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JD Brink

What is your official title?

Founder of Proper Creative. If we need to use an official title I would say Executive Director; it’s kind of a catch all.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

Average days don’t exist around here. There is nothing typical about our days. I would love to able to be like “from 9 to 10 I do this, from 10 to…”, you know? But for me a typical day includes a lot of balance because we have a small team. In order to keep everything moving we have to have all creative phases happening at once — concepting phase, development and production phase, an execution phase and a marketing phase to tell the story. Our currency is awareness, so marketing becomes very important. That process is for each individual project and we have several going on at all times. So, I guess that is an official job title of “juggler”. And circus performance is typical day.


Tell us about Proper.

Proper is a creative organization. Our mission is hyper focused to popularize proper behavior through the creative arts. Our organization is strategically vague; we leave it open for interpretation because we aren’t the keepers of the truth. We don’t tell people what is proper and what is not, we just remind people to be more mindful of their actions through a strategic awareness campaign. Everything we do from a creative standpoint we leave open ended so people can interpret and define it on their own terms. This approach gives our audience a greater sense of ownership in this little grassroots movement and then they are more likely to promote it, which is good for us since we are so focused on the awareness.

Some examples of the creative arts we will do are art exhibits, art hop events, some public relation campaigns, graphic design, video production, fundraising events, etc. All intended to serve the higher purpose of our corporate mission, but also to have an element of fun and cultural relevance.


Do you have a focus on a certain demographic?

Yes, everyone. But the demographic of the American population has actually kind of defined that for us. We thought “it’s human behavior so it applies to everyone”, but what has been really fun and really exciting to see is how much the younger generation grabs onto the proper concept. They haven’t been filled with preconceptions just yet. So they can understand simplistic abstract thought and also they are in tune with the greater good on every level. They are an elusive group and they are really active supporters because I think they really like what we stand for. It’s been interesting to watch this develop to say the least. When I say “younger”, I would say anywhere from middle school to college. That is the majority of our audience.


How do you reach that audience?

I would say organically. “Organic communication” now a days is very different than it used to be. It very much includes social media and then, for lack of a better term, billboards. Virtual billboards – hoodies are billboards, stickers are billboards, etc. Word of mouth is one of the strongest ways we reach people, too. Proper is a social movement. We want people to participate by behaving better so we take an authentic approach to that.

We confuse people on purpose. We intentionally keep our messaging vague on purpose, because we want people to ask questions. We strive to intrigue. Our approach is always changing; we learned a lot through our various approaches and we are constantly changing.


What is your background?

I am born and raised in Kalamazoo. Graduated from Kalamazoo Central, went to a college in North Dakota to play football and study for a few years, and then I finished athletics and a education degree at Western. What is the second worse position on a football team? Kicker, right? Well I was the back-up kicker… the first worst position. Hey, at least I enjoyed the practices. For the games, I just had really good “seats” and got to wear the uniform.

After college I went through an advertising agency tour that took me through a lot of different states. I joined Ford’s agency and that took me to Detroit, Seattle, Chicago, and Denver. Then I jumped to a digital agency and worked on AT&T and Sprint. Then I went to a smaller boutique firm in Chicago and did a lot of stuff for Firestone, Chicago Bears, and some other fun accounts. I’ve been freelancing since 2009.


What was your role in all of the agencies?

Oddly enough I was on the account side of things. But it was a great experience because I learned a job that I am not naturally wired for. Traditional business is different skill set so it’s helped out in the long run. I might have wasted bit of time, honestly, but it’s worked out very well. I steadily progressed into what I should have been doing anyways which is more creative and strategic thought. I got there though; it’s been a journey for sure.


What organizations do you work with in Kalamazoo?

We’re really excited to be working with a bunch of organizations that are funding some of our projects right now. The Jim Gilmore Jr. Foundation, Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, The Don Gilmore Foundation — no I’m just kidding, I felt I had to add another Gilmore in there — Apollo Home Mortgages has helped us out, The Fetzer Institute, and HRM Innovations. Those are good partners that believe in what we do and literally put their money where their mouth is, which is tremendously helpful for us.

One of the things that I would say we are most proud of over the last year is that we partnered with Bell’s on a few “No Shave November” fundraisers and all the proceeds went to West Michigan Cancer Center. That is a great example of ‘the big guy’ and ‘the small guy’ coming together for a great cause.


Can you give an example of one of your projects?

Let me go back to last Fall. We did this “Are You Enough” where people or businesses had to fill in the blank (“are you ______ enough”). That was a fun guerrilla project to get the local businesses involved and have them tell a story. The new one coming up this year is called “Always Never” and it’s a concept book full of word pairings. So things like “always love, never hate”, “always heal, never hurt” — it goes from really obvious stuff to more abstract and thought provoking pairings such as “always inclusionary, never exclusionary”. We wrote the book a while ago and we are now planning to put the pages of the book around town in very strategic ways. The whole book will be here on the walls of Proper Lab as an art exhibit and we are making static stickers to put around town with really bright colors that you can’t miss. The one thing we are most excited about is our partnership with Adams Outdoor. They have donated a lot of billboard space and we are putting up pages of the book on billboards around town at the end of August.

