Connecting to Creative Work You Love

March 10, 2014

Gather around-- it's story time! The story goes like this: Back in early December I saw a posting that a small Twin Cities arts organization was looking for a part-time performing arts curator. Naturally, I thought "That sounds so cool, but I have so little curating experience, except for that living room series I made up", but Ben insisted I apply. This led to two really awesome interviews, complete with staff and board members and the whole shebang. It came down to myself and one another person, and in the end the job went to the other person. Despite the fact that this sounds disappointing, it was actually really wonderful. I learned three important things in the process:

#1-- I had a dream job-- I wanted to be a curator! Until this point I didn't realize how satisfying I was finding the creation of events like Small Art, which fit perfectly into my desire to envision bigger projects and ideas involving awesome people, and then figure out how to make them happen. 

#2-- My skills were valuable to other people. Despite the fact that I didn't get the job, it was 100% obvious to me that these potential employers were pretty taken with my background and experience- there were several comments about my huge potential. I say this less to brag, and more to point out this: like many creative people, I have a background that weaves together 80 different experiences and trainings. Sometimes it feels like I'm a jack of all trades, master of none. Sometimes it just feels good to know that your diverse background actually brings together a variety of skills that another person can hugely benefit from. It's BECAUSE of that diversity that you're valuable.

#3-- That I was dying to collaborate with a larger group of people, even if it was part-time. Ben and I love working together, but we both crave larger collaborations, too. Ben's been lucky to work with production teams for a number of projects that he's directed, but I've worked more on my own. I spend a lot of time with my computer, or one-on-one with people. Through these interviews I realized that I wanted to have more impact than I can on my own. 

These realizations are what led me to eventually get hired to coordinate Open Field at the Walker Art Center, a full-time job I've taken on until the end of August. Open Field (something I'll elaborate on in the future) can be described as the live event version of Learning To Love You More (one of my very favorite public art projects by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher), if it took place in a big green area outside of a major art museum. And well, that's just downright dreamy. 

But to get to the point of this post:
I'm thinking a lot about how artists find creative fulfillment and make a living at the same time. I'm thinking a lot about how creative people gradually hone in on figuring out what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose, because that is HARD STUFF! These are questions I've been asking for years, especially since college, and especially in the past 3 years when I realized I didn't want to be an arts educator or traditional choreographer anymore. I expect to always be asking these questions, but I feel that the past year has led to a lot of progress in this department. I wanted to share what I've been taking note of:
  • Make Friends With Rejection! I am not an unusually lucky person, I just constantly ask people for things (jobs, opportunities, interviews, advice, more opportunities), and get used to hearing 'No' a lot. Sometimes I shrug my shoulders when I get turned down, and other times it gets really old to be constantly putting myself out there so often. Sometimes I take it really personally, and vent to my husband about being a total failure. I wouldn't have found this Walker opportunity if I hadn't been turned down from at least four other significant opportunities. I had five interviews in 30 days; I got really comfortable with applications and interviews!
  • There is No Such Thing as a Wasted Experience! All of your experiences are valuable and contribute to leading you in some kind of direction. I spent ten years as an arts educator, and I'm not actively teaching today, but it led me to getting really excited about helping other people put their creativity in action-- a skill I still use today.
  • Get Help Recognizing Your Strengths & Talking About What You Do: I am lucky to have many awesome friends. One in particular is just amazing at pointing out my strengths and having more confidence than I can that I'll find a way to put them into action. What a gift! Writing has also helped me figure out what I like and what I'm good at. Writing my Next Steps grant helped me have realizations about my art-making that I never would have put together on my own! Chip away at clarity, mostly using your gut to notice what you love (people! big ideas!) and what you dislike (coding, design, writing copy for boring organizations).
  • Make It Up: Don't wait for other people to give you permission to do something. If you don't see what you want, create it. Check out this video for more on this-- and this writing by Kate O'Reilly. Also somewhat related: fake it 'til you make it. It's the only way to learn!
  • Make Space: If you want to change the creative work you do, you'll have to make space for this change. In 2011 I quit the majority of my teaching gigs. For a while it felt stupid-- who was I to be saying no to money I needed? Gradually I replaced the gigs with other work. Last October I quit my restaurant job, and the same thing happened. Obviously I'm not an advocate of being broke or overly choosy when it comes to gainful employment, but sometimes making time and energetic space really pays off. 
  • Be Patient; Be Nice to Yourself: You'll take two steps back, you won't get it right, you'll need to adjust. It's ridiculous to me that I always expect to figure things out quickly, when this expectation is downright unreasonable. It's all about noticing and making micro-adjustments. I am a total hypocrite to say this, but enjoy the process!
I've made a lot of friends through this little blog, and found so much creative support in one form or another. Thank you for your encouragement! It's nice to know that when I find myself at a new creative crossroads-- an inevitable part of choosing this kind of life-- that I can lean into that support again. I am incredibly grateful. 


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