HOW TO ENGAGE LOCAL ARTISTS IN CREATING YOUR SPACE
Wherever you go, many local artists are willing to chip in. It’s always optimal when a grant or other support can help compensate artists fairly. Given that such support doesn’t always come together, it’s worthwhile to connect with artists in your community who may be in a position to offer their services at less than market rate. This kind of arrangement can be especially appealing on both sides if you’re able to truly honor an artist’s contribution by giving them some ownership and freedom to create within your space.
For example, if you are trying to create an undersea theme for your space, you might find a talented artist who is willing to create a fish-filled mural for your wall. Chances are you will not be able to pay this artist what they would normally be paid by a commercial client. But if you give the artist freedom, and let them really run wild with that mural, they will work for far less, and possibly donate time, in exchange for having a sense of ownership over that wall that they might not for a commissioned project.
So remember to empower and liberate your artists. They will go the extra mile for you.
And remember that your space doesn’t have to be created by just one artist — though that’s always good, too.
Most creative writing centers are the product of a dozen or so different artists, each of them given a part of the space. At 826 Valencia, a brilliant maker by the name of Raven Mahon created a beautiful undersea portal, a periscope, and the Fog Bank in the Tenderloin space. But Raven couldn’t do everything. So other artists were tasked with, for example, building a tree house, or building a fish-watching theater.
It takes a lot of work to fill out one of these spaces. Even at just 2,000 square feet, it can be a very daunting task. So here’s a step-by-step guide to how many of our spaces have come together.
Get 10 or 20 of the most creative people you know together. Ideally some of these people are makers/fabricators/carpenters/artists who will end up helping to make your space. Sit in the raw space, or sit in someone’s living room, and shoot ideas around that fit your theme and budget. We had such a session in Louisville recently, and at the end of an hour, we had about 100 ideas.
Assign these notions to local artists
If you have 100 ideas, start with the 10 you like best and are most readily executed. Assign them immediately to artists. Let’s say you want a mini-theater area where students can stage plays. This should be given to a carpenter who can pull it off. This carpenter will be working for free or for cheap, so give them more time to do it — it’s only fair. And then run down the line. Assign all your features to artists as soon as you possibly can.
Be a good client
Again, these folks are working for free or for far less than market rate. Make it fun. Make it pleasurable. Don’t be a jerk.
Absorb and adjust
The features will get done at different times, and you can slot them in as they’re finished. You will need to be flexible and able to coordinate and absorb a wide variety of artistic styles; that’s part of asking a bunch of favors of local makers. But it will work out in the end. It always does. Let’s say your theme is pirates, and the first bunch of objects — periscope, pegleg bin, fish theater — all have a cohesive look. Then an artist-friend brings in a giant bagel-boiling vat that’s been repurposed as a treasure-hunting cauldron. Don’t panic. Make it work. At least try to make it work. You have a lot of space to fill, and weird is always good. It’s better, when making such a creative space, to have more weird than it is to have a sterile or tightly controlled, overly stiff kind of environment. Be willing to bend your vision a bit to encompass unusual or unexpected contributions.
Once you get the first batch of features in, you will see how they are looking and how much more there is to do to fill the space. So do a second round of assigning.
When the space is finished, it’s not finished
It takes so incredibly long to finish these spaces and to make them look truly full. So even though you have 10 or 20 features, and bookshelves and murals and a periscope and a tank with a tarantula in it, you’re still only halfway there. Just know this going in. It will take a while and it will continue to develop, and it might be six months to a year before your space feels truly finished.
When it is finished, or even sooner, make sure your artist-partners remain in your new family. Celebrate their work. Have a party for the artists. Bring them in to speak to the students and to explain how they did what they did. Keep in touch and keep them in the fold. Continuity is important here (and everywhere).