Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Empty House Studio

Back in 2012 and 2013 I ran a little place called The Empty House Studio. Read more on our blog or just get the idea with the mission below:

TEHS inspires, creates partnerships, promotes collaborations, and hosts creativity. 

The mission of The Empty House Studio 
is to provide a place for artists
to create, meet, collaborate, inspire, discuss, and grow. 

The Empty House Studio, an active art studio, is a nurturing space for 
...artists, curators, actors, arts managers, musicians, dancers...
to experiment, challenge their fears, and learn from failures 
through various demonstrations, lectures, classes, 
Happenings and pop-up shows. 

That experience taught me so much about collaboration, good management, and the artistic community's needs. I experimented with events and organizational structure, use of space, broad community acceptance of alternative ideas, and social media. We had a planned termination date, an idea I heard about in my MA program, and worked to fit as much in that time frame as possible. It was crazy, it felt crazy, and I loved it.

Blake Stenning, a fellow Empty Houser and former colleague in the Arts Management program at George Mason University, published an article and photos about The Empty House Studio back in 2013. He recently sent me the article and photos which I shared on The Empty House Studio page but I wanted to share here as well. Find the article below. Enjoy!

Midway through their Fall 2012 semester, GMU Arts Management classmates Sarah Coffin, Christine Bauer, Henri Bielawski discovered they shared a similar dilemma: the struggle to find a balance between their artistic inclinations and management pursuits. Although they were dedicated to learning the skills to become future art administrators, there was a moment of truth where they felt their own personal artistic expressions were becoming increasingly neglected. Soon thereafter, something unexpected happened…

Sarah’s cousins, who currently live in Africa, had just purchased a small bungalow in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA, and asked if she would consider house sitting until they relocated to the States later in the summer. To sweeten the deal, they agreed to allow Sarah to host artistic gatherings there. It was an idea Sarah had to offer like-minded individuals, who longed to engage in communal creative activity, a place to share and to experience the artistic process with others.

When Sarah originally applied to GMU’s Arts Management program, she wrote in her personal statement that it was her goal to create an artistic community oriented around opening one’s senses to experience the world. Suddenly, the circumstances were in place to put her ambition to practice and to apply her learning in a real-world situation while still working towards her degree. Upon hearing about the proposal, Professor Claire Huschle encouraged Sarah to pursue the project as an independent study, and The Empty House Studio (TEHS) was born.

Sarah, along with Christine and Henri, began work on the TEHS’ mission statement and quickly launched both a blog site and Facebook page. Within a relatively short time they had one hundred “Likes”; an amount which has more than doubled as word spread beyond their immediate circle of friends. Beginning in mid-December, TEHS hosted its first of many on-going weekly events. While some of these gatherings have been based on a theme, such as culinary creations or salsa dance, many are unstructured and simply encourage people to show up and be open to new experiences.

During these happenings a trained musician might find new inspiration by experimenting with painting, or a writer might try collage to stimulate a new story idea. The nurturing environment cultivated by TEHS has become a conduit for creativity in all forms, and one feels the palpable energy as a buzz of activity fills the rooms. Many who come for the first time return again as regulars, and each subsequent gathering presents a new opportunity for someone else to join and connect.

This coming June, TEHS will vacate its Del Ray address as Sarah’s relatives return to the US. What happens next has yet to be determined. Whether moving on to inhabit a new physical location, or perhaps, instead, becoming a framework for alternative creative endeavors, TEHS has already instilled in many the spirit of being in of the moment. The message is clear: for those interested in sharing a creative experience with others, now is the time!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"Dancing with Failure"

Would you say yes? If failure walked up and asked you for this dance? Would you say yes? I'm not sure I would. 

Chris Horne is a devil of a failure. He says so himself. In fact, he just spoke to a gaggle of creatives and community members in Akron, OH about his dance with failure. Now, just to clarify, he is the successful creator of The Devil Strip, an art, music, and culture magazine/ newspaper/ online news source covering everything hip and relevant in Akron. He also won the Knight Foundation grant to do something called Unbox Akron which is rolling out this fall. Unbox Akron is incredibly creative and the anticipation of its debut is killing me. But how did he get there? Through great failures, he says. 

