Entr’Arts

A residence for Francophone-Canadian artists at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.

In late August I took part in a very special artists’ residency called Entr’Arts, a program assembled every two years by rafa(Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l’Alberta). 

This year’s edition hosted 23 francophone artists from four artistic disciplines: visual art, music, writing and television arts. They came from five Canadian provinces and worked under the caring guardianship of six mentors who came to us from as far away as Belgium. Each artist applied for the program with a project to work on during the residency and a mind open and welcoming to whatever might unfold.

Even though it was the fifth time I participated in the program, it’s still difficult to put this incredible experience into words because, quite literally, those six short days always succeed in rocking my world. After the first edition I participated in years ago, I came home and wrote to friends that it was like having been in the eye of a hurricane. While I was there, it seemed like everything was calmly happening within the little world I occupied. But when I left that creative cocoon, it felt like the whole world got reorganised while I was gone.

This time, I thought, I knew what to expect and felt immune to what was coming. Been-there-done-that, I thought! In fact, after a year packed to the brim with things I didn’t necessarily want to do, this opportunity felt like just one more ‘have-to-do’.

Was I ever wrong! This session might have been the one that got to my soul the most. How can I possibly explain the energy of that place and of the group in which I was immersed?

Let’s start with the land itself. The Banff Centre sits on sacred land where archaeological evidence proves that humans have lived for at least 10,000 years. It was the traditional territory of the KootenayStoneyBloodPeiganSiksika and Tsuu T’ina First Nations. The word going around the Banff Centre is that the land where it sits was a gathering place where Nations came to be together and to seek healing.  After a few days on site, we all started to feel it. The land is indeed more than breathtakingly beautiful. It is sacred.

It’s every artist’s dream: a world-class facility, a brilliant private studio space and a creative and technical team there to teach you what you need to learn and provide you with the guidance you didn’t even know you would be looking for. Your only responsibility is to expand your mind and explore new vistas in your creative work. And when your mind needs to take a break there are yoga classes, a swimming pool and endless hiking trails at your doorstep. And when, finally, you’re both tired and hungry, you’re fed a gourmet meal and provided a beautiful room where the only noise to disturb your sleep is the wind sighing through the forest that surrounds you. That on its own is a gift.

And then there was the group. The artists and mentors who were there for this summer’s program were particularly caring. Some of us got together in Edmonton a week later and had a chance to reminisce about our Banff Centre experience. We tried to decide what word could best describe this group. We chose “bienveillant”. Benevolent. All of us were so happy to be there, to work hard, to exchange our thoughts about life and art and to do it all in French, each of us with our own unique Canadian and European accents. All of us, away from home, felt right at home in one another’s company.

Part of the Banff Centre experience is to put yourself in danger as an artist, to push your comfort boundaries and see what else you can express while staying true to your own voice. At first I was almost frightened by the profound discomfort of feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. But then I discovered the joy of seeing my ideas unlock and come together and, in the end, the work I set out to do went really well.

I was there to test an installation project that can now accompany my paintings in gallery shows. (I’ll let you know more of the details about the installation in a future blog). The group discussions really helped with this process, even when what was being discussed had nothing to do with what I was doing. Hearing the others going through their own struggles and finding solutions is both nourishing and reassuring and generates unexpected answers.

I’m still riding that wave of energy! And I hope to keep all that I learned close to heart in the work I will take on in the next two years. Then I hope to go back to the Banff Centre and fill up my creative tank again.

Ent’Arts: a residency for Canadian francophone artists from New Brunswick and the western provinces is a gift to all of those who have the chance to experience it. You go there thinking you are stepping out of reality to enter a privileged time away from the usual worries of the world. But you come out of it feeling like this was reality and that the world outside of that time has taken on a whole new meaning – not fully real and all of a sudden malleable.

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Teaching Art…. a journey of unexpected rewards

Years ago, when I was just starting my artist journey, a neighbour asked if I would teach her son how to paint. I had never considered becoming an art instructor; I wanted to be an artist, not a teacher. But life has a way of putting things on your path that bring unexpected rewards.

