Roughly 75% of jobs are secured through networking, rather than direct application. When it comes to opportunities for artists (such as exhibitions, reviews, etc.), this number is closer to 100%. As they say, “It’s all about who you know”. And it’s true. But what isn’t true anymore is that artists must be self-focused and cutthroat to make it. In fact, the more open, generous, and supportive an artist is in their community, the more that energy and opportunity will return to them. Being a supportive team player is critical to opening up doors to opportunities for exhibitions, residencies, jobs and more. By maximizing existing connections to wider artist communities, and participating in the greater conversation in today’s art world, there is ample opportunity to gain new commissions, job opportunities – and perhaps even fruitful collaborations!
The significance of building community goes far beyond simply furthering one’s own career. It’s not enough to just take advantage of a resources and support available to artist communities; we must invest in them. Giving to a community without expecting anything in return can create real growth and progress, says New York-based artist Shannon Finnell, who holds a dual BA in studio art and peace studies, as well as an MFA in photography. Finnell, whose video and performance work revolves around the concept of support, believes it is one of the most important forces in the world. “When you create community,” she says, “there’s no way you can fail in the long run.”
These communities can start in your neighborhood and reach all the way around the globe. Whether you’re an artist living and working in a major U.S. art city, like New York or Los Angeles, or in a small town or mid-sized city, there are countless benefits to expanding your network and thinking beyond your typical purview. Chicago-based artist Derrick Woods-Morrow has made travel a central part of his life, allowing him to connect with diverse artists and citizens around the world. Since finishing his graduate degree, Woods-Morrow has traveled to South Africa, France, the United Kingdom, and throughout the American South, making work and gaining a better understanding of the ways people live around the world. Artist communities are numerous, vast, and critical to Woods-Morrow’s practice as an artist, as well as his mental health. He says, “By virtue, a collective community is always more and less than you expect, simultaneously. Whenever given the opportunity to be a part of something, remember who else was a part of it, support them and let them support you in interesting ways.” He’s developed what he calls “micro-communities,” including a group of black and brown queer-identifying friends who convene weekly at his home, a newly-formed community of engaged photographers of color called Concerned Black Image Makers, a global community built from his travels, and more. These artist communities overlap, and this expanded understanding of diverse communities has helped him develop a broad perspective.
If you’re not able to hit the road and build your global network in person, there are still so many ways to start building up your connections to artist communities closer to home. Tap into your alumni networks through online communities and in real life. Almost every college and university has a LinkedIn alumni group, so search for yours. Better yet, reach out to your alma mater’s alumni office and see how you can get involved — whether as a mentor to current students or other alumni, as a mentee seeking someone to connect with, or to offer to speak to students in person. The staff at your alma mater are looking for ways to keep alumni engaged, valued, and connected to students, and you can be a part of that. It’s also a great way to meet other alumni, which can lead to collaborations and more opportunities!
Sustaining Strong Artist Communities
The best way to start is with your existing network — you may not even know it’s there. Connect with former instructors and colleagues, friends who may need more support than they let on and would benefit from connecting with you about your respective professional art goals. Try getting in touch with past instructors from your alma mater, or even those you wanted to meet but never had the chance. Mention their recent exhibition or ask them to coffee, or invite them to participate in a monthly group meet-up. Forming a critique or discussion group is one of the best ways to start building a strong, interactive community right where you are. Start with a few key artist friends you trust to create sustainable artist communities that everyone will be invested in. Ask each of them to invite one or two artists they also trust, and grow your network from there.
Meet monthly, or more, to critique each other’s work, discuss opportunities you’ve seen or participated in, or hold a conversation around a certain theme. NY Creative Salon, a curated group held throughout the year with various themes, shares recordings and notes from each meeting online for others to learn from. Although they are invitation-only, the meetings can serve as an excellent model for others to hold their own discussion groups with friends. ArtistsU, an open-source incubator for changing the working conditions of artists, offers their curriculum “Making Your Life As An Artist” for free download so artists can assemble their own group and follow the steps to help them set and achieve their professional goals. Artist communities can be found just as readily online as in person, and by drawing from a variety of networks you can expand your professional reach.
The easiest way to expand your network globally, and quickly, is through social media and online channels. Instagram has quickly become the best place to find others interested in and making work that interests you, whether it be on a particular subject or using a certain medium. The Instagram account @abstract.mag focuses on abstract art. It’s a great place to submit work, comment, and connect with curators, artists, and appreciators of this type of content. Similarly, Flak Photo is an online resource for and of photographers, with highly supportive Instagram and Facebook accounts that are open to anyone. Both channels allow for supportive and positive discourse on photography and offer a great way into building community and staying up to date on the medium. With a little bit of research, an artist can find online communities that relate to their interests in a number of directions. You can begin conversations with folks from around the world and then expand those conversations offline to greater connections across a variety of artist communities.
Artist residencies are one of the most powerful ways to meet artists and arts supporters around the world while also furthering your work, and the types of artist residencies offered are expanding all the time. Artists can secure residencies in nearly any country in the world or even virtually, for any duration of time — there are even residencies in which artists may bring their children. With these new ways to participate, it’s easier than ever to build your community. Organizations like the Alliance of Artist Communities provide resources to artists through residency and job search directories, tips and tools, events and speaker series, and more. ResArtis, an organization based in Amsterdam, offers a free residency directory with a focus on opportunities in Europe and Asia. No matter where your residency takes place, the possibility of building lifelong relationships via local artistic communities is a great takeaway.
No matter how you build your artist communities — whether online, in person, with friends of friends or perfect strangers — the impact reaches far beyond your own practice. Community and support structures are how we better the world in which we live and fulfill our roles as true citizen artists.
Share your insights on how your practice has opened up new avenues to connect with wider artist communities and pursue new opportunities in the comments below!