The Power to Connect: why an artist should get out of his studio and work with others

In May of 2016 I met with my francophone artist friends at the annual event organized by RAFA (Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l’Alberta). Le Forum du RAFA is a two-day event that has consistently been one of the most inspiring of the year for us. With nourishing discussion panels and activities gathering some of the best artistic minds of Alberta – who also speak French! I look forward to it every year.

It was at this forum that some of us agreed it’s important to stay connected throughout the year to share insights and trade ideas and resources. Five of us, Karen Blanchet , Sabine Lecorre-Morre , Doris Charest,  Daniele Petit, and myself, are self-employed, and managing our careers is no small task. It dawned on us that sharing our tools of the trade and some of the work could fun and beneficial for all of us.

We created an Artist Collective we named DEVENIR. It means ‘to become’ – a name inspired by a poem written by Michel Pleau , a Canadian poet. According to Wikipedia, an artist collective is “an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together, usually under their own management, towards shared aims. The aims of an artist collective can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist…” 

For more than a year and a half, the five of us have been meeting on skype once a week at 6:45 in the morning. Why so early? Because it’s the only time that’s almost guaranteed to be open for all of us. Our meetings are organized, with a set structure that includes a template based on Mastermind, a concept developed in 1925 by Napoleon Hill in his book The Law of Success . We each contribute our ideas and concerns and discuss them together at every meeting, an exercise that takes less than an hour.

The most important part of the process is the continuity offered by meeting regularly. It allows us to get to know one another’s art practices, personal habits and aspirations. It means that each of us can receive constructive criticism and encouragement from the other members of the group. Few people are able to clearly identify their own good or bad habits, where they might need a little encouragement and how to realize their limits in terms of overcoming obstacles and finding their own the solutions. Meeting regularly gives all of us a chance to be observed and receive support. So during our meetings, we use a series of affirmations that remind us of the power of the group and of the humble, respectful and trusting attitude we all need to embrace toward one another. We get to understand one another’s goals, it reminds us what we’re trying to achieve and brings us back on track when we stray. Best of all, we’re also there to celebrate our successes.

The quarterly physical meetings are more substantial. That’s when we spend a full day together and dig deeper into subjects that deserve our attention. It’s where we set the plans for collective artwork and exhibition projects. We discuss projects, ideas, share tools and discoveries. We also look at opportunities both for each individual and for the group, and we share the workload related to that. Five people applying to galleries have a compounding effect on our access to professional exposure.

Another important aspect of this process is the accountability factor. Once you have told the group you want to achieve something, it’s a powerful motivator. I don’t know about other people, but for me, my pride kicks in and I have to accomplish whatever I said I would do.

Putting our minds together saves time. Each of us has discovered useful tools, sourced a list of suppliers, assembled a list of galleries, and created our own systems. I use to spend two to four hours before each show building up my list of works and preparing tags. Now, though, I use Karen’s recommendation and it has saved me hours of work. She suggested I try a web tool called Artwork Archive that painlessly manages inventory. Thanks to Karen, I discovered that once I spent the initial setup time entering all my work into their system, (a task that can easily be delegated to a 16-year-old at $12/hour), then I could prepare a show catalogue and the tags to go with it in a matter of minutes.

This short, early morning skype meeting each week has done more for our respective careers than most other endeavours we’ve tried. And, as a bonus, we have a solid group of friends with similar goals and interests. As my mom would say, “They are people who are constant witnesses of your life and can vouch for you. And you can do the same for them.” DEVENIR has helped make life manageable. It multiplies opportunities and renews our focus, dedication and power to dream big.



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