For creative upstarts working in a vast ocean of peers, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. How can cultural producers build an effective creative community and artist networks? How can creatives tell whether their peers are facing similar daily struggles with their craft, and how can everyone overcome these struggles together? Where can artists turn to when feeling stuck making a new artwork? Dealing with these issues, it may, in fact, be best to band together with artists in a similar position to ultimately feel more secure and overcome alienation.
Building Creative Community
For artists whose existing social networks center around interests outside of their daily artistic practice, re-orienting a sense of community-building and socializing with other creators may be especially beneficial. As is the case with most other pursuits, creating a sense of community can be a surefire way not only to work with greater confidence and ease but also to pool together knowledge and resources that can aid in career development. Before discussing the concrete steps to take when growing this network, however, it may be worth reflecting on the importance of community within the art world.
In a purely pragmatic sense, building relationships with artists working in similar circumstances are one of the most beneficial first steps for someone building toward career success. The most immediate byproduct of increasing contact with other artists around can be a rapid increase in potential opportunities to have one’s artwork shown. The more connections made with other artists, installers, and gallery workers, the more likely to be considered for new opportunities. Artist networks can also serve as a pool of experiential knowledge that can translate into useful insights and practical advice. Between solving practical material studies questions and workshopping late-night Photoshop conundrums, having a community of knowledgeable peers can be a lifesaver. This is often much more effective than any Google search could ever be.
Well-being in Artist Networks: Where to Start?
More than a simple boost to productivity and career prospects, maintaining a circle of artist peers can be a boon to wellness all around. In addition to practical tips, advice on staying sane and taking care of oneself can be some of the most beneficial information for the wellness of any professional. In this way, every shared moment of frustration over freelancing, distress over deadlines, and burnout from overworking becomes a means of finding solace in shared experiences. Finding work as a freelancer in a wider creative community can be uncompromisingly brutal; one of the best antidotes can be fostering a shared culture of transparency and kindness. It may be that once one can begin to sympathize with their peers, being more compassionate towards one’s own difficulties as an artist becomes easier.
The most expedient and effective way to build out a creative community is to be immersed in the existing fabric of a local scene. Building strong connections may be easiest in casual neighborhood galleries and artist-run spaces —much more so than in large-scale museum settings — due to an existing appreciation of local artists with smaller followings. It is easier to meaningfully engage with visitors to shows put on by local galleries and venues in a number of ways.
Between volunteering at local community art spaces, putting up fliers, and tabling zine fairs, lending a helping hand at a local art institution is a great way to meet others with similar convictions. Inquiring about the possibility of volunteering at an individual studio can accomplish the same task with more established artists, and can lead to studio visits with other influential artists. Furthermore, demonstrating a genuine investment in the work of others will likely make others motivated to reciprocate this interest.
Tapping local networks may not be viable for a number of reasons. Residing in a town too small to provide a vibrant enough arts scene, or creating niche artwork, may limit one’s ability to connect with galleries and venues in the immediate vicinity. In this case, it may be easier to find success by taking advantage of online communities to bolster support. While direct messaging features on various social platforms often function well for some as a way to connect with peers, this option may not always be available or appropriate. One of the best hive-mind options is the simplest: join existing artist Facebook groups. While membership and engagement numbers on the site have hit a bit of a wall in recent years, its group and event scheduling features are the most effective means of organizing events with people outside of one’s existing networks. Try joining establishing groups with familiar artists from across the country, and – once established – pitch a separate group focused on a particular craft or skill set. From there, it can be easier to establish group work times, brainstorming sessions, and more. Sites like meetup.com serve a similar function. If this method proves ineffective, official creative organizations with multiple chapters that host classes, such as The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the Society of Illustrators, and the International Council of Design (ico-D), could serve as a sounding board by providing frequent opportunities for members to network.
Pay It Forward
After solidifying a network, make sure to always look for new faces at meetups and galleries that could make valuable additions to the existing creative community. A mindful expansion is useful beyond the stated benefits of having more connections —i.e. job opportunities and useful insight. Lending a helping hand to new members of artist networks can have great intrinsic value to creatives who may be new to the area or to the art, to begin with. For someone new to the community, engaging with someone who’s already made it through this process can be incredibly valuable.
Do you have other recommendations for how artists can build effective creative communities? Existing groups you can recommend to new artists? Share your insights with us in the comments below!