Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives. In this time when supporting one another is even more important, we were interested in the generosity and community we see among artists. We asked: Why is it important to you to support other artists, alongside your own creative practice?
Emma Leavitt, visual artist at Solei Arts, Gallery Director at Dorchester Art Project, and Creative Director at Brain Arts Org
I began my journey as a professional artist after graduating from college and deciding not to get a “real job.” I was waitressing, singing in a band, and growing my portfolio. I existed in a narrow-minded vortex of self promotion, desperate for appreciation, opportunities, value. It was invigorating, but unfulfilling. I began volunteering for the Boston Compass newspaper, first finding comics for the back page, then designing the back page, then the whole paper. Five years later I am Co-Director of the parent nonprofit.
The moment I committed to serving something bigger than myself, I felt an internal shift. Community support is not a one-way street, or even a two-way street. It is a whole ecosystem that breathes and rises together as one. Ultimately, our art is only as valuable as the community we create around it. People care more about your art when you care about people.
Our current capitalist system incentivizes us to be self-absorbed and individualistic, but creative communities shouldn’t be constrained that way. It can feel wrong or unwise to divert energy from yourself to others, but we should embrace the irrationality of it, because it is the path to a more creative and fulfilling life.
Erica Charis-Molling, poet, educator, editor, and librarian
If the pandemic has reminded us of anything recently, it’s how interconnected we are. Individual actions send ripples through communities, large and small. I came into poetry as an adult while working as a librarian, and this understanding is central to the library worldview. So I arrived in the writing community with a deep-seated belief that a rising tide raises all boats and that sharing resources was one way to raise the water level.
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to start to do that through Mass Poetry, as their Education Director. My particular poetry might not connect with everyone. But if, through the various readings, events, and school visits I facilitate, I can introduce a new reader to a poet that does connect with them, we all benefit from the expansion of poetry readership.
In that way, I think of poetry as a sort of ecology. Every poet has an environment, which they both actively shape and are shaped by. The question then becomes: what sort of environment do you need to thrive? My work will bloom best in a field where diversity, mutual support, and shared resources are a part of the system – so I do my part to build the ecology I need.
Georden West, media/installation artist and curator
It is critically important for us to support and showcase other artists. For me, the most formative influences upon my practice are not the artists upheld by gatekeepers and saturating academic knowledge of “art,” they are the artists in my immediate vicinity I have the honor of calling peer, colleague, mentor, and friend. These are the people you grow in practice with: artists providing you the fundamental feedback integral to realizing a project, artists you witness in modes of experimentation and the ensuing success, artists who call you and who you call with questions around craft, artists you share a struggle with for resources and space. This intimate and shared knowledge of artistic development creates a care that shines through curation. It’s about growing up together and acknowledging that the vast influences upon your development are localized and immediate.
David Beardsley, playwright and co-managing editor of New England New Play Alliance‘s New Play Newsletter
Art is a shared experience. There’s no art without artists, no artists without audiences, no audiences unless art satisfies an infinite diversity of tastes. It’s a network of interlocking gears greased by mutual support. If “social distancing” strips away that grease, the machine stops. We have to support each other. Especially now.
The effects of theater shutdowns won’t go away overnight. Some companies – especially smaller ones taking risks on new work – won’t survive. Those that do may need to focus on “sure things” to fill seats. Either way, fewer productions of new work seems inevitable. Fortunately, theatre artists are already supporting, promoting, and finding creative ways to experience each other’s work.
We’ve seen this firsthand at New England New Play Newsletter (NENPN). Normally, we promote readings and premieres. With theaters closed, it seemed we’d have to suspend publication. Theatre can’t co-exist with social distancing, right?
Wrong. First came the calls to read each other’s scripts; then announcements about online theater. It was different, but it was theatre, and NENPN could support it. Each week, until theaters re-open, we’re highlighting New England playwrights, online performances, and scripts. The New England theatre scene is rich and worth celebrating, even from a distance.
Prilla Smith Brackett, visual artist and founder of the Prilla Smith Brackett Award for women artists
I’ve been so fortunate to be able to work as a professional artist, without financial obstacles, because my husband was employed and my mother was supportive. When I was starting out in the 1970s my first drawing teacher was an active feminist, with statistics she gathered about how unrepresented women artists were in the markers of success in the art world. My consciousness was raised! Being an artist is difficult for all people in our society. However, even though there have been improvements for women artists over the decades, there are still more hurdles for us than there are for men, hurdles keenly felt by women I know.
A few years ago I realized I wanted to do something to help. It took a while to figure out what and how. I found allies at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College who share my interest and agreed to administer the biennial Prilla Smith Brackett Award for Boston Area women artists, to help advance their careers. The Boston Foundation manages the funds. Important to me is that one can self-nominate, and that word and encouragement reach communities of color. I am so grateful that I am able to do this, and hope the award will inspire others.
Should you be in a position to help other artists financially, you could consider donating to (list current as of April 2020):
- Musicians/music artists in need of aid through Passim’s PEAR Fund, the Boston Music Maker Relief Fund, and the Boston Singers Relief Fund.
- Crafts artists in need through The CERF+ COVID-19 Respond Fund.
- Dance artists through the Boston Dance Alliance Dance Relief Fund and The Dance Complex Artists Rent Relief Fund.
- Theater artists through the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund.
- Writers through the Grub Street Writers Community Access Fund.
- Artist Relief Funds in the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Cape Cod.
David Beardsley is a member of the Playwrights’ Collective at New World Theatre (Londonderry, New Hampshire) and and Write On! (CentaStage, Boston). He serves on the Board of Directors of Playwrights’ Platform, a collaborative for Boston-area playwrights, actors, directors. He is also co-managing editor of New England New Play Alliance’s New Play Newsletter.
Prilla Smith Brackett (Painting Finalist ’10) has exhibited throughout eastern US including a solo show traveling to 8 venues in New England and the mid Atlantic States. She recently had work in the five-person exhibition Natural Attraction at Brickbottom Gallery in Somerville.
Erica Charis-Molling (Poetry Fellow ’20) is the former Education Director at Mass Poetry and current Co-Editor-in-Chief of Solstice Literary Magazine. Her writing has been published in literary journals including Tinderbox, Redivider, Presence, Crosswinds, Glass, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, Apricity, and Mezzo Cammin.
Emma Leavitt (aka Solei) is an artist working in the Boston area as a muralist and curator. She is Creative Director of Brain Arts Organization and Gallery Director of the Dorchester Art Project, platforms she uses to empower others and facilitate community-building arts experiences.
Georden West is a queer media and installation artist based in the Northeast. Their work has screened at Outfest, the International Fashion Film Awards, and is a gold medalist at the Student Academy Awards. They spent summer 2018 at Nick Knight’s Showstudio and have assisted on shoots for clients including British Vogue, Calvin Klein, Dior, V Magazine, AnOther Magazine, and more.
Images: mural by Emma Leavitt of Solei Arts, photo by Erin Clark; still image from EXORCISMS AND OTHER SUPPLICATIONS, a film by Georden West; Prilla Smith Brackett (Painting Finalist ’12), FAMILY PATTERNS #13 (2011), drawing materials, oil, acrylic on 6 panels, 96×108 in.