5 With: Scott Artley

February 11, 2015

In these interviews it’s felt important to gather a group of people for whom the words “artist” or “creative” or “freelancer” mean different things, and people who have various relationships between their creative work and their income stream. I'm really happy to introduce Scott Artley and his awesome work as a curator and artist organizer, who talks about approaching administrative and curatorial work as part of his artistic practice, and making art is less traditional forms than, say, a painting or monologue. We're downright lucky to have great people spearheading artistic programs that strengthen our communities here in the Twin Cities, and Scott is certainly one of them. 

Describe your current creative work and what drives it or inspires you. How did you get to this place in your career? 
My background is in theater, but I would say that I'm a dabbler at heart. In simplest terms, I'm a curator and cultural producer. I'm very focused on process and on identifying the assets of an artist or a community, and shaping those assets into some tangible reality. I'm the Performing Arts Curator for Patrick's Cabaret, where I develop curatorial platforms to present artists working on the edge of culture, whether because of radical content, experimental form, or cultural marginality. I also own an independent creative consulting practice where I unite my background in nonprofit management and community arts entrepreneurship. Everything I do is united under a desire to support community-driven creativity. 

What are your biggest creative challenges?
I've struggled with the idea that I'm not really an "artist" in the traditional sense. My strengths are in organizing people and processes, and those are skills more commonly attributed to administrators. But I have increasingly accepted that being a "creative" is less about the form that your work takes and more about the way in which you do it. In my case, the way I do my work augments those around me, however they need it, and that is an intensely creative role. It's satisfying and full of rewards, but sometimes it's a challenge to reconcile that doing my work really well means making my contributions seemingly invisible while