Pursuing a creative community

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Behind every great person….are a bunch of other people. – Anonymous

Last week I had the privilege of contributing to a great blog called The Leap Year Project. For the blog I decided to share my thoughts about my experience pursuing a creative community.

I started reading Hannah Higgins fascinating book Fluxus Experience about the art movement that originated in the late 1950’s and made its mark in history with such influential artists as Nam June Paik, John Cage, Yoko Ono, Alison Knowles and Dick Higgins. Stuff like this always gets me excited: groups of people doing extraordinary work that they wouldn’t be capable of by themselves. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of talented artists to do just that. As a result, I’ve discovered that the creation of these collaborative communities require some time and work. Below are some of the ideas I’ve found to be helpful on my journey toward fostering collaboration.

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Twyla Tharp writes: 

I define collaboration as people working together–sometimes by choice, sometimes not. Sometimes we collaborate to jump-start creativity; other times the focus is simply on getting things done. In each case, people in a good collaboration accomplish more than the group’s most talented members could achieve on their own.

The possibility of accomplishing something greater then I’m able to by myself is exciting to me and hopefully it is to you as well. The concepts below have been for me some of the most helpful answers to the questions: How do I become the kind of person that talented individuals want to collaborate with? Who should be my collaborators? How can I move my current collaborations from a community of creative collaborators from good to great?

1. Be kind because after all, it’s a small world.

Two years ago I sat down with one of my professional mentors Jeff, a talented composer and influential member of Chicago’s performance art scene. I asked him for his best advice to someone like me who wants to make it in the art world. He said, “Justin, the art world is a very small world. The longer you stay involved the smaller it gets. Therefore it’s important to be kind to people, to treat them with respect. The more you do that the more your reputation will grow as a great person to work with and opportunities will start coming.

 2. Surround yourself with people you want to be like.

In the New York Times Best selling book Steal Like An Artist Austin Kleon writes, “If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.” It’s so true that we become like the people we spend the most time with, for better or worst. Make sure you are spending time with people you want to emulate. You have heroes, people you respect. Find them! Spend time with them! Let their talented, knowledge, and wisdom ooze off onto you.

 3. Time is Gold

How does a collaboration move from good to great? I can’t think of anything much more important than patience and a consistent investment of time. This may seem like a overly simple answer but it really has been one of the most profound lessons I’ve learned in the last 6 years. A wise person once told me it would be smart for me to develop roots in a community. I decided to see what it would be like to develop roots in the city of Chicago and it has been amazing to see the relationships and opportunities that have developed over the last 3 years.

Being part of a creative collaborative community is a wonderful thing, but it can be difficult. I like how Twyla put it, “People are people and people are problems. But–and this is a very big but–people who are practiced in collaboration will do better than those who insist on their individuality.” There is so much that can be said about collaboration. If you are interested in further research on the subject check out Twyla Tharp’s Collaborative habit. I am still on this journey pursuing more and more successful/deeper communities/collaborations, however I have found the aforementioned principles to be true and helpful and I hope you do too.

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