I said yes to this neighbour’s request thinking, I should at least try it. That decision opened a beautiful and fulfilling side of my career as an artist. It rapidly took proportions I didn’t expect. And, go figure, I turned out to be a really good instructor, largely because I love teaching art and I love my students. Today I teach four after school classes a week, one or two adult classes and the occasional community workshop. I limit the numbers of hours I teach to 10 or 12 a week so I can preserve my creative studio time and, so I can always be excited to welcome my students.

Many of the kids I have taught over the years started with me at the age of nine and left when they moved out of town to attend university. And, I feel proud to share that as I am writing this, seven of my former students are studying art in post-secondary school. I believe that my students stay with me for a few reasons other than what I teach them: they know how much I appreciate them, they feel at ease in my studio and they get to work on projects they choose. Most studios or art instructors assign projects to their students. In addition to the insane amount of preparation this requires from the instructor, that way of teaching art doesn’t promote continuous learning.

The only way to become a good painter or drawer or sculptor is to keep doing it. Students rapidly tire of assigned projects and just stop going to class. By allowing them to choose the focus of their creative work, be it the subject or the form, I ensure that they will continue to feel the motivation to come back every week, year after year. That’s how many of them develop strong skills. This way of teaching demands flexibility and availability on the instructor’s part. I never know what my students will want to work on, so I need to be ready for anything. I hate to say no to a project and always want to find a way to make it come together. So I only take six students at a time. That way, I can easily afford to personalize my teaching for each student’s skill level and chosen project.

One of the things I knew an artist should do in order to maintain a life-long career is to build a community of people who appreciate and recognize their work. What I didn’t realize when I took that first teaching contract was that my students and their families would constitute a large part of that community. Because of them, I’ve never felt isolated or ignored. And more importantly, I always feel like I am contributing to the world by making other lives better and more fulfilled. Over the years I’ve received many beautiful testimonials from my students and from their parents that speak of the difference I have made in their lives. They say that I’ve been a positive and enriching presence and contributed to their personal and artistic development.

Two weeks ago I was presented with the Linda Knight Award for my contribution to the Elbow Valley community through art. I am proud of that award and thrilled that my personal passion for art has had so much positive impact on the people around me.

But, as they say, ‘there’s no such thing as a completely selfless act’. Teaching brings me a lot of satisfaction and allows me to keep up to date with the world. My teen students are my social media and technology tutors.  The kids keep me young and they help me see the world as they do, full of possibilities and wonders.

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Define Success

“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose; the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.” Oxford Dictionary. I can easily live with the first definition, but with the second… not so much.

When I moved to Calgary from Montreal 23 years ago, one of the things that struck me and made me rather uncomfortable was its culture of wealth. I was truly shocked by this obsession with money and possessions! As a child and young adult, I hadn’t seen people value others based on their financial status. In Calgary, it felt like that was mighty important and, for a while, I wondered if I should be concerned.

I eventually let it go, partly because, over the years I’ve lived here, I’ve met enough wealthy people to know that many of them don’t feel any more fulfilled and at peace than the rest of their fellow human beings. And, more to the point, as an artist, could I really afford to base my own value on how much money I make and how many people recognize me on the street? I don’t think so. That would be a sure way to contaminate my work with concerns that have nothing to do with art.

On Saturday, I attended a panel discussing the legacy of Alex Janvier and his group of indigenous Canadian artists. The subject of success came up and Jackson 2Bears, one of the panellists, asked, “Now what is success?” He went on to say “Success is to create meaningful work.”  And that’s the definition I can live with.

In her blog titled How Do You Define Success as an Artist? Lorie McNee shares the results of a survey she conducted with a group of artists. She categorized their responses in this way:
“Faith:  Conviction that they can produce what they envision, sense or get through a higher source.

Followers:  People who like their work enough to buy it or tell others about it.

Fame:  Publicity that draws attention to their work and attracts gallery dealers, art critics, museum curators and writers.

Fortune:  Income from selling enough work to support themselves comfortably without having any other source of income.”

