Artist Judith HeartSong is the Executive Director of Capitol Arts Network near Washington, D.C. She shares her insights on the benefits of a community for artists.
Building Community – and growing an art center
For decades my mantra when it comes to the art of business and the business of art has been “building community”. When I worked as membership chair of the Central Florida Chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art, and on through 32 years of my professional career as an artist, I have worked to build community among artists.
Artists for the most part tend to live a singular, solitary existence. Get us together and the topic comes up. Non-artists don’t get it, they think our lives are all openings and great parties. A romantic view of an artist’s life – that has nothing to do with paying bills, balancing relationships, and taking care of responsibilities. Our studio practice is a solitary pursuit that requires thought and contemplation, and letting people into that process usually stops the process. Most artists embrace that private studio time, but getting together with others can invigorate artists both personally and artistically.
So for many years I have served as a gatherer of people. I have put shows together, put people together, curated exhibits with artists who have not previously met… we even started a salon discussion group here in metro DC for artists and arts professionals with the goal of getting artists out of the studio for a little while so that they can meet and share and grow. That group has run with tremendous success for the last two and a half years and enjoys an amazing list of speakers who find it worthwhile to come and share their wisdom and expertise in an intimate, casual setting.
Little more than a year ago a group of us started work on putting a new art center together through Capitol Arts Network, and our immediate goal was to build community. Metro DC is made up of many small communities of artists, and Capitol Arts Network has sought to provide exhibition and educational opportunities for those artists since 2003. When the opportunity for a physical space presented itself, a tremendous group of professionals came together to do what they each do best, and my job was to gather artists and build a community.
Finding the right artists, and the right fit for this new art center was critical. We wanted a mix of emerging and mid-career artists who could interact with one another and learn from each other’s unique viewpoints and perspectives. We met and juried in 30 resident artists before opening and the mix of practices and personalities is already more than we could have hoped for. The artists have no set schedule here, they work when they work best, and the public is welcome to come visit and see which working artists are here on any given day. Our focus is on supporting these artists so that they can do what they do best.
The artists are learning about promoting themselves, their work, and the art center to better advantage, and they give tours and welcome visitors into their studios so that the public has a very special glimpse of the creative process. Some even regularly work at a nearby farmer’s market to promote what we are doing here at the art center. We are putting together a curriculum of business of art classes, and encourage artist teachers to teach classes and workshops here.
Group critiques and daily interactions with other creatives, both for artistic inspiration and problem solving are just two of the benefits of working in this group environment. The artists build bonds with others who speak their language, and you can frequently walk past studios and hear enthusiastic conversations going on. Postcards are exchanged for shows that our artists are participating in, and support and encouragement flow.
Gallery shows and open call shows in our hallways encourage a wide cross-section of artists to participate, and our First Friday openings are becoming lively, engaging events, partnering with the Washington School of Photography, the other non-profit that shares this three story building. The artists are taking pride in being members of this community, and we are more successful every day because of each of them. Over time we will build programming to offer a wide variety of classes and experiences for the public to participate in – like our “Be a Part of the Art – Yoga” program that is set to begin.
We have two large studios left to fill here at Capitol Arts Network, and we are looking for individual artists or groups of artists who want to share the large studio spaces. Over time some artists will come and go, and we are currently on a waiting list for standard studio spaces. Emerging artists, mid-career artists, and late in life artists are all welcome here at Capitol Arts Network – to come be a part of the art.