Jen Carruthers has been heavily involved in the Des Moines music scene over the years. She’s dedicated to expanding the Des Moines music scene both in size and inclusivity through her work with Girls Rock! Des Moines, establishing her business 11 Eleven Productions and working with the DMMC in various capacities. It is through her respect, engagement and working knowledge of the music community over the last 15 years that she continues to see how she can help maintain Des Moines as a nationally recognized music city. Join us in celebrating Carruthers’ accomplishments at the 10th annual Backstage Ball on March 8th.

DMMC: You have a diverse background consisting of everything from customer service to corporate real estate to event production to nonprofit work. Whew! You are involved in many community projects and organizations such as Girls Rock! DSM, Des Moines Storytellers Project, etc. How did you become involved with these organizations/projects? 

JC: My involvement all happened very organically but it is all rooted in the intentionality of my committed work to see equality and more representation for women and LGBTQ folks. This is very important to me being I identify as a cis-gender lesbian that is masculine presenting never really blending into my female gender. I deal with discrimination almost daily because I do not fit in the box of what it means to be stereotypical female and I want to be a pioneer for acceptance of our marginalized people. The only way our community gets better and more productive is when we experience more cultures mixing on a regular basis because that is when you see minds changing and worlds thriving. A big part in doing this is having people like myself sharing their story, being the most authentic version of who they are, and actively choosing to be present throughout our community. This is how all of my involvement has been facilitated.

DMMC: Tell us a little bit about your role within each.

JC: I serve as Vice President of Girls Rock! Des Moines and Capital City Pride Board of Directors. Girls Rock works to empower young self-identified females ages 10-16 years old through music education, creation and collaborative performance. Capital City Pride brings together the members of the LGBTQ community their friends, allies, and supporters to inspire, educate, commemorate, and celebrate our diverse community and culture with and for the Greater Des Moines metro. These are tireless works of passion because both are working boards not boards of governance, which means as a board we fulfill all the duties that you would typically see a paid full time staff handle. However, both are extremely important endeavors because we are working to instill confidence in young females so they will have the self-assurance to be the trailblazing leaders of tomorrow and the other is working to integrate the LGBTQ community.  

DMMC: How did your involvement shape and affect you personally?

JC: I am often asked to participate in various endeavors throughout the community and a big part of that is because of the work I do through these organizations. A couple examples include serving on the LGBTQ panel for the Iowa State Bar Association Ethical & Effective Communication, the upcoming Iowa Civil Rights Commissions 2019 Symposium, and this past year I participated in The Des Moines Register’s Storytelling Project. At the core of all of this is just sharing my story so others can learn and we as a whole can make a better community. All of it has had a great impact on me personally because it has made me realize that what I do day in and day out no matter how minute or big, it is all having an impact and the work is making a difference. Being a change-maker is what keeps me going, this is why and who I am today.

DMMC: You founded Drag King DSM roughly 9 years ago. What motivated you to bring this event to Des Moines?

JC: I am passionate about equality for everyone with a very specific focus on LGBTQ rights, women and inclusion. The lack of representation of women and transgender men in this beautiful form of thought provoking art was staggering and almost non-existent. Any day of the week you could see a Drag Queen perform but nine years ago, drag kings were almost impossible to find in Des Moines. I wanted to give a platform for any woman lesbian, straight, bi and/or transgender man the chance to express themselves however they see fit but feel loved, supported and respected all while doing it.

DMMC: How has Drag King DSM transformed over the years?

JC: The response was overwhelming. Drag King DSM generated and built a strategic marketing plan that grew attendance four times its’ original size to a sell out production in five years. The event started just as a smaller local show to give representation to marginalized folks. It has now turned into the largest to scale all drag king show in the country that has garnered local and national media coverage. It highlighted the importance of bringing awareness to lesbian, self-identified female and transgender male performance, around the United States as there continues to be a lack of representation compared to their gay, male and transgender female counterparts. Beyond growing attendance, we also worked to bring in some of the best, brightest and most recognized performers from all over the country. Drag King DSM has procured famed and talented entertainers from Los Angeles to New York City.

DMMC: What are your goals for the event moving forward?

JC: This event has shown me that no matter how tiring the work; sometimes we must be the change we wish to see in the world. Drag King DSM has validated that my relentless work towards equal representation is valid and very important. And if you combine passion with hard work ethic and drive, the continued journey of any endeavor will have eventually have some level of impact. The next step and goals for the event is to try to take the bi-annual event and do it once a quarter but not necessarily in Des Moines. I want to take it on the road and I have contacts in Las Vegas, Chicago and St. Louis that are all interested in seeing how we can do it in their respective cities. The ultimate goal would be to have a hand in creating the RuPaul Drag Race for kings, stay tuned!

DMMC: You officially founded 11 Eleven Productions in 2018. Tell us how your years in customer service, event production and nonprofit involvement lead you to start your own production company?

JC: I was able to start my own production company, 11 Eleven Productions due to the perfect storm. My formal educational background was in Business Management with a focus on Urban and Economic Development. Add in my extremely versatile professional background, dynamic work experience that spans multiple industries, networking ninja abilities, entrepreneurial spirit, the craving to create opportunities for more diverse experiences throughout the metro, the desire to be a community leader mixed with my drive and hard work ethic: this is how 11 Eleven came to be.

I have 17-years of customer service, 12-years Corporate Real Estate, 10-years in event production, 6 years non-profit involvement, and 3-years as a small business consultant. All of these skill sets I have acquired through multiple industries over the years have been pivotal in my ability to establish 11 Eleven Productions, which is a full service production company specializing in business development, networking and event production. The goal of 11 Eleven is to connect the best and brightest talent Des Moines has to offer and jointly produce amazing endeavors that enhance the offerings of the city.