Faith strikes me as encompassing creating meaningful work which is the foremost responsibility of an artist. Followers and Fame are about sharing your work with others, which I also consider one of the artist’s responsibilities. Fortune is a direct result of doing a good job at the first three points and should not be the artist’s main focus. When an artist spends too much time worrying about creating works that generate income, he gets lost. He wanders away from his own true voice. Of course we all need money, but the artwork should not be created with that as its sole purpose. There are many ways to finance an art career while your work takes its own sweet time creating a reputation that will eventually pay off. But remember: we’re artists. We can be creative in that aspect as well. For me, teaching art and working on community art projects feeds my personal art practice on many levels. And experiencing life outside the studio provides plenty of inspiration for studio work.

I still live in a society that over values money and possessions. But as an artist, I’ve had to learn to shove those concerns aside so I can create meaningful art because meaningful artwork doesn’t take root in greed. It takes root in experiencing the human condition and in the emotions that stem from that experience.

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The Status of the Artist:

Everyone can draw, some of us very well. Some not so well. Does that mean that everyone is an artist? No, it certainly does not.

Pulse 2, acrylic 24″ x 30″

I recently attended a discussion in Calgary about The Status of the Artist, along with professional artists from various art practices including dance, theater, writers and visual artists. We were all invited to contribute our views on ‘What is an Artist?’, ‘How do We Contribute to our Society?’ and ‘What is Our Place and Role in that Society?’ Our goal was to provide information to the Alberta Government so it can develop Status of the Artist Legislation. I was eager to attend because I saw it as a first step toward an official recognition of the artists’ contribution to society and a foundation for improving the living conditions of artists. Most are still living below, or very close to, the poverty level. And no, it’s not because they’re disorganized and lazy. Well, maybe some of us are, but not in larger numbers than what you will find in any other field of work.

So? What … and who… is an artist?

There was no problem getting the discussion started; artists are passionate and devoted to their practices and the conversation was animated and interesting since many of us have very similar challenges and concerns. Most of us feel that the term ‘artist’ is used pretty loosely in our society, and that the actual profession of being an artist is not viewed as a very serious endeavor. But I guarantee that for those of us who devote our lives to the practice and understanding of an art form, it is serious and meaningful work. Maybe we should call ourselves ‘Professional Artists’. But would we ask the same of doctors and lawyers? Of course not.

Pulse 1, 30″ x 40″

Perhaps the ‘Artist’ title encompasses too many ‘hobby artists’ – those who like to do a little creative dabbling on weekends to unwind from the work that supports them financially. They may dream of one day chucking the job that supports them and being called an artist, but my advice would be to read my blog titled Naively Optimistic. In that blog I write about the challenges of being a ‘Professional Artist’. It might put a damper on some of that daydreaming.

Anyone can be creative, but that’s not what makes an artist. We need to do a better job at recognizing the training, the work ethic, the experience and the professional presentation of the work that needs to happen before one can call himself a ‘Professional Artist’. Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers has popularized the expression “10 thousand hours”, the average number of hours one needs to invest in something before becoming good at it. Anyone who has attempted to be an artist will confirm that it takes hard work and dedication to become a competent and confident artist. Painting two hours a week and selling pieces to neighbours and friends doesn’t make anyone a professional artist.

Pulse 1, 30″ x 24″

Daniel Grant, in his blog titled How do you Define ‘Artist declares, “As opposed to other occupations that require a license, permits, state testing or even reported income, the label artist seems more like a value judgment….” He goes on to list a number of things that can be considered criterias required for someone to be called an artist:

an artist makes art. Yes they do, as much as they possibly can.

– an artist declares artistic revenues as their main source of income. Not always. A lot of professional artists hold separate jobs that support their artistic practice. But they should at least take themselves seriously enough to declare all their art related revenus.

an artist professionally presents their work to the public. Yes, they do. And that’s a critical part of a professional process. As an artist you must be challenged by how people perceive your work. It helps further your development and reflection no matter what the public’s reaction might be. And even though most artists start by presenting their work in non-professional contexts, (the church art sale for instance), they should rapidly move to jury-selected or curated shows to validate their professional status.

