All artists have questions they seek answers to. Sometimes they ask themselves the same questions over and over again, and sometimes they seek out friends and mentors who provide answers to their questions. If you ask the same question to several people you will most likely get several different answers, and then it is up to you to select the answer that is best for you. So the question is… How does an artist make connections and become part of an arts community?
Julie Alexander “Making connections and being a part of an arts community can be hard. I have so many demands on my time with a job and kids. That said, I also think there are many ways to be a part of the arts community that are unique to each of us. I am still feeling my way around and shifting what it means to me to be part of the conversation. I am a member of a collective gallery in Seattle (Soil) that features a curated show each month rather than the more insular model of focusing on members. As a gallery and as a member of the gallery, I am part of the arts community in Seattle. I have also had some good connections happen on facebook. I have been included in opportunities and have curated a show from connections that began on line. Other than that, I think just showing up to things – openings, lectures, discussions – and doing studio visits all bring you in contact with the arts community. I intend to do more of that in perhaps a more targeted way in 2014.” JA
Marc Cheetham “I would say the best way to make connections and be apart of a community is to go to openings, open studios, etc. Getting out and talking to people, especially those that are artists, and can help you in making new acquaintances. Since this isn’t always a feasible option, due to location, work, etc, for most people I would recommend Facebook. It becomes very easy to connect with artists from all over the world. You can get feedback on your work from this interaction which is an important thing and the dialog is instantaneous. I feel that all artists, even though you should be making the work for your self, need some form of validation as well. It helps in pushing your work forward and also opening up your mind. You also get to see a wide range of work you may not get to otherwise see. Unfortunately, seeing a digital copy is not as good as seeing in person, but seeing in some form is better then not at all. Increasing your knowledge of Art will also, I think, help put your work in a general context of the world. Also, being apart of the online community can lead to many opportunities to show your work. Often times artists that you are friends with may have curatorial projects going on or even just a chance to put something together and may ask you to be involved. If you have the chance to curate a show, etc. you now have a larger pool of artists to choose from as well.” MC
PE Sharpe “The short answer is network, network, network.
For some people being comfortable with others is a natural part of the way that they move through the art worlds they inhabit, be it for business or pleasure. They find it easy to be amongst strangers, are able to put themselves forward in an open and friendly manner, can remember the names of the people to whom they are introduced, and have impeccable manners. For the majority of us, it’s not so easy. Add in the complications of the many hierarchies both visible and invisible in the arts communities we see around us and it’s a wonder any of us ever leave the house. Times have changed since I tried to break down the door to my local art community; bearing that in mind these are my suggestions to help boost your chances at finding your familiars when you are the new kid at the rodeo. I’ll stick to attending openings for artists but it’s broad enough advice that it can be useful for other circumstances.
Ready? Take a deep breath. Exhale.
Be yourself. It sounds easier than it is. The reality is that you are under scrutiny at all times when entering into any new community and it also holds true in the art world. Your entree goes beyond what or who you know – it’s a community in which people have many pursuits outside of a shared interest in art. You don’t need to know everything about the brave new world in front of you, but you have to be ready to engage with the strangers you want on your team. Give yourself the task of saying hello to at least one person you have never met before. If you don’t have a sponsor or mentor making introductions for you, introduce yourself. Make sure you don’t mumble, mmmkay?
What will you talk about? Don’t go in with an elevator speech or speed dating script in your back pocket – being ambitious for your work is not in and of itself a bad thing but starting with self-promotional screed is not the best tactical approach to building a sustained dialogue within a community. Talk about your interests and let the interests lead the conversation. Don’t be afraid of small talk – ask the people you meet how they know the host or the guest of honour at the function you are attending. Be fearlessly sincere in asking questions about the interests of others and you may find out that the business end of things fall into place when/if the time is right. Struggle too hard at being the most outlandish person in the room or be too obvious at schmoozing and you may find others backing away from you while making the sign of the cross: nobody likes a hard sell.We are artists, we have things to say about the world in which we live. Artists by their very nature are already at the top of the Intrigue Olympics. Be cool with it.
Art communities in particular place a very high value on an individual’s reputation. If you talk smack about people be prepared to be assigned to the smack talkers. It’s the most entertaining table to sit at when it’s party time, for sure, but nobody wants to think that they are going to be your next target. Be judicious. Be ethical. Don’t lie for effect. It will always come back to bite you in the ass.
Be prepared to be viewed with suspicion as a newcomer. Don’t take it personally. There is a lot of professional envy out there and it really has nothing to do with you. The art world makes people do crazy things under duress. Try not to do those things either to yourself or unto others.
Keep your wits about you at all times, even when others appear to be losing the plot. All that free beer and wine at the openings that you will attend? Don’t use it as your personal invite to get shitfaced on someone else’s dime. It’s not your birthday and you didn’t get handed a ‘get out of drunk-mode free’ card. Don’t be greedy, and if you do try to steal that wheel of Brie for dinner at least try to be discreet. As you leave the event, remember your manners: thank the host, be it the gallery owner, event organizer, artist who invited you, say goodbye to the people you met. Try to remember their names for next time. Joining a community isn’t about signing up, it’s about showing up and becoming recognized as a supporter of other people who are in the same boat with you. Don’t forget to sign the guest book on your way out – it serves as a record of your attendance to others who watch for that sort of thing.
In the end it’s about being social, remember? Staying home while trying to become part of a community works on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr maybe, but that’s a topic for another day.” PS
Krista Svalbonas “I don’t believe there is a single definitive way to do this. Speaking from experience, there are many ways one can become part of or form an arts community. For me, community is really about building a network. I find that attending residencies are a fantastic starting point in building a community. Social media is an extremely effective force for following up and continuing to strengthen relationships created there. One may attend a residency program miles away or on another continent and still be able to easily stay in touch with those they’ve met. It’s easy to find like minded people on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Artstack, etc. I’ve befriended some fabulous artists and just great people through Facebook, many of whom I most likely would’ve never met otherwise. Also, depending on where you live, your local Arts organizations are a great place to start building a network. As a former resident of Jersey City, ProArts gives artists every opportunity to meet one another via openings, social events or happenings. I’m also a member of the College Art Association, which gives artists and teaching artists opportunities to network and meet one another. Though I can’t speak from experience on this, I would assume that having a studio in an arts building could land you in the middle of an arts scene. I think its important to find out what works for you and what makes sense in your daily life.” KS
If you have a question you’d like answered please let me know. If it is interesting maybe I’ll use it.