DMMC: What was your greatest challenge?

JC: The greatest challenge to this point has been mustering up enough belief and confidence in myself to finally make that giant leap of faith to do it full time. Risk and unknown stability are scary but as much as they are scary, they’re exhilarating. I get to invest all my time, talents and skills towards building a business I am passionate about while enhancing the community that I love every single day. It doesn’t get any better than that.

DMMC: How have you seen the music scene in Des Moines change throughout your years working in this industry/market?

JC: Compared to other cities, Des Moines music scene is still young but it has grown very fast. I think it’s the community commitment that has made Des Moines’ music scene prosper both locally and nationally. At the backbone of that movement was the creation of the Des Moines Music Coalition, who brought us 80/35 which was our first major music festival. The addition of multiple other outdoor music festivals has shown bookers and promoters that Des Moines can not only draw bigger audiences but also big names. Hinterland Music Festival is a prime example of that and was recently voted as Best Emerging Festivals in the country for 2019. The next challenge is to create nice, maintained indoor and outdoor opportunities that fulfill the key-capacity of mid-size venues we don’t have. There are a couple of outdoors amphitheaters in the works but I think Des Moines needs something indoor that is 1500+ as well as an ideal festival venue that accommodates up to 10,000 with the built in amenities one would expect for multi-day festival events. This is where 11 Eleven’s indoor/outdoor venue project would come in and further add Des Moines into the national conversation as an up and coming music city.

DMMC: What projects do you have in the works for 2019-2020?

JC: 1There are two projects I am most excited about, one is with Girls Rock! Des Moines and the other is with my production company, 11 Eleven Productions. I manifested the idea for the first ever woman-run recording studio in the Midwest, second in the United States for Girls Rock! Des Moines and secured $20,000 in funding to get it started. Girls Rock Tech will be a music and Disc Jockey educational recording studio. The two main objectives are to teach GR!DSM members how to build, operate and maintain a recording studio, and to educate our members on live DJ production, and how to translate these skills to a band setting or future career opportunities. The recording and DJ equipment for teaching audio production and engineering will expand performance and life opportunities, open new doors for STEM workshops and enable creativity and student led programming. This is a huge opportunity to create and support an important social change because like many STEM-oriented fields, men dominate the music production and sound engineering fields. Due to the lack of women in technical jobs within the audio field, men have essentially engineered most music we hear and will continue hear. We know that it is our duty at GR!DSM to create this change at the local level by inspiring and educating women at a young age. By providing them with the skills needed to compete in this workforce, we increase their chances of achieving their goals and changing the face of the music recording industry.

Additionally, 11 Eleven has several clients and personal projects in the works but the biggest and the one I am most excited about is a $25 million development. Currently, I am working with two Central Iowa cities on what could be one of the premiere and most unique large-scale music festival, concert, community and event venues in the Midwest. It would be only the third of it’s kind in the country with two locations of interest. The next step is procuring and securing the funding to make enter into the design phase making this dream project a reality. The completion of this venture would once again place Des Moines in the national conversation as a worthwhile music city. Both of these are lofty but attainable goals, and it starts with creating the access and giving them a platform.

DMMC: What’s been the biggest moment in your career so far?

JC: Receiving and earning the honor of Forty Under 40 for the class of 2019. This solidifies all the risks, chances, and hard work that I have taken over the last 17 years of my professional career through various industries and jobs. Every step, success and failure placed me on the path I was meant to take and has landed me where I am at today. No matter how hard or bumpy the road was at times, the ride was worth the current view.

DMMC: As Innovator of the Year, you are clearly a role model for many young aspiring entrepreneurs, artists, producers, etc. Who are some people who have inspired you throughout your life/career? Any wisdom or helpful tips you’d care to share?   

JC: Personally, my parents are my biggest inspiration but professionally there are countless people that could be named with the majority being women. Many have inspired me over the years because I am stimulated in so many areas such as business professionalism and development, entrepreneurship, philanthropic advocacy and community engagement that is hard to name all those who have had significant impact on my life. However, the one common thread is that they seem to be the fearless risk-taking hustlers that believe in themselves, their abilities, and our city even when others do not. They are the true visionaries and innovators that make things happen and aid in the need to offer businesses, experiences, and endeavors that will continue to attract, grow and retain people to our amazing city. I also want to be a part of the narrative that continues the push for more representation of LGBTQ and women-owned businesses because representation matters.

I think the key piece to share with young aspiring entrepreneurs and producers is to realize that there are going to be many setbacks but embrace them. Do not view anything as a failure, be open to learn from the opportunity of something not working out and realize it is just the universe trying to guide you down the path you were meant to take. I have had many moments in my life that were heartbreaking and what I deemed at the time as failure. Now I look back from where I am and every previous experience, step and disappointment was pushing me down the path to exactly where I have arrived today.

Oprah said it best when talking to a group of Harvard graduates when she so eloquently stated, “At some point, you are bound to stumble. You will at some point fall, and when you do, I want you to remember this-There is no such thing as failure; failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” This quote has never left. Have faith in your self, trust in the process, tune into a higher frequency and you will do what you were meant to do but not only do it, you will be successful because you will be living the best version of who you are supposed to be and that is the epitome of true success.

Get your tickets to Backstage Ball! Tickets start at $100. All proceeds are donated to the 501(c)3 non-profit, Des Moines Music Coalition.