– an artist requires a studio or a professional working space. I have yet to meet a professional artist who doesn’t have a space dedicated to the creation of their work.

an artist is someone whom funding agencies call an artist. And there it is: the ultimate validation. Is the person eligible to receive public funds to pursue their career as an artist? Hard earned money from the tax payer cannot be carelessly distributed and therefore requires some serious boundaries as to who is a professional artist and who is not. The Canada Council for the Arts defines a professional artist as follows:

  • has specialized training in the artistic field (not necessarily in academic institutions)
  • is recognized as a professional by his or her peers (artists working in the same artistic tradition)
  • is committed to devoting more time to artistic activity, if possible financially
  • has a history of public presentation or publication.

And Grant’s final criteria is:

an artist is someone who calls themselves artist.

If you have read this and still feel confident calling yourself an artist, then go for it. But keep in mind that ‘Professional’ artists in your town, province and country work tirelessly to maintain their status, do you?

For those of you who would like to contribute your thoughts on the Alberta Artist Status, you can do so till June 30th 2018 though this Alberta Foundation for the Arts survey.

 

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Learning to be Afraid: becoming an artist

Broken, oil on canvas, 30″ x 24″

I recently saw a friend’s post on Instagram about being afraid and working through it, and since then I’ve been thinking about the time in my life 20 years ago when I had to overcome my own fear. But I’m pretty sure, that at some point in our lives, we all have to make difficult choices with uncertain outcomes, and that that process can be justifiably frightening. Sometimes, though, those fears can be overwhelming.

Life has been pretty peachy for me so far but, like everybody else, I have felt deep fear, and in some cases it felt like it was for no particular reason at all. Let’s face it: no lion has ever threatened to eat me! However, those nameless, faceless fears still find a way to bore into my head once in a while.

I decided to become a full time artist more than 20 years ago, when my first child was about two years old, when I started a day-home simply because I couldn’t imagine having to drag my own children to daycare every day. (Please know that I have tremendous respect for all the parents out there that have maintained a ‘real’ job while having babies. It’s not an easy task; it just wasn’t for me.)

Once the boys became less demanding, I figured that becoming a full time artist would allow me to keep working from home. But, above all, it was what I had always dreamed of for myself. At first, I was incredibly excited! I was going to embark on my lifelong dream and spend my time creating works of art. But a couple weeks into it – just about the time my former self would have been expecting that first paycheque for a ‘real’ job well done – fear arrived and made itself at home.  I was terrified.  I had no idea what I was doing, how to go about it, or what decisions to make that would at least generate an income that could pay for paint and canvases. Yeah, I know. Poor planning.

The colour of fear, oil on canvas, 24″ x 36″

But in my defence, I really felt that if I didn’t jump into it, I’d never make it happen. Nevertheless, as I realized the magnitude of the uncertainty I had created for myself, I started having daily panic attacks. They would always come in the evenings as I was getting tired, when I knew I had to make a decision. Then a very clever old lady told me, “No matter what you do, one morning you will open your eyes and it will be your 40th birthday. You can wake up as an artist or as something else you don’t really want to be. It’s up to you.” Clearly I had only two options. I could give up my dream and go back to a steady pay cheque with a predictable work path, or, I could stick with it and find a way through the anxiety.

Somehow I knew then I had to push through those panic attacks, so I thought I would organize myself around them. I stopped fighting, and instead welcomed them every day.  I made sure I was set up comfortably on the couch with a blanket, a glass of water and whatever I thought I would need, so I wouldn’t have to move. I tried to focus entirely on the panic attack. And when the waves of shivers and worries came over me, I sank deep into them.  I tried to feel them moment by moment, in every part of my body. I observed them, even if it was uncomfortable.  And, eventually, I came to love them.  

Diffusion, oil on board, 48″ x 48″

It felt that the more I relaxed into the fear, and surrendered to all the physical sensations that came with it, the more I felt a deep connection to the world.  Sometimes, flashes of clarity would appear unexpectedly.  Those felt like precious tidbits of knowledge I needed at that moment – precious life lessons I could put to use right away in my work and in my personal life.

Eventually, as I found a routine with my work, and the first stable sources of income came out of the work I did, I grew out of the panic attacks. With the help of my husband, who is a pro at organizing work and immensely supportive of what I do, I created a structure for my work, some goals, and a way of working that brought enough peace to keep me going. Since then, things have come together nicely and my work is largely fear free. Now I can use whatever fear that creeps back into my life as a source of inspiration for my artworks.