Creative Cog Akron, an artsy speaker series put together by Katelyn Gainer, kicked off with Chris Horne's "Dancing with Failure." Horne took me by surprise. In his conversation about failure he directed us toward community rather than self-realization. He said that "we are wired for connectivity and being connected is what gives us confidence ... Being local is being human." 

He suggested that whether you will fail or succeed in your pursuit is not the question. The questions are, rather, whether you are taking action that makes us better, whether you are telling stories, and whether you are connecting people. We all seek a purpose, a drive, and a mastery. Can we help each other in these pursuits? Horne says yes. We know ourselves through our community, they help you find energy for your ideas and push you forward. But they can also catch you when you fail and help gather the pieces of failure to try again. 

Dancing is such a whimsical word to use with something as weighty as failure. Trying something potentially incredible could take off and soar or it could crash into a burning wreck. That burning wreckage is exactly why failure is weighed down with so much fear. But Horne said that to dance with failure isn't to try to lighten its reality. To dance with failure is to let it be a possibility. And in community, that isn't such a scary prospect. 

Live Local. Dare Greatly. 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." - T. Roosevelt 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Community Inspiration

Picture from Lifehacker  
Kathryn Coneway is an inspirational community arts advocate and an incredibly hard worker. I had the pleasure of working with her in her Northern Virginia Art at the Center not too long ago. She recently blogged about her work and I loved the following paragraph: 

"Shared spaces support creativity by making greater resources available than might be available to an individual. Shared spaces also create a center for creative energy so that makers working in the same space might benefit from the energy and influence of others working side by side, as well as other groups who gather there at different times.  Makers leave traces and these in turn inspire new work." 

(Read the full post here)

Heres to hoping you leave some inspirational traces today in making art, playing with your kids, or talking to a friend or stranger! 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What is "Creative Placemaking?"

There's a new hot word going around: PLACEMAKING. Before you ignore it or pass it off as a fleeting trend, you might want to jump on this band wagon; it's a fun one.
Photo from NatGeo

Placemaking is making places. Take a second to think about that obvious statement. What does it mean to make a place? What is a place? When you use that word, to what are you usually referring? An area or building or establishment that has some specific purpose, right? "That place we went to for dinner..." Or "that place with the great hiking trails..." Some places just exist - Niagra Falls for example. Other places have been made - the visitors center at Niagra Falls, for example. 

"Placemaking" or "Creative Placemaking" is a movement striving to put some more thought into the places we make, to include more people in the process of making community oriented spaces, and to infuse these places we make with a creativity that is life-giving/inspiring.

Will our artists and creatives be reintegrated into communities as vital resources? Will we become a more flexible, creative, and human society? I sure hope so.
"A good public space ... is not only inviting, but builds a place for the community around an artwork, or culture venue, by growing and attracting activities that make it a multi-use destination. Alone, no designer, architect, or artist can create a great public space that generates and sustains stronger communities. Instead, such spaces arise from collaboration with the users of the place who articulate what they value about it and assist the artist in understanding its complexity. Public art projects that engage the community in aspects of the art-making process can provide communities with the means to improve their environment and the opportunity to develop a sense of pride and ownership over their parks, streets, and public institutions. Ultimately, however, public art projects will be most effective when they are part of a larger, holistic, multidisciplinary approach to enlivening a city or neighborhood. In this way, public art can contribute both to community life and to the service and vitality of public spaces. This is the promise of the emerging “Creative Placemaking” movement."*

I love the idea of a community of workers from various fields combining their tools and ideas to create a place. I love this call to unsilo our professions when it comes to creating public spaces. Main Streets, walkable town centers, multiuse parks... Find out what your community is doing on this front and see how you might contribute. We must learn to be active participants in what we enjoy rather than passive recipients.

Read more on the NEA website.