Provide options (when it’s important). Decision fatigue is real. We wanted to limit the number of options people had to choose between by doing the thinking for them by selecting inspiring artwork by artists with interesting stories. We found that’s a lot of trust for subscribers to put in us, so we decided to incorporate a classic piece of art so that they learn art history, but also doubles the likelihood that they really like one of the art pieces.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able to Pivot to A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Bauer.
An accomplished media professional and longtime denizen of desks, Mark Bauer conceptualized Monesk when he realized he wanted meaningful distraction from the daily monotony of his 9–5 job. A monthly subscription service featuring new art delivered to his workplace that he could display at his desk was born out of that. Bauer has more than 10 years editing and production experience and is an advocate for fair compensation in the arts.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a large family with a mom who stayed home and a dad who worked two jobs to make ends meet. Because money was always tight, they were do-it-yourselfers when it came to taking care of things around the house. I also grew up pre-internet, and when we asked my dad a question he encouraged us to find answers in the Encyclopedia. So we grew up knowing that with the right information, we were capable of a lot.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” — Walt Whitman. So often we either limit ourselves or allow the world to box us into a singular identity. But nobody is just one thing. And when we are allowed to explore all facets of ourselves, we become more content and less resentful.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Power of Intention, by Wayne Dyer. What I realized after reading The Power of Intention is that when we grow older, our creativity is stymied from fear. Recognizing that allowed me to re-learn how to explore without cynicism, with a beginner’s mindset. It also removes the fear of failure, because success isn’t defined by achievement. There’s always something to learn even in just the doing.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I’ve worked in journalism since I graduated college, where I earned my Bachelor of Arts in journalism. I enjoyed journalism because I was paid to be curious, to ask questions, to seek different perspectives. In the meantime, I practiced starting new things that involved content production, like a podcast or producing videos. I’ve had the itch for a few years to quit my job and jump full-bore into starting something. Now at age 35, that freedom just happened to occur the same year as a once-a-century global pandemic.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Our go-to-market strategy was set to take off in March, just as shutdowns were occurring. We didn’t feel right launching at that time, but we realized that once people were beginning to adjust to social distancing, there was actually more of a need for what Monesk was offering. Specifically, we focused on the importance of looking away from our screens where so much of our attention is spent. Having something tangible to hold and look at is important for resting our eyes and our minds.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Our lives can be so monotonous, especially those with 9–5 jobs spent primarily at desks. I think art is important for helping us better understand the world and see it in new ways, but art can also be scary and intimidating to the uninitiated. So I thought it would be neat to marry those two — use art as a vehicle to break up the monotony of our work days by having something to look forward to in the mail each month. Within that, we would also help guide subscribers through their appreciation of the art from the comfort and security of their workspaces.
How are things going with this new initiative?
It’s been incredibly well-received. Art lovers enjoy discovering what art our curator has selected for the month, and they look forward to having a new piece of art to display on their desks. It also feels good being able to support artists during tough economic times.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mom. None of my endeavors would be possible without her support and her modeling self-sufficiency growing up. Whether it was cutting mine and my siblings’ hair, or diagnosing car trouble, she made us believe that we were capable of figuring out how to do just about anything.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Really, the most interesting thing that’s happened is how the people and pieces have fallen in place to get this off the ground. Part of intentionality is putting things in motion, and part of it is being honest, vulnerable and open to what comes across your path. I didn’t feel comfortable without moving forward with at least one key partner — someone who is well-versed in visual arts. I put out a call for help to my network and got a husband-and-wife team who fell in love with the vision and have made the whole product even better than I imagined it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Provide options (when it’s important). Decision fatigue is real. We wanted to limit the number of options people had to choose between by doing the thinking for them by selecting inspiring artwork by artists with interesting stories. We found that’s a lot of trust for subscribers to put in us, so we decided to incorporate a classic piece of art so that they learn art history, but also doubles the likelihood that they really like one of the art pieces.
2) Digital marketing is fine, but word of mouth is even better. Art is subjective, so it’s hard to sell simply through digital. Everything from the high-quality prints of art we send to opening the envelope is something that needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. People like the idea of Monesk, but they really rave about it once it’s in their hands.
3) The pandemic might have changed some habits, but it didn’t stop consumerism. When it felt like the world was grinding to a halt in March, people would be adopting new habits, opens the door to providing solutions for helping people navigate this new normal. Places like theaters, museums and galleries are still feeling the brunt of this new normal, but people still desire that outlet for experiencing visual arts.
4) Don’t be afraid to lean on your team. I’m always cognizant of the workload I’m asking from people. I’m actually probably too careful. But people who have co-signed onto a vision did so for a reason, and if they are capable, don’t be afraid to let them run with ideas by giving them complete ownership of a certain area.
5) Remember to have fun! Creation is scary because you’re opening yourself to rejection. That fear can lead to paralysis and steal joy. It’s important to remember to take deep breaths and reflect on the present. Monesk might very well be successful for a long time, or it might not, but if you can experience joy in the day-to-day, that alone is a win.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
When I feel anxious, I try to reconnect with my core values. One of my core values is to leave the world better than I found it. On a macro scale, that means volunteering, being charitable, working out, being a good neighbor and friend. On a micro scale, that looks like making my bed. Each day is an opportunity to make a difference. That thought alone can induce paralysis, but it’s actually freeing. It means I take the most productive step toward those goals that I can. Sometimes that’s drafting a content strategy, and sometimes it means taking a nap or deleting Twitter from my phone for a day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
A movement of liberation. Liberation from toxic ideas or self-limiting beliefs. At the root of all that is the idea that we aren’t good enough. Self-loathing leads to hate. Inferiority complexes lead to overextending ourselves. When we believe we are good enough, we are less likely to chase frivolity and more likely to reflect love and goodness back into the world.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Brene Brown, a fellow Texan. Her research on vulnerability is inspiring and sorely needed in our culture.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram at @BarkMauer and Twitter at @MarkBauer (unless I’ve deleted it for the day). For Monesk, on Instragram at @MoneskArt and on Twitter @TinyDeskArt.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!