With today’s growing and diverse array of artist communities, you don’t have to create work in isolation or feel like you’re going it alone trying to make it as an artist. In fact, the more open, generous, and supportive you are in your community, the more likely that energy and opportunity will follow. Being a supportive artist citizen is critical to opening up doors to potential collaborations, exhibitions, artist-in-residencies, jobs, and more. By maximizing your existing connections and expanding your network to include artist communities, your next mentorship, teaching position, or artist collaboration may be right around the corner – or around the world.
Invest in Artist Communities
The significance of building community goes far beyond simply furthering one’s own career. It’s not enough to just take advantage of 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.”
Artist 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.”
Woods-Morrow has 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 many ways to start creating connections to artist communities closer to home:
- Connect with former instructors, colleagues, and friends with whom you’ve already established relationships. 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.
- 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 or as a mentee seeking someone to connect with. 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!
Participate in Artist Gatherings
The best way to start is with your existing network. Form a critique or join a discussion group. It’s one of the best ways to start building a strong, interactive community right where you are and it engages artists who want feedback on their work. 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.
Join Artist Communities Online
The easiest way to expand your network globally, and quickly, is through social media and online channels. With a little bit of research, an artist can find online communities that relate to their interests in a number of directions. 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.
Flak Photo is an online resource for 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. You can begin conversations with folks from around the world and then expand those conversations offline to greater connections.
Make Art with Others
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 community — whether online, in person, 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!
Anna Ogier-Bloomer is a fine art photographer. She has served on the graduate faculty in the School of Visual Arts MFA Program and has been an adjunct Associate Professor of Photography at The City University of New York. She holds an MFA in Photography from Parsons, an MPS in Digital Photography from SVA, and a BFA from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts.