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Matt Taylor has been running nearly every day since he was a teenager.
“I’ve always found running to be the single greatest source of my creativity and creative ideation,” says Taylor. “I just think it’s super grounding and humbling because it’s not something that day one you are good at, it takes time.”
He says the sport has molded him in myriad ways; it’s one of the great constants in his life. He wasn’t ever going pro, but it was a big part of his identity. It’s what he built his brand Tracksmith around five years ago, and he chose Boston as its home because of its many running clubs, college teams and the marathon. His brand tells a story of New England’s dedicated runners, clad in ivy league colors, striving for a personal record each race. Now, the company is looking to honor stories beyond the brand by offering paid fellowships to emerging creatives dedicated to running.
Tracksmith is now accepting proposals from across the globe in any creative discipline: film, photography, poetry, fiction, podcasts, music, painting or sculpture, etc. The only requirement is a great idea, creativity and a dedication to running, which Taylor believes go hand in hand.
"It’s hard for new voices to break through and that hinders the sport’s growth and ability to reach new audiences."Matt Taylor
Runners spend many hours on their feet and that has a way of unblocking ideas that would otherwise be out of reach — Taylor says he knows from experience. He thinks runners can cultivate that dedication, concentration, and runner’s high and apply it to creative endeavors. Taylor says the program was a natural choice for his brand, and he’s long dreamed of giving creative runners the platform to tell their stories.
Early in his career, Taylor started a running vlog with a series on cross country teams called Chasing Tradition. He then documented Kenyan marathoners for athletics management and media company, KIMbia. He’s excited to share his love of storytelling within the sport with the next generation of creative runners.
In its first year, Tracksmith will give away a total of $50,000 across up to five projects. Taylor hopes the fellowship will attract applicants from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. Those selected will receive funding and mentorship for projects grounded in the runner’s experience.
“It’s hard for new voices to break through and that hinders the sport’s growth and ability to reach new audiences,” Taylor says. “We’ve long wanted to drive progress in running by supporting emerging creative talent, and now more than ever, it’s clear that elevating diverse voices has to be a priority. There are so many different perspectives to share and stories waiting to be told.”
In the brand’s short life, they’ve already been called out for being elitist and aspirational. When they first launched in 2014, they were exclusively making, advertising, and selling to men. A year later, they added a women’s line. Taylor says he doesn’t see his brand as elite, other than it’s for the “elite” amateur runner. The Tracksmith customer can be anyone who identifies with the sport, and he’s looking for the same with the fellowship. Though he recognizes that this is complicated by running’s history of being exclusive, and that exclusivity and lack of support from the larger community can mean that for some, participation is a life-threatening risk.
“Running definitely needs to do a better job,” Taylor says, referring to racial equality and inclusion. Before Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, Taylor says he was already hearing from BIPOC runners in the area that they felt really unsafe running through certain neighborhoods. He hopes the fellowship calls more people into the sport and creates a more inclusive and supportive environment. “We have already seen a lot of submissions from underrepresented communities and other [diversity of stories] that we're really excited about.”
“We’ve long wanted to drive progress in running by supporting emerging creative talent, and now more than ever, it’s clear that elevating diverse voices has to be a priority. There are so many different perspectives to share and stories waiting to be told.”Matt Taylor
Tracksmith has already received more than 100 submissions from around the world from Boston to the Philippines, says Taylor. Those projects include terracotta sculptures, role-playing games, poetry anthologies, murals, short films, screenplays, novels, podcasts, children's books, musical albums, just to name a few.
“While all the projects touch on the power of running, their themes reflect a wide range of experiences with the sport, from mental health to motherhood to environmentalism,” says Taylor “We're inspired by the breadth of submissions and looking forward to sharing the finalists.”
The fellowship was in the works long before COVID-19 changed the way we do everything, including running. But Taylor thinks the creative spark is exacerbated in these isolated times.
“A lot of us have been [running exclusively solo] the last four to six months rather than in groups, and you really are alone with your thoughts for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, two hours, whatever the case may be,” he says.
Creative runners looking to make the most out of this time of isolation can still apply for the fellowship through Sept. 1 and recipients will be announced in October 2020.
“This is part of running’s long history, which is very rich with stories that are waiting to be told,” Taylor adds. “And these stories do have the power to inspire the next generation.”
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