We are also launching the Proper State of America campaign. It is an inclusionary interpretation of the American flag consisting of a huge barn wood shadow box with spray painted burlap hand painted canvases. It will make perfect sense in person.

The other thing I am most excited about are the two freestanding doors in our office. They are part of an art exhibit titled “Behind Closed Doors” that is headed to Art Prize in Grand Rapids this year so we are super excited about that. The purpose behind the doors is to get people to have a conversation that they wouldn’t normally have about segregation and racism in our country. We have been conditioned to not talk about certain things and those same exact things have not gone away in our culture. So instead of putting this big artist statement of “Oh America has lost it’s way” next to our artwork, we are literally going to put a sign next to it that reads “Have We Progressed?”. People can talk about that… as they should.


What are your hopes/wish/dreams for the kids that are influenced by Proper?

We want people to have fun with the concept to the point where it makes their lives better in a variety of different ways. Whether it’s a smile for something they see or an interesting dinner conversation because someone walks in with a Proper t-shirt. We get a lot of feedback from parents that talk with their young children and it’s become a positive behavioral modification tool in the household. Proper is working. But, as always, we want it to work on a bigger scale.


What has been the most surprising thing?

As far as surprising and educational too, we had an opportunity to go to the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy which is an inner city charter school in Detroit. We did a student assembly that introduced the Proper concept and let the kids have fun with it. That was a very specific environment and we were received really well. That experience gave us a lot of momentum and we finally started thinking “we can make a significant difference with this, one way or another”. That was early on in our existence and that was a very fun moment for us.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I love that Kalamazoo feels like home. And I love the feeling of being back home. Kalamazoo is the perfect sized town… it’s big enough to have a great life, but it’s small enough to have an impact and enjoy the camaraderie that small towns offer.


What do you think can be improved about Kalamazoo?

Honestly, I’d love to see Kalamazoo be more open minded with new ideas. And that’s an entire mentality shift. A majority of Kalamazoo is timeless and I want to keep it that way; I don’t think we should change absolutely everything. I think the foundation of our community is solid. But I think the foundation is rooted in an old way of thinking and the world is changing really fast right now. Change can be for the good and people should start embracing that around here. Progression isn’t as scary as it seems.


What have you been jammin’ to recently?

I’m a big hip-hopper. This year I’m loving the Joey Bada$$ album. And I’m a big classic rock guy — The Doors, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, amongst others. It’s summer time so I’m into Vacationer – they are a mix between Jack Johnson and Vampire Weekend. Leon Bridges is on repeat at the moment. I’m still kind of stuck on Chet Faker and Sylvan Esso, those guys are good. Oh and the Tune Yards, that’s the band I can’t turn off and they are probably the most annoying band in the world.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

Nope. Tea. Without caffeine. Hot.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

I’m a big fan of Bell’s, and Waterstreet on Oakland. The way they designed the new Waterstreet on Westnedge is remarkable, but I love the back room on Oakland. I can also be found at Intentional Yoga, those guys are great. And you can find me on D Ave. between South Haven and Richland. I love it out there.


If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Do it earlier.


What are your goals for the future of Proper?

I’ve already reached the immediate goal, which was just to make an impact. I set the bar low on purpose because everything else just ended up being a big bonus. But the goal now is a bigger reach because I really believe in the concept. I believe that it’s meaningful and has a higher purpose. Also, selfishly it’s a lot of fun for me, but even more so it’s fun for other people. The best part is watching people enjoy our creations.


What do you like to do in your free time?

What I do in my free time is a really just take a break. From the carnival in my mind. It’s just nice to not work sometimes. There are two things I’m really passionate about — music and college football. I’m a Western fan, it’s in my blood, but I’m also Walmart Wolverine. I’m excited for those brand new khakis to be running up and down the sidelines this fall.


Are you growing the beard back?

Yes, the beard is here to stay. I’m not sure it will be as long as it was in the past. I had a moment of weakness when I shaved it off.


Who would play you in a movie?

It probably should be someone like “Doc” Brown from Back to the Future. But who I want it to be is Jack Nicholson. Jack Nicholson in ‘As Good As It Gets”; that’s the Jack Nicholson that I can relate to.


If you could bring any event to Kalamazoo, infrastructure aside, what would it be?

I would love Coachella at Timber Ridge. Did you know that Timber Ridge used to have huge concerts? 50,000 people plus. I heard that the neighbors said it scared the cows to the point where they stopped producing milk or something weird — I don’t know if that’s true.


JD, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with JD and Proper on instagram. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.