Grammy nominated composer and painter Ella Spira MBE and former Royal ballet ballerina and creative producer Pietra Mello Pittman MBE are Sisters Grimm. By collaborating with artists from diverse cultures Sisters Grimm creates memorable artistic productions which build bridges between cultures.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
Established in 2009 Sisters Grimm is a dynamic, creative arts company. Producing solely original works we have conceived, produced and toured seven culturally themed theatrical productions, weaving together stories, cultures, music and dance to a global audience of 200million+. All our work includes parallel youth engagement programmes and over 7,000 young people have experienced free shows, participated in workshops and received career advice since they started.
We have toured internationally to both mainstream success and critical acclaim, as well as achieving a Grammy nomination in the US and the Brazilian International Press Award for Best Show. Alongside our MBE’s awarded for services to the Creative Industry and International Trade, we were nominated for the Women of the Future Awards for Arts & Culture. We are Export Champions for the UK Government representing the best of British Creativity to the rest of the world.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Growing up, we both had an interest in the folk tales that came from our different backgrounds, hence our company name. We also liked bringing different people together to speak of and celebrate ancestry, heritage and different artistic practise.
We could see there was a space for live entertainment experiences with a more diverse representation on stage which would appeal to more diverse audiences as a result. We also wanted to bring together different cultures and artistic disciplines and unite the genres of ballet, world music and concerts to build bridges between people.
How did you achieve awareness?
We had a good idea that we believed in and went about selling it to the people who could give our concept some weight. Our approach to awareness was key from the beginning and we identified partners who could amplify our message. At first, we utilized the fact Pietra was in the Royal Ballet by attaching ourselves and our company output to the Royal Ballet brand. Simultaneously we created materials and assets which showcased what we wanted to achieve, delivering exceptional quality during the process. When we launched our first full length theatrical production, INALA, at the Edinburgh International Festival then we and Inala got that awareness, but we had worked hard to on branding to get to that point.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Our ideas have been strong and we are good at building budgets and models. We have grown through a combination of investment, philanthropy and sponsorship, as well as ticket revenue.
We have also done a vast amount of research and reading to learn about different fundraising vehicles such as SEIS and EIS, and not relied on anyone else to bring that support.
What are the key successes?
Our biggest success is being a small part of creating long-term positive change. Sure, we always deliver within budget, but using arts to be part of that change is the biggest achievement.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
On reflection, the greatest funding challenges have been because we are women. It is a work in progress to try to break the barriers. We have never suffered from a lack of belief in the importance of what we are doing and what we continue to deliver.
Before the pandemic our revenue came solely from live entertainment, so we’ve had to pivot, and shift our model and adapt our outputs to respond.
We did more work digitally and grew new audiences and were able to scale our social impact dramatically as a result. But the reasons we do what we do has stayed the same.
We conceived and launched two new ‘Covid friendly’ IP’s: “Art In Nature Global” a mass participation youth education initiative that offers the opportunity to be a part of our global work through a ‘Covid friendly’ activity that has environmental awareness, mental wellbeing and arts at its core. We also conceived and launched a new post pandemic show format “Global Landscapes” that is a multimedia exhibition with soundscape, music and artist commentary.
What are your plans now/for the future?
To run Global Landscapes and “Art In Nature Global” in more territories: it has been successful run in UAE and is currently running in Australia. We plan to relaunch our major show INALA – a Zulu ballet in 2024 marking 10 years since its world premiere as well as 30 years of democracy in South Africa. We are also developing new alternative format concepts that have all been sparked by things relating to social change.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Be authentic, know what you really care about and do it from a place that isn’t just about the money but about making change.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Be kind and create a family. Do your due diligence and be careful who you trust when starting and take time to grow your tribe. Build a safe space for the people who are going to be fundamental to your business. Have respect for, and look after, your people. Be completely aligned with your backers on both ethos and your long-term vision. You will pay in the long run if you accept money that isn’t aligned.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Walt Disney, Elon Musk, Sergei Diaghilev
What are your favorite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
President Theodore Roosevelt
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