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Creating Artistic Communities Offline

By: Akira B.  


Being a part of a community is imperative for growth and development. In our last Morning Dew Discussion I Made a Cartoonist Meetup Group and So Can You!, Masha Z. shares her experience on how she built such a community when she couldn't find one. And today, we'll be deep diving into the steps it takes to build one as well.


☆ Welcome to Curiosity’s Corner ☆


Okay! Now that you understand the value of creating a space for you and your fellow artists, through Masha’s lens, now comes the hard work! Alongside this guide, we’ll be getting helpful tips from Masha through the process. 


Step One: Planning 


In every project, planning is everything. It’s the backbone of what you are trying to bring to life. When creating a meetup group, it’s important to have very clear goals and an understanding of who and what you’re trying to bring together. There are a wide variety of arts, from writing to cosplay, so what kind of group would best fit your needs/interests? 


When you [Masha] were creating your cartoonist group, what were there qualifications that you were looking for? 


Masha: I had two friends who made art and lived in my area, so I messaged them and asked if they’d like to get together and draw at a cafe somewhere when we were all free. We all work in customer service, so we work weekends and are off on random weekdays. So we picked a random weekday morning to go to a cafe and draw, then started thinking about how we could get more people and where we could put them. We decided on once a week pretty quickly, and while we were considering cafes and coffee shops I didn’t love the idea of monopolizing a small business with a big drawing group. I knew I wanted it to be comics-focused from the start, but one of my friends is more into fine arts and the other is more into animation/illustration stuff so I didn’t mind broadening the scope a bit. Now, we get a lot of people who are interested in comics but haven’t really made many of them and are more into graphic design, concept art, illustration or games. But we also have some regulars who do make comics too!


Step Two: Research


Even after all of this planning and preparation, it’s also important to do some research. There might be communities already built in your area! Instead of starting from ground zero, you can take what you’ve built and help enhance an existing community while being a part of it as well. But in the case of there not being one, it’s important to research important things like suitable spaces. 


For you, Masha, the Arts Council of Princeton was your best avenue, but did you have any other places in mind when you were researching where to have these meetups? 


Masha: I took classes at the Arts Council as a kid/teen, and did open figure drawing there on and off throughout high school and on breaks from college (and even now sometimes, although I stopped going to those after one of my high school classmates ended up being the nude model... small town problems) anyway, I’d applied to teach workshops there a few times in the past and never heard back, so it wasn’t actually a venue I was actively considering until my friend made contact with local artist Ronah Harris at this artist’s cooperative, and she used her contacts at the arts council and agreed to help pay for the space. For the first few months the three of us split the rest of the fees evenly, but starting with April we asked our members to contribute one-time dues which made it a lot easier on us financially.

Looking at old versions of our planning doc, we were considering mostly local cafes as possible locations, but the cafes in Princeton are pretty small and also, used by paying customers. I didn’t love the idea of everyone needing to buy drinks to attend. We were also considering the Princeton Library, but none of us are actually members of the Princeton Library system, so that would’ve been a little tricky.

I do recommend finding your local arts agency or arts council, which a lot of towns have, and reaching out to them about sponsoring or lending you space for a meetup group like this. Also try your local library!


And when you have all of this information compiled and ready to go, the next best thing is: 


Step Three: Execution


You’ve secured your venue, you have the days you want the meet up to be, you even have a fun name to build said community. Now you have to advertise! As Masha said in the Morning Dew Discussion, “if you build it, and they know about it, they will come.” Advertising is a crucial step of this process and a step that can be done on and off line. 


What methods did you take when you were advertising your new cartoonist meetup group?


Masha: The same friend who connected with Ronah volunteered to design posters which we then hung up around town, and postcards we also left in local businesses and brought to events. The posters did work, as multiple people came to meetings saying they learned about this from seeing posters. We also made an Instagram, but I don’t know how effective that’s been for the purpose of advertisement. The Arts Council also helped. They put us on their calendar and promoted us on their socials, and a few people who were already doing other things at the ACP did find us through that. I think most of our regulars found us through word of mouth: we told them about this directly, in person, at a show such as the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market, or Camden Comic Con, or the Princeton Zine Fest, or someone shows up alone one week and then brings friends the next week. One guy found us through a blurb in the actual US. 1 newspaper. I think the Arts Council might have done that, or some reporter somehow found out about this group and put it in there to fill space, because I honestly didn’t even know that kind of advertisement was still possible now. I think the most effective form of advertisement is word of mouth though, because if you can connect to someone face to face, they’ll be more inclined to want to come draw with you!


And remember not to be discouraged on your first try. Community takes time to build. Your first meeting will look completely different from your fifteenth meeting so long as you’re still being diligent and persistent.  


When you expanded from your friend group into a community event, what did you expect out of the first meeting? How has it changed since then? 


Masha:  We had zero new people at our first meeting at the Arts Council because we still hadn’t finished any of our advertisement stuff by then, then one new person the following week whose mom works at the Arts Council (so that’s how he heard about it), then someone else who saw a poster, then, slowly, more and more people. Now we have about a dozen people every meeting, and it’s usually a mix of core regulars who’ve been attending every week for months on end and new people showing up for the first time. People have been telling us how much they like these meetings and value them. I’m really glad they find this sort of environment helpful. I’ve met some really cool people doing this! And isn’t that what’s all about, really? I still hope we can do more special events, like plein air drawing outside on a weekend or going to a museum together sometime.



 

And the most important thing to remember in all of this is to have fun. Remember that these groups are to build friendships and connections that you can’t always get online. This isn’t to say online communities aren’t of value, on the contrary, you can meet a wide variety of people from a wide variety of places that can help you move forward in the artistic community you’re involved in. However, making a difference in your local community can provide even more visible change, direction, and sense of growth.



Attached below is another Curiosity Catch Sheet, one to help you on your journey to creating a group that brings fulfillment to you and your artistic community. 


See you in the stars. 


~ Akira B.



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