Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives.
We were curious about sustainability. How do artists make sure they can consistently maintain their practice, be it through the lens of finances, creative energy, life balance, environmental stewardship, or other facets?
We asked artists in different disciplines: How do you keep your creative practice sustainable?
Chanel Thervil, visual artist
Start with being honest with yourself about why you make the art you make and who it is for. That will help you assess networks you should lean into to build community and places you should start looking for resources based on mutual interests. Since my work combines storytelling and portraits of People of Color, I’ve been collaborating with museums and arts organizations that prioritize education and humanities. My most recent project Warm & Fuzzy Feels is a mixed media celebration of multicultural friendships between women and is on view at The Boston Children’s Museum through January 2021.
Once you know your why, be honest with yourself about non-negotiables. What do you refuse to do in order to produce your art? For me financial stability was huge. So I worked multiple jobs and essentially considered my art practice as the thing I did “on the side” for years. There came a point where that no longer satisfied me, but I knew there was much to learn so I could take my career to the next level. While working and making art I became a Fellow with the Arts & Business Council so I could gain the knowledge to be self-employed and operate my art practice as a business.
Follow where honesty leads, then do the work.
Lara Egger, poet
Unlike some other creative arts, writing doesn’t require expensive equipment or studio space – if you have a pen and something to scribble on, there’s really no excuse not to be writing. I whole-heartedly believe this in theory but on days when the world seems to be falling apart or during weeks when the Muse is giving me the silent treatment, it’s easy to find any and every excuse not to sit down and do the work.
Several times a year I sign up for the GRIND and commit to writing a poem (and emailing it to my group) every day for a month. Accountability is a powerful motivator. Writing a poem every day forces me to push through the discomfort of writing badly. It also puts me in an extended state of creativity – as if the place in my brain where the poetry happens is a box-filled attic, and the GRIND is the month-long process of clearing the attic out. I’ve come to rely on the GRIND to keep my writing practice sustainable; I’ve grown to love my monthly relocation to the liminal space between delight and dread!
Holly Curcio, ceramics artist
I’ve been making ceramic sculptures for over 25 years now, attending residencies and working part time jobs. Now that I’m working full time as an art restorer, it does limit my studio time, but also allows me more stability and complete artistic freedom. When I get to Mudflat Studio, it’s my time to create whatever I want. It’s important to me to stay connected to other artists, whether at the studio, or virtually. I also make a point to participate in exhibitions. Getting the finished pieces into the world is part of the creative process.
Since my ceramics work is narrative, I’ve become accustomed to telling stories through the physical space the figure sculptures embody. Lately I have been learning more about storytelling, as I am currently enrolled in an online comics intensive through the Sequential Artists Workshop. It reminds me to keep a beginners mindset, allowing mistakes to happen. I am always surprised by new ways of saying something. This will inevitably enter into my ceramic work, but I’m not forcing it. The main thing for me is to keep the creative juices flowing.
Fabiola Méndez, music artist
I believe the first facet to keep my creative practice sustainable is to find ways to make myself more versatile as an artist. In my particular art form, music, that doesn’t only mean playing various styles of music, but also having the ability to play more than one instrument. My principal instrument, the Puerto Rican cuatro, is not as popular or well-known here in the States, which means not a lot of people will hire me as a side musician because the sound of my instrument is not what they are looking for. However, to overcome this obstacle, I have learned how to play the guitar and the bass, and I also sing. This allows me to get more job opportunities as a side musician, and adds on to my own gigs.
A second facet of keeping my creative practice sustainable is to stay current with the times, the industry, and what audiences are “consuming.” How can I make art that is relevant, meaningful, and current with what’s going on around me? I focus on exploring my identities. I believe we are living times in which a lot of us question who we are, what our purpose is, and overall how to leave this world a little better than how we found it. And I try to use that to connect with my audience. As a black Puerto Rican woman, the exploration of my identities in relation to my music has opened so many doors and has let me connect with individuals who might have similar experiences as me, or with those who wish to become allies in understanding others’ perspectives and experiences to create a more respectful, just world.
Related reading: How do you deal with stress and burnout as an artist?
Holly Curcio (Sculpture/Installation/New Genres Finalist ’19) creates ceramic sculptures and drawings. She has work in Clay Has Its Say: Narrative Ceramics, curated by David Duddy, at Concord Art (10/29-12/13).
Lara Egger (Poetry Fellow ’20) is a poet whose honors include the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in New Ohio Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere.
Fabiola Méndez is a music artist and the first Puerto Rican cuatro player to graduate from the prestigious Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music. She performs in the BU Global Music Festival (Facebook Live, 10/1, 8 PM), at Starlight Square (Central Square, Cambridge 10/2, 7:30 PM), and with Silverio Pérez (Facebook Live, 10/23, 8 PM).
Chanel Thervil is an artist and educator whose exhibition WARM & FUZZY FEELS is on view at The Boston Children’s Museum through January 15, 2021. She was recently an Artist-in-Residence at the Studios at MASS MoCA, a Community Collaborator for the BOSTON’S APOLLO exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and a Creative Entrepreneur Fellow with the Arts & Business Council of Boston.
Images and media: From WARM & FUZZY FEELS by Chanel Thervil, image courtesy of The Boston Children’s Museum; Holly Curcio (Sculpture/Installation/New Genres Finalist ’19), GUIDE TO SOMEWHERE (2016), terracotta, 21.5x11x26 in; AL OTRO LADO DEL CHARCO, an original composition by Fabiola Mendez, Zack Auslander, and Mariano Escalona.