Today, those early anxiety attacks are all a distant memory. But my young friend’s instagram post encouraged me to remember and share my early experiences after I published last week’s blog “Naively Optimistic”. Maybe I wasn’t so naïve after all. Maybe I had a sense that being an artist would be more than a job; that it would become my life’s journey because none of the work we do as artists is done on the surface. It demands deep introspection and recognition of what life presents us.

More change will come in my life. I’m certain of that. In fact it’s just about the only thing that I am certain of! My hope is, that in the face of uncertainty to come, I will have enough wisdom to surrender to it once again, and to make the most of it, using the energy it will stir to create meaningful artwork.

 

 

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Naively optimistic: the artist’s most important personality trait

“What ultimate quality does an artist have to have in order to succeed?” I could tell that my student’s mom, who was asking this question, was hoping that her son’s talent would be obvious to everyone and be enough to be successful. And that once he had a body of work completed and accepted by a major gallery, his career would take off.

If only it was that simple.

When the way forward is clear, things feel easy.

I thought for a minute and agreed that he does, indeed, have a talent. But I also know a number of gifted artists who gave up their creative careers along the way. Talent is not enough. So I said, “I believe that every artist has to be naively optimistic in order to keep at it. Because he will undoubtedly face rejection after rejection for years to come, and have to define his own practice with very little guidance.”

Any artist will tell you that, for a hundred gallery or project applications he sends out, he will receive only a few positive replies, especially in the first ten years of his career. And now that the web has made finding opportunities easy, this has dramatically increased the number of applicants, and the number of rejections.

He will also have to decide for himself how to find his way through the maze of the art worlds because there are many ways to be an artist – and many ways to make a living at it. He could be a commercial gallery artist who creates work that appeals to home owners and collectors. He can be a public gallery artist who creates experimental work. With in those, he can be a graphic or new media artist, a sculptor, a photographer, a painter or an installation artist. If he studies art in post-secondary school he might get a glimpse of some of those possibilities but, even then, it’s really only a glimpse, and it will require lengthy investigation and introspection to figure out where he might fit.

A lot of times, the way forward is unclear.

He will have to be comfortable with the unknown. There are few veterans of the arts who have the time to show aspiring talents the way forward. He will have to piece his career together as he goes, scavenging information and knowledge where he can find it. He will have to be adaptable throughout his career because most successes are happy accidents that follow relentless dedication and experimentation. Success relies on recognizing and chasing opportunities when they appear. Those opportunities are as much the result of risk taking and quick decision making as they are of planning and a dedicated work ethic.

Today the dramatic changes occurring in the art markets represent new challenges for all artists. The rapid growth of online sales, the decline of gallery sales, the new marketing practices all present new opportunities for the artist. They have the potential to put the power in the hands of the artist, bypassing the system’s validation. But today the artist is hard pressed to invest his energy in the right place at the right time… all the time. Keeping up is almost impossible and by the time he’s figured it out, he’s likely lagging behind the trend.

He will also have to develop an immunity from criticism. He can’t please everyone. As an artist, half the people he meets will dislike his work or be completely indifferent to it. Some might passionately hate it! (I still wonder why people care so much? It’s just paint after all!) There will be times when his best friend or his brother tells him, “I really don’t get what you’re doing,” despite having discussed it many times.

And I’m afraid that early in his career he’ll find himself living in a world that defines success in a very different way than he does. But that’s a subject of its own and better suited for a future blog. So, suffice it to say, if you want to be an artist, you have to be naive enough to face the reality of the art business and not let it get in your way. Most art school graduates around the world don’t last more than a couple of years in the art world. They give up for a number of reasons. To tough it out you have to ignore the difficulties, the unclear destination, the negative feedback, and the isolation due to your work being misunderstood. There’s a huge commitment required to establish your presence as an artist. You just have to keep moving forward in search of answers you may never find.

On good days, we feel that we are exactly where we need to be.

