I have received a couple messages on Facebook from someone I have never met and thought I would answer them here. The gist of his inquiry is "I am new to town,how do I join the artist community? Can I be your friend?"
I think that there are two parts to his question. The first being community and the
second being friendship. They are not the same thing. I consider myself deep in the Bellingham arts and crafts community. But there are only a handful of people who I would really call friends. Partially I am just getting older and more committed to my own life. I have less time for new friendship and focus more on my art, business, and maintaining the relationships I already have. Personally I have never made and don't imagine ever making a friend online. I missed that technological boat. I don't text, or chat online. I hardly return phone calls.
So, sorry buddy. For us to become friends I will need to see you around town for another year or two in similar places I like to go. If we have some mutual friends or interests I might chat you up. But even then we might never make it past community into the precious realm of friendship. And that's okay.
So community. Unlike friendship, which is a magical balance of chemistry and timing not unlike falling in love, community is something you can work at and MAKE happen. So how do you join an arts community,or any community for that matter?
You show up and participate.
Go on an art walk, attend a play, concert, open mic for poetry or lecture at the museum. Read the posters around town or the listings in The Weekly. See what's happening on campus. Support arts in disciplines other than your own. You like to draw. Great, but you might be just as inspired hanging out with a dancer,poet or sculptor.
To ensure more contact,conversation and the chance at elusive friendship, take a class. There are figure drawing sessions around town as well as more specific courses on everything from landscape painting to improv theater. If nothing else you will be increasing your skills and perspective. If you can't afford it, see if you can help out the teacher. Which brings us to...
Volunteer. Not only is volunteering a time to talk to other artists but you will actually be contributing to the community. This can mean taking tickets at a show,selling popcorn at the Pickford cinema, hanging posters for an event,cleaning up after something, or attending endless organizational meetings. It might not be glamorous but you will meet people who are active in the scene and they will like you more with a broom in your hand than just standing with a glass of wine expecting to be let in to the secret realms. Volunteering signals that you are serious and committed.
Do what you love and do it in public. No one will be part of your community if you are just drawing at home. (Unless you are looking for online community,in which case I have no advise for you.)Hang out at coffee shops and bars where other creative types congregate. Locally I would suggest bringing your sketchbook to The Black Drop and the Temple Bar. Even better, get a job at a coffee shop or bar, you will have endless interactions with artists as they are your co-workers and customers.
You need to be outgoing without being pushy. Have patience and be willing to put in the time. In a college town like Bellingham there is a cycle of people coming through, getting fired up about community and then leaving town. I was here seven years before some of the old timers started giving me the time of day. Now that I have lived here 14 years I am not much different.
I think it is also important to note that an arts community is made up of more than just artists. There are plenty of creative,open minded folks who don't exactly produce any art. These seemingly regular folks are often the people who are buying art and filling the seats at the theater. Some of the people I consider part of my larger community are involved with affordable housing, teaching, religious organizations, farming and food security, parenting,authentic therapy, environmental stewardship or small business owners. If you really think you can't be friends with anyone but artists because of your temperament, you might actually need to just work on your people skills.