was asking what they were going to paint next week.

This relaxed environment is quite the change of pace for O’Donnell.

“In construction, the only calls I ever got were [about] problems. I was the problem solver. I gotta stay on schedule. I gotta stay on my budget,” O’Donnell said. “There’s none of that here.”

Baldwin has owned many other businesses, but she has always enjoyed painting.

“When you enjoy what you’re doing, then it’s a lot of fun,” Baldwin said.

Owning The Painter’s Roost isn’t exactly the astronaut job O’Donnell dreamed of having as a child, but it’s something she loves and that her customers love, and she finds enjoyment in that.

Bryan Alexander Provides Insight on Digital Humanities and New Ways to Learn

Confusion spread across the sea of students, faculty and community members of the audience Wednesday, March 6, when Dr. Bryan Alexander pulled out his phone and said, “Make an expression that you think describes digital humanities.” That photo instantly went on Instagram.

Alexandar, senior at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE.org), spoke about Digital Humanities and the different tools that people could use when learning about the subject. Some tools he talked about included zotero.org, comment press and ngrams. Alexandar spoke of how technology was always changing while adding new on top of the old. Questions arose about the differences between the digital and the physical worlds. One instance was whether physical books and newspapers would cease to exist because eBooks and online news are cheaper to access. The question of online classrooms also occurred from the same context – if it’s more readily available and cheaper, will the physical campus be lost? To both of these questions, Alexander said not to worry because these are only dying down, not dying off.

Favorite quote of the night:

Digital Humanities might make the humanities come back to life and become more vibrant.

To find out more, here is a link to my Storify of the event.