James R. Hahn is a very successful live performance artist (see his work here) and creator of truly authentic audience experiences. This couple’s business inspiration has been co-starring for 30 years with his wife Kay. Whether it was music early in their career or the live performances and murals they do today this pair challenges audiences to think in new ways and let go of limited ideas about what is art and living artfully. Their story is about defying the odds, driving right through adversity and diving deep into the safety of their relationship to be able to exude creativity and love.
James and Kay, who is in the final stages of editing her book “Spin It to Win It,” answered our Couple’s Business success questions:
1. How did you meet, why did you decide to go into business together, and why this particular business?
Kay owned her own gallery of art and custom leatherwork. We became friends who appreciated each other’s art, fell in love and got married. We realized that we understood each other so well that working together was natural.
2. What are the biggest advantages of being in business together?
Proximity is first. Having access to someone who is there 24/7 to bounce ideas off of, and has the ability to provide a different view or approach to a project helps make the final product well rounded. Since design is almost a myopic lab environment, it’s crucial to have fresh eyes available to broaden options.
3. What, if any, are the disadvantages?
We would call them challenges, rather than disadvantages. The challenge is making sure we don’t get so comfortable with each other, that we take it for granted, or become insensitive. Everyone has seen married couples that bicker and jump at the slightest chance to belittle the other. We’re constantly on guard against ever becoming like that.
4. What were your biggest challenges when you first started the business?
Our situation is unusual, although not unique. We had opposition from our respective families, who were against our marriage in general. So not having a firm support system from family, we were solitary and had to rely on each other’s firm belief in our abilities to “stay positive” and stay the course. Eventually most of that lack of family support & separation disappeared, because it was obvious that our marriage and business was outlasting many of our peers’.
5. What are your biggest challenges now?
Marketing what we do and standing out in the increasingly chaotic crowd that offers services similar to ours. As mural specialists, we see more & more unprofessional and untrained artists saturating the market and giving the genre a black eye. Making sure people don’t lump us into that group is a big challenge.
6. How has copreneuring affected your relationship and your lifestyle?
It’s only reinforced our relationship. Our lifestyle has been affected in that we have to be willing to be very flexible with our living and travel bases. We may have a project in Florida, but need to be in California as soon as the paint dries. People ask us all the time “where do you live”, which invokes laughter from both of us and cryptic, sarcastic comments describing our gypsy lifestyle.
7. How do you manage disagreements, misunderstandings and make sure you “fight fair?”
Over the years, we’ve both honed the ability to vent to each other in a reasonable level, and then let a few minutes go by, and not take anything said with a chip on our shoulder. We communicate a lot, talk a lot, and mainly “laugh”. Turning a terse conversation around into something silly makes us smile and not harbor any lingering negative feelings.
8. What do you consciously do to nurture love in your relationship?
Consistently we think about everything from the other’s perspective. We get in each other’s shoes. I (James) make sure to stand back and look at my wife as the miracle she is. I know she has talents I don’t have and thinks in layers I don’t see, so when I take the time to recognize those traits, and the fact that she has stayed with and loved me through the weird times – the feelings of love well up, refreshed.
9. What’s the most dramatic thing that’s happened while you’ve been working together and what did it teach you?
Many crazy things have happened to us: we were stalked, we had people intentionally flood our studios using a water hose (twice), we had our car’s lug nuts removed, and have had nasty rumors spread by family and others who don’t know the whole back story, and many other tough situations. The toughest was the year I (James) lost my father, while simultaneously being virtually robbed of my entire business by unscrupulous partners. I lost a lot of the will to move forward and trust people. It took years to have the desire to paint again and to this day, giving people close access to us remains elusive.
10. What was the most inspired advice or coaching you received?
From my Uncle Paul, the famous trick-shot golfer. He came through my little hometown in his plane or his Rolls Royce and showed me that I could do anything, by doing it better than others, and by going after it in a fearless, flamboyant way. He played for kings, presidents, and even Johnny Carson, while I watched in young wonder. Every job I do, I think of him first and of how my parents instilled the importance of showing up on time, and delivering more than expected when possible.
11. Given the chance to start over again, what would you do differently?
Even adversity makes us who we are, so I could “cherry-pick” around the bad stuff, but I’m not sure I would appreciate the good things as much, in the process. But if I had to choose to cull, it would be “not spending as much time with destructive and negative personality types”. Each time I felt compelled to spend quality time trying to lift someone up, who just did not care about his or her own destiny, as much as I did. “You can lead a horse to water, but he’ll probably bolt, stomp your feet, and tear down some fences in the process”.
12. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you feel our readers should know, as they consider starting or staying in a couple’s business?
Just that you should each do a “systems check” often: think about things from your partner’s position and follow that up with respect. Lots of hugs, lots of laughter, and sync up your spiritual path for best results.
The Hahns are based in Florida, and as they mentioned, travel all over the world performing. James was the original muralist for “the Cabbage Patch Kids”, has murals at Sebring Raceway, blows people’s minds with amazing one hour timed seascape performances, and will be painting at the Front End of Innovation Event this May in Boston. See more about them and book them here!