Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Professional Development Drop In Self-Help Sessions?

Writing Artist Survival Skills turned me into an “expert” on visual arts marketing when it was published two years ago. As a consequence of my new status, I received invitations to do workshops and make speeches in several south-western B.C. communities. It also earned my a position teaching professional development courses through the Continuing Studies department of Emily Carr University. And last year was spent interviewing a great number of artists for my new book, Making It, that has just been released.

These activities, together with my experiences running a non-profit gallery, have exposed me to thousands of artists who have taught me a great deal about the visual arts profession as it is practiced in this region of the country. The exposure and my new status of “expert” has also produced a demand for private consultations with me from artists seeking to advance their careers.

Most requests for a consultation began with a certain specificity—artists wanting feedback about a specific aspect of their practice such as their online marketing, achieving representation, pricing advice, etcetera—but my discussion with them would always lead to a discussion about their practice in general and I would often find that they needed to address many aspects and not just the specific issue first presented.

I find that contact with me often has artists experiencing their first real consideration of their practice as a business and it leads to further questions and concerns. I also very often hear artists despairing over the loss of contact with peers after graduation out of a training program. They miss the critical response to their work and a forum for discussion of career challenges. In the absence of the opportunity to get peer feedback, they come to me.

Now, after a couple of years of coaching artists, I know two things: I do not want to do career coaching, and artists can be very effectively coached by their peer. The challenge is figuring out a way for visual artists to help each other effectively and inexpensively, and when I recently got involved with an actors’ initiative, I was inspired.

My performing arts friends created a vehicle for themselves that provides an opportunity to hone their professional skills. They made a deal with a local restaurant: They provide a lot of customers to the restaurant on its weakest night in exchange for exclusive use of the space for their event. Their event involves individuals making an oral presentation, with no notes, to an audience of peers for feedback. I did it and it was fabulous and I noticed that the restaurant’s former worst night is now one of it’s busiest. So I got to thinking, what if my local community of visual artists could establish a mutually beneficial relationship with a space to serve our need for peer review?

Were less busy, I would poll/promote interest in a series of drop-in sessions that gave visual artists a chance to present their work for feedback about the work itself or its professional advancement. And, were there interest, I would be out seeking a site that might work for the sessions—a community centre, gallery or school. But I am anchored to my current work, so I wonder if CARFAC could somehow organize and promote an ongoing series of self-development sessions for visual artists here in Vancouver as an experiment? Were someone here in BC to take the lead in such project, I would certainly use all my resources to be of assistance; I just cannot lead the investigation or implementation.

I believe strongly in CARFAC and I wish far more artists were involved with the organization, so I wonder if membership might not grow if CARFAC could facilitate practical sessions such as I propose—free for CARFAC members, thinking that were this to become a popular service, it would drive CARFAC membership in this area. If someone (or a small team of dedicated workers) were to work with me, my monthly newsletter editorial to an estimated 60,000 artists, and my network at Emily Carr University of Art + Design can be a very effective tool for research and advertising.

Galleries are closing here, the economy is unstable, BC has some of the densest communities of artists in Canada, technology is changing our behavior, artists exist in isolation and visual art professional development resources are limited. How many reasons are there for artists to professionally assemble for shared experiential professional learning?

How can we help ourselves is my question and I have proposed one idea to address it. It may not be the best idea, but I am willing to work on whatever the best one is. Do you have a better idea? Let me, or CARFAC, know!

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