I say all this with no resentment or regrets. Twenty years into it, I love my job and would not trade it for the world. Over the years, an artist’s work leads the way forward and he discovers who he is as a person and as an artist. And as he does, people start taking him seriously and opportunities multiply. That takes time, a lot of it.

For me though, all of that makes the work worth doing. I’m searching, looking for meaning and answers and discovering more about life and about who I am, who we are, along the way. But ultimately, the answers themselves don’t really matter. The thrill of pursuit is what keeps me going. Because being on that quest for meaning is what artists do; it’s the ultimate joy!

 

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Intentional Ignorance: how the artist preserves her studio time

We’re way too busy! Who ever said that technology would make our lives simpler and allow us more leisure time was seriously wrong. Past the laundry machines and the dishwasher, it’s only made our lives more frantic and at this point we’re all racing along at an inhuman pace. But, in the midst of all this madness, the artist is expected to protect her creative time. Yes, it’s true that all our new technology and communication tools have made us only a click away from information and anyone who might need us, and it also means we’re expected to do everything by ourselves and to do it fast. But if I cater to the pressure to do more, how can I keep my energy focused on what matters the most to me – creating artwork?

The orange cat, acrylic, 40″ x 40″

Of course the younger generation has discovered a pretty effective strategy for dealing with the information onslaught. I call it ‘intentional ignorance’. They only reply to texts and emails when and if they feel like it. It’s irritating to the older generation, but I see their point. It’s too much. Too many emails, too many social media posts, too many texts. There’s only so much anyone can do in a day and each of us has to select what deserves our attention. For me, it’s creating my artwork. Everything else, (except for walking my dog, of course), can wait.

Jess and Blair, who run Blogging 4 keeps; an interesting site dedicated to helping would-be-bloggers figure out how to be good bloggers, recently sent a newsletter titled Be More Ignorant Please.   They write about the overwhelming amount of ‘important things’ that we must deal with to be present on the web so we can promote our business. (And yes, it’s subject that concerns artists as much as any other business person.) They say “… allow yourself to be intentionally ignorant on certain things, even if people are telling you that it’s important to be an expert. Pinterest is important. Instagram is important. Email is important. Photography is important. Networking is important. But you can’t do it all, and if you do, you’ll be overwhelmed.”

Last week, a friend of mine generously volunteered to organise the details of an artistic group event. Others in the group had unintentionally neglected that project, perhaps, simply because they put their own priorities ahead of it. This meant that my friend was spending the best and most productive hours of a few days on this project – which also meant she wasn’t in her studio working on her art.

As we talked I realized once again that, for me, my job is to be in my studio creating. Yes, promoting my art on the web is important, yes being available to help organise artistic events is important, yes seeing my friends is important, but none of it is as important as the time I reserve to be in my studio. And I need that time every day for a number of hours.

Cisco on our morning walk in the forest

Some artists give themselves a rigid schedule to make sure this happens. I have a friend who’s in her studio by 8:00 am and doesn’t leave until noon. No matter what. Me, I try to be aware of how much I can stand of each distracting chore. Mornings are best for me, so I get up early. I dedicate the first hour and a half to writing, researching and thinking things through for my various art projects and marketing my work. Then Cisco and I go for our walk where the forest re-centers me and puts me in the right mood for my creative work. By the time we get back, Cisco’s ready for his nap under my work table, and I’m energized and alert, ready to be creative until it’s time to teach my after-school painting classes. Of course some projects will inevitably compromise that schedule, but I’m pretty conscientious about sticking to it.

Art Work Archive recently posted a blog titled How to create more time for your art: a worksheet where they share a handy printable “little exercise in self-reflection that can help you figure out how to gain more time back for your art.” Through a short series of pertinent questions, they encourage us to look at where we spend our time and to question if it is where we really want to spend it.

Our crazy world is frenetic! More than ever we need to discipline ourselves into choosing where we want our focus to be. I want to concentrate on creating inspired works of art. As to the rest? I try to cram what I can into the not-so-productive hours of the day. That often means I don’t get it all done, but I’ve made my peace with that. The funny thing is, though, nobody seems to notice what I don’t get done – or care, for that matter.

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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.

Merci DEVENIR!

 

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