Artists U: “All I need to be is open.”

Christina Laurel of Greenville was one of 30 artists who participated in the South Carolina Arts Commission’s recent Artists U Intensive, part of the Artists’ Ventures Initiative. She shares her experience in a post on her blog:

Expectation, anticipation, and trepidation are all folded into the days prior to attending the November 15-16 Artists U in N. Charleston, SC. Expectation: dealing with social media. Anticipation: resources, tools, grant writing, and new ways of looking at the business of art. Trepidation: dealing with social media in a room filled with eye-rolling young artists. Before I reveal “which pea under which cup” emerges, let’s discuss what I did know about Artists U as of November 14.

Choreographer Andrew Simonet is founder and director of Artists U, operating initially from Phildelphia but now expanded to Baltimore and South Carolina. Facilitators include visual artists, educators, writers, performers, directors, and professionals from other disciplines.  The SC Artists U is open to 30 artists; applications were due September 13. The weekend intensive is part of the South Carolina Arts Commission‘s Artists’ Ventures Initiative and is, I believe, the second occurrence of this event for the state.

Here is what I know as of November 17: it is unnecessary to be expectant, anticipatory, or trepid. All I need to be is open.

From the moment Andrew greets the ensemble ringing a horseshoe of tables, there is acceptance, validation, and encouragement. My fellow creatives are all ages, genders, ethnicities, and in different career stages. Okay, I do eagerly wish Friday evening would begin on time, as chitchat with tablemates is dwindling and refreshments are reduced to crumbs on plates. However, when the program officially begins, not for an instant does Andrew lose my attention.

Participants are asked to bring a notebook and pen. Only. Handouts are provided, PowerPoints are absent, smartphones and computers are temporarily irrelevant. The facilitators – Tamara LaValla, Darion McCloud, David Mitchell, Karen Ann Myers, and Rodney Rogers – join in the discussion as appropriate and lead breakout groups. The SC Arts Commission has a supportive human presence – Program Director for the Initiative, Joy Young; Board Commissioner, Barbara Nwokikie; Program Director for Arts Participation, Susan DuPlessis; and Executive Director, Ken May. All of these totally engaged individuals are working as a team, just for us. Delicious.

There is homework the first night: write a list of goals for what I want personally, professionally, and artistically in the next 2 years. No one checks the homework on Saturday; this is my job. I’m instructed to leave it alone for a week, then choose three goals (total), and write small steps for reaching the goals. It is helpful to be reminded of the concept of “small.” I tend to conceive of artistic progress as going bigger. This weekend, I consider small as a way to go big.

Without recounting a play-by-play as the intensive unfolds, I’ll attempt to recapture its essence. If our art is mission driven, connected to our values; if we have community, manage our time and resources; if we think in terms of an art life versus career, then we can build one that is balanced, productive, and sustainable. Good stuff.

Although It is a ubiquitous exercise – tell everyone one thing we don’t know about you, it didn’t fail to lighten the atmosphere and connect participants. Who knew that one can be an artist as well as a roller derby teammate? or a former medical photographer? or still hold a long jump record as a former gymnast?

I find it is actually refreshing to rewrite my artist statement, and to hear how other artists deal with common issues. It is so relieving to be freed of the should’s: the external and internal voices telling me I should be tweeting or tweaking. Unless tweeting and tweaking are relevant to my mission and are manageable.

The sensation of being overwhelmed is not felt, even if I do have a handful of notes and handouts. Not overwhelmed even on Sunday, when I am one of the early recipients of an integral part of Artists U: one-on-one mentoring. Actually, my one-on-one is one-on-six, with Andrew and all the facilitators present. This session is clarifying and focusing as I look ahead to 2014 and beyond. Honestly, what a gift!

I fully intend to consume my plateful of info and input from presenters and participants, until all is reduced to crumbs.

Via: Christina Laurel


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