If you’re struggling to connect with other like-minded creatives and artists, hosting a local art meetup might be the antidote.
In one of the loneliest cities in the United States, a billboard reads, “Will the last bad bitch leaving Seattle—turn out the lights?” The piece is a part of a new public art project called “a lone,” which highlights the loneliness so many people face.
Freelancers and solo artists are especially vulnerable. A 2016 Deloitte study found that isolation kept more than half of independent contractors from feeling “very satisfied” with their careers. Building community is difficult when you work by yourself. But the collaborations and friendship that come out of it are worth the effort.
“Art is not something that you make and isolate,” says Brian Frink, a painter, and art professor. “You get ideas from other people.”
Frink was struggling to meet other artists when he started the Rural America Contemporary Art Facebook group about eight years ago. If he still lived in New York City, he’d go to parties, museums, and exhibitions. But in Mankato, Minnesota, a town of less than 40,000, it was easy to fall behind on trends.
Social media meant that fresh and new ideas could get out to rural areas like Frink’s instantly. He also wanted to show that rural art could be just as cutting-edge as those made in cities. The work promoted on his page would be more than paintings of hay bales and cows.
Since then, Frink’s group has swelled to more than 3,500 members. They’ve collaborated on a handful of regional and national exhibitions, hosted parties and even published an online magazine at one point. They’ve shared and discussed and critiqued work online.
Hosting a community space or art meetup to network with other artists is more attainable than it seems. If you also have an urge to connect, veteran organizers like Frink have a few key considerations to keep in mind. Here’s how to organize an artists’ meetup.
Nail Down your Event’s Logistics
Getting people together doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re stumped on ideas for an art meetup that doesn’t take much planning, you can always get a group to go to a public event or organize a potluck at a local park. Just make sure to specify a specific meeting place, so people can find you.
“You have to figure out when you want to do the event, where you’re going to do it at, and from there, you start to figure out who’s going to be there,” says Michael Wills, of the now defunct Portland Artist Network. The network brought together diverse visual artists, musicians and other creatives for multimedia festivals and parties.
An event once set back the group $25,000. Even though Wills split costs with two other organizers, he still had to pay out of his tips as a bartender every week. He recommends you cut costs whenever possible. Consider hosting your art meetup at someone’s home, rather than renting a space, for instance. Crowdfunding can help you get funds for larger-scale, more expensive events.“Start small and work your way up,” Wills says. “You create that space by who you put in there.”
Choose a Way to Promote Your Art Meetup
Frink didn’t give much thought to hosting his rural artist’s group on Facebook. But he can’t name another social media website that has the same reach his network enjoys. After all, about two-thirds of Americans have an account. Having a primarily online community helps people across the country connect.
Choose a platform to promote your event that works for you. You can also attract local artists using Facebook, which is free but can also be difficult to bring members out into the real world. In contrast, the website Meetup emphasizes building in-person connections, but it does cost between $10 and $15 a month to host an art meetup. Participants don’t need to pay, however. Carolyn Abram has some useful tips for beginners to create their first Facebook events, whileMashable’s a good resource for newbies to Meetup for those who prefer to stay offline, there’s always passing out flyers and posting on bulletin boards. Make sure to hit local coffee shops, libraries, and universities.
Team Up with Pre-existing Organizations
You don’t have to tackle event planning for your art meetup alone. Use the internet or a phone book to find people with similar goals. Americans for the Arts, for one, has a good list of potential arts programs to reach out to nationwide.
Consider getting in touch with groups in surrounding towns, as well. To host a regional exhibition, Frink sent out emails to a mix of artists he knew and those he met on Facebook. They showed at a local arts center in the nearby town of St. Peter for three years in a row.
Wills started talking incessantly about what he wanted to do and found many excited about participating. Manhattan Arts International’s Renee Phillips has a good template for an elevator pitch you can use to promote your project or art meetup. You may find allies in more places than you think.
If you want to build a sustainable artists community, resist the urge to go all out. Bringing in too many people into planning an event can also stagnate progress. According to Wills, the Portland Artist Network grew too fast. At one point, those who wanted to get anything done had to convince about 20 people on the leadership team to be on the same page.
The nonprofit eventually shut down and reemerged as an LLC—led by a more manageable three people. They hosted more events until one of the organizers died and the others became too busy to continue.
Even if you don’t want to scale up into a nonprofit or a business, be deliberate about keeping your event or art meetup simple. Busy artists are already in constant danger of burnout, and it can be easy to get caught up in politics, rather than focus on making connections.
Get the Ball Rolling Now
Follow through when you feel inspired to bring people together. The results may surprise you.
“We were in the middle of a blizzard here in Minnesota. It was freezing, and the snow was piling at the windows. And I started drinking beer, just kind of going, ‘Why do I live here?’ And [laughs] it just felt like I was in the middle of nowhere,” Frink says. “The saying for RACA is, ‘Making nowhere into somewhere.’”
He says he was just goofing around when he started the Facebook group, but people instantly started joining. He saved details like recruiting help for later. You don’t have to have all the answers when you first put your event or art meetup out there.
Cover your Bases
Wills has always been struck when he’s worked with professional promoters, and they’ve been unprepared for the events they’ve been hosting. He says the Portland Artists Network always took care to pay artists first for any event it hosted.
An event-planning checklist can be a valuable tool to make sure you cover important details. Don’t forget to plan for emergencies and bring basic small tools like pens to your event.
Have a Clear Goal
Above all else, be clear about what you want your event or art meetup to accomplish, otherwise, your project can run away from you. Stay true to your vision.
“You have to believe in where you are,” Frink says. “You just have to look around at the place you live and try to figure out how to make it interesting and how to make it different and make it the kind of place you want to live as an artist.“You know, it takes a long time. You’ve got to be patient, but I think that is really the way you have to do it. You can’t wait around for someone to do it for you.”
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