Artists & Community
By Milisa Galazzi
As a regular feature in ProWax Journal, this month’s Artists & Community is Milisa Galazzi’s (MG) interview with artist Kim Bernard (KB) about her residency experiences.
MG: Kim, there are many ways in which artists seek “community.” What are some of the ways in which you have created community for yourself as an artist? I am specifically thinking about the fact that you started New England Wax and the Encaustic Facebook page. Please talk a little bit about your motivation to create these two communities and what you have gained from starting these communities?
KB: I believe, for many artists, communities are vital in making connections with other creative people. It’s the place we feel a sense of belonging, share ideas and build a supportive network which sustains us as we ‘go it alone’ back in the studio. Without ever intentionally setting out to create community for myself, I recognize that I have several: Boston Sculptors, New England Wax, the Facebook Encaustic Group and the yoga studio where I practice. In each of these groups I feel like I’m with my tribe, so to speak.
New England Wax started after I had been teaching encaustic workshops for a number of years. At the end of the workshop, students would always ask if I would share their emails so they could stay in touch. They’d ask if there were any associations or guilds to continue to learn from and exhibit with. The question came so often I gathered there was a need. Since I maintain contact with many artists who work with encaustic and those who have studied with me, I decided, in 2006, to reach out and start a group since there wasn’t one already. Boom! Before you knew it, it took on a life of its own. Exhibits were being organized, bi-monthly meetings were being held, committees being formed and projects were underway. NEW is still thriving today with 40 active members.
The Encaustic group on Facebook happened in a very different way. Frankly, I got on Facebook to spy on my kids, but then of course started connecting with artist friends, family and students. One day, being the organized type that I am, I started organizing all of my encaustic friends into a group. Little did I know that I was inviting them to a group called Encaustic. By the time I realized what I had done, people in the group were saying “Hey, what a great idea, thanks for inviting me,” so I went with it. Now there are 1189 people in the group.
Making art is such a solitary endeavor, yet we’re social creatures. You have to have so many different skills in different areas. You have to be chef, cook and bottle washer. By combining our efforts with a group of like minds, opportunities arise, you have peers to get advice and feedback from, who understand you when you’re in a slump and celebrate when you have success. Who wants to live in a vacuum?!
MG: What advice would you give someone who is not at all connected to any artist communities?
KB: My advice would be to start your own… nothing big and organized, just something informal. Contact a handful of artists, say four to six, who you feel are your peers, and meet monthly at one another’s studios. Have a format so there’s discussion about the work, feedback and an opportunity to exchange ideas.
Another approach would be to search for a group that’s already formed, an association, co-operative, a group project, crit group, drawing group, etc. Go to meetings and get a sense of if the group is a good fit. Move on if it’s not or get involved if it is.
Another way would be to get out and go to openings, exhibits, artists’ talks, panel discussions, events and workshops. Make an effort to strike up conversation, exchange contact information with like minds and follow up. Put it out there that you’re someone who wants to have a dialogue, an exchange. I know these things take time but I don’t think they have to be forced. When you start circulating among art crowds, you start to see familiar faces. Things will happen organically.
MG: Kim, if you could press start all over again and begin your art career “anew,” what, if anything, would you do differently in regard to this topic of ‘art and communities’?
KB: I wouldn’t change much with the exception of being more selective about the art communities I became involved with. Some were a dead end, consumed a lot of my time and gave little back. Some groups were not serious and professional enough or were too social. One thing I learned (the hard way) to do well was to delegate and think twice before volunteering. A handful of individuals tend to do most of the work. For the wellbeing of the community, it’s vital for everyone to pitch in, as equally as possible. Another thing I’m realizing, in retrospect, is that those communities where there is a balance of men and women functioned best. That’s rare though because more women tend to gravitate to these communities than men.
MG: Thanks so much, Kim. What else you would like to add to the discussion on the topic of artists and communities?
KB: I think that about sums it up!
Galazzi is an artist living and working in Providence and on Cape Cod in the summer. Her graduate degree is from Rhode Island School of Design where she especially focused on her lifelong interest – art and community. Her website is www.milisagalazzi.com and she is represented by ERNDEN Fine Art Gallery in Provincetown, Mass.