Artists are not known for their organizing prowess. Most artists work and create alone, but on occasion, an artist may need to team up with other artists in order to accomplish a large project. Some artists band together in collectives or cooperatives.
So, for the artist who is trying to team up and accomplish a lot, below is a list of ways artists can organize with one another.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Advice
Recognize that you’re not alone, and that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Talk with other people who have started artist collectives or organized large artistic projects. Ask for tips about how to get started. Ask what community resources are available to you.
Build Your Team Wisely
Create a core group that consists of people that are excited and willing to work to get things done. Make sure you select people who aren’t just talented, but also reliable. If you’ve ever had a friend/colleague who said they were going to do something but didn’t, or never paid you back money they borrowed, that person may not be the best fit for what you’re looking for.
It’s Not Always About Money
Talented artists deserve to be paid for their time and their work. However, organizing a group of artists isn’t always about a specific project, or about money. Sometimes it’s just about connecting, networking, sharing stories, or learning from one another.
You could organize a group of artists to be a joint book club, or to listen to guest speakers that will enrich their practice and view of the world.
Don’t Get Sucked Into The Big Idea
Often, when people get together to plan something, at least one person will suggest a big exciting idea that is completely impractical. Someone will say, “What if we build a 60 foot tall sculpture of a Coyote?” or “Let’s Organize Our Own Presidential Debate.”
Big Ideas and Big Thinking are good, but it’s important to stay realistic and identify how those big ideas can be achieved. If everyone gets excited about a big idea that is unachievable, then that excitement and energy turns to disappointment and regret.
Disappointment and regret can kill the momentum and morale of a group. Before your group gets too carried away with a big impractical idea, make sure you identify a clear course of action on how to accomplish it. If you can’t identify it, move on to the next item.
Be An Active Listener
Active listening is a specific technique of listening. It means that when someone is talking to you, you look them in the eye, give some visual cue that you’re listening (such as nodding your head), and hearing what someone is saying rather than trying to preemptively deciding what your response is going to be.
Sometimes this means repeating back what they said to make sure you understood it, with the preface of, “It sounds like you feel…” or “If I’m hearing you correctly…”
This shows that you care about having a conversation with this person, and makes them feel heard.
Create a Conversational Environment
Sometimes it’s important to push forward an agenda in order to get things done, but it’s also important to find that balance to engage with the artists who attend.
If you’re meeting in person, set the chairs in a circle so everyone is facing everyone else.
Always use an ice breaker, or a game to lighten the mood and allow everyone to learn something new about the attendees. Try to alternate it every week, since some organizations will have a mixture of old and new artists attending.
- What’s your favorite artist tool and why?
- What’s rocking your work world today?
- What characteristic do you value the most in your colleagues?
- What is the most important personal attribute that you bring to your art?
- What are you most excited about in relation to your artwork this year?
- What’s one art-related skill that you’d like to develop, especially if you could do it easily?
- If your studio was a tree, what kind of a tree would it be and why?
- What one factor or facet of work do you complain, moan, and groan about the most?
- What habit drives you crazy or bugs you the most?
- Describe the culture in which you could most successfully contribute your best work.
- How much money would you need to win to walk away from your current job?
- When you have worked with a successful team, what factors were present in the working relationships?
- When you have worked with an unsuccessful team, what contributed to its failure?
- If your studio was a car, what kind of a car would it be and why?
Gauge How Your Group Is Progressing Through the 4 Stages of Communication
There are (generally speaking) 4 stages of communication that help identify how a group is moving forward towards authenticity and vulnerability.
The first stage is small talk as if you passed someone in a hallway. How are you doing? What have you been up to this week? Etc.
The second stage is facts. Talking about sports scores or the weather, things that people generally don’t argue about.
The third stage is ideas & opinions. This is the stage where people start to feel comfortable with one another, and open to a sense of vulnerability, expressing their suggestions, insights, and (of course) ideas and opinions. They know that their ideas will not be discounted, and they’ll even defend their opinions. Levels of trust are moving forward.
The fourth stage is feelings. This is the level of comfort where people feel a strong enough of a relationship that when asked, “How’s your week going?” they’ll tell the truth, and feel comfortable enough to say, “Terrible. My husband just left me for his yoga teacher’s receptionist. How fucking Zen.”
This is when people realize that the group is a safe haven for people to talk about real life issues, and it’s in this spot where people can share real concerns that will help guide them to hope.
As A Group Leader Be The Model
As a group leader, it’s up to you to help guide the group by example. I want to be clear up front, this does NOT mean that you should work super long hours or break your back trying to do something while others don’t. It means much smaller, simpler actions.
If you are asking an ice breaker question, or a particularly difficult question, be the first to answer it.
If you want the group to speak ideas and opinions, then (humbly) speak your own ideas and opinions.
Speak about your own mistakes and mishaps in order to help people feel comfortable and advance to Stage 4 of communications. This allows for people to share really creative ideas without fear of reprisal, condemnation, or criticism.
Make Sure Everyone Is On The Same Page
Making sure everyone is in agreement and moving in the same direction is important. The best way to accomplish this is to write or draw what you’re trying to accomplish. This can come in many ways, including working out a mission statement. A mission statement is putting what the project is about on paper. It normally consists of a few concise sentences.
Another option is an actual instruction booklet. Artist, Bob Snead, created an instruction booklet as part of his Assembly Line project. That way, whenever there was a conflict, or someone didn’t make something correctly, he would non-judgmentally say, “Well, let’s see what the instruction booklet says.”
Write Up a Contract
There’s a saying in Hollywood, if you want your friends to remain your friends, sign a contract.
When starting a new project with a team, it’s important to make sure everyone understands what’s expected of them. For example, let’s say you tell a friend you want them to work on your funded project, and you can afford to pay them $500 for a week of work. Well, are you paying them $500 for 40 hours of work, 20 hours of work, or 5 hours of work? This kind of misunderstanding can ruin friendships.
Develop a contract for each member to sign that defines responsibilities and rights between you, the member, and the project. Include termination steps for both parties and how to solve disputes, such as through an arbiter.
It doesn’t need to be long and complex, or signed by a notary (unless your state requires it). It could just be a few bullet points.
Assign Specific Activities
If there are specific activities that need to be performed, assign those activities, and make sure there is a date and time when it’s expected to be completed. Assign people to oversee the planning of the activities. Activities examples include newsletters, workshops, website, sales and planning meetings.
Make sure that no one person is responsible for any one task, because if they flake, and other people are depending on them to do their tasks, then it causes a ripple-effect. This is called a single-point-of-failure, and can be very damaging to a project.
If You Are Handling Money, Assign A Treasurer
Most art projects will have a larger entity managing the money, whether it’s a city for public art projects, or a nonprofit. If you don’t have one of those, make sure you choose someone extremely trustworthy to handle the money. Assign a person as the treasurer. This person should be comfortable with spreadsheets and working out budgets.
Set Regular Meeting Times and Locations
Make sure you schedule a regular project meeting, most likely once a week.
Confirm times when everyone will be available.
Locate sites to hold meetings and workshop, such as a local art supplier or a cheap rental. If all else fails, use Zoom (it worked for Covid).
Have more ideas or questions on how to organize artists? Let us know in the comments.