Community can be a place, a group, an environment, a conversation. In the arts, community means all that and something more. We recently asked artists in different disciplines: What makes an arts community thrive?
Lara JK Wilson, Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellow, Board member and Instructor at Grub Street Writers, Inc.
What makes a thriving writers’ community? The short answer: the generosity of spirit and open-mindedness of the writers in it. Working in isolation, writers engage in their community for many reasons – to discuss craft issues, get honest feedback, feel encouraged, be inspired. What seems to make writing communities thrive is a real feeling of solidarity, i.e., wherever you are in the process you belong because we’re all in it together. When writers of all levels are respected, they not only find support but are eager to learn from one another, to take risks, to innovate.
Sarah Slifer, choreographer
There are different levels of arts community: global communities within genres, like “The Dance World,” and then the multi-disciplinary communities tied to a locale, like in my current hometown Gloucester, MA. I think artists function best when they have a grasp of how to move well through both their macro and micro communities. But within the micro/local, I think three main elements influence whether a community is thriving: 1. Artists need OPPORTUNITY, and the people or organizations that make opportunities happen, within the community. Maybe it’s an affordable studio, maybe it’s a great little theater that’s theirs for the taking, maybe funding channels, but the artist needs to feel like there’s something for them in a community. 2. Artists need TO TALK ABOUT ART. Whether it’s for critical feedback, suggestions on costumes, a clash of opinion that makes you confront your own practices, or getting inspired by someone’s work in another discipline, dialogue is good, and should be sought out. 3. Lastly, it’s always good to SHOW UP or at least SHOUT OUT for each other’s openings and performances and readings. In other words, artists need acknowledgment from the community for the work they do within it.
Samantha Burgoon, Founder and writer, BostonArtUnderground.com
I think participation is the single most important factor in determining the health of an arts community, and for an audience to grow, people have to feel that they are able to access that community. I’ve met so many Bostonians who are interested in the arts – people who want to see great exhibitions, and view interesting performances – but who just don’t know how to enter into the so-called “art world.” Either they don’t know where to find information about gallery shows and announcements of openings, or they feel that they don’t belong to the typically exclusive world of contemporary art. With Boston Art Underground, I’m attempting to shake the connotation of elitism that today’s arts culture has acquired, and to show people that wherever you are in the city, great art is never more than a subway ride away. I want every Bostonian to feel like he or she is a welcome member of Boston’s art scene, because the more participants our community has, the stronger it will become.
Kathleen Gerdon Archer, artist, owner of White Bird Gallery, member of Rocky Neck Art Colony
What makes a community of artists thrive? The support of serious, hard working artists and neighbors who believe that what you do is important and want you to succeed. A variety of studio and gallery spaces at reasonable rents is critical. The opportunity to show work, continue an artistic education without high costs, and ask for a critique from others you trust makes life as an artist quite wonderful. Read more.
Julie Hennrikus, Executive Director, StageSource, a service organization for theater artists
Balance. The balance between theater makers, organizations, and audiences. Promoting and facilitating active communication between those three constituencies. New tools, like social media, make this communication easier and more authentic than ever. It also means that it can’t always be curated, but is that a bad thing, especially in theater? Theater is not about passively receiving art. It is about engaging with the art. That can mean being an active audience member who reacts to the action on stage, applauds and then goes home. Or it can mean the audience member who follows the designers’ blogs, reads the dramaturg’s notes, attends the talk back with the playwright and the director and posts a review. It can mean the actor who has a twitter account and engages with other theater makers and audiences. It can mean the organization that uses social media to engage audiences with the process of creating a piece of theater. All of this communication, these conversations, are two way because of the rise of social media and the fall of many gatekeepers. And while the adjustment may be tough for some, the opportunities are huge for our community.
Balance doesn’t mean being so entrenched you cannot move. It means being nimble enough to adapt, and to stay upright. No one area should dominate, and all areas support the other two. The three components of our community – theater-makers, organizations, audiences – must be in balance in order for the entire community to thrive.
Scott Listfield, painter
What makes an art community thrive? You. Doing stuff. This is probably pretty self evident, but you can’t just make some art and expect an arts community to grow up around you. Local galleries might not call (or exist), and museums might treat you like that guy at the bus stop with an eye patch and odors (although hopefully not). Maybe you’ve looked and there’s nobody else doing what you do in your city. That’s tough. Go make friends anyways (make enemies, too – a little rivalry never hurt). Go to their openings. Promote their work like you would your own. Go online. Find artists or blogs featuring work you like. Your community is not just people in your neighborhood. Somewhere there are likeminded people doing things you’ll love – go find them and email them, blog about them, post their work on facebook or twitter or whatever is the new big thing in 3 months. Hopefully they’ll like you, too. Maybe they’ll write back, or post your work, or share your site, or invite you to show in their town.
Then keep doing that. There. Now you have a thriving arts community.
Image: Scott Listfield, FLOATING ISLAND PIZZA HUT (2011), oil on canvas, 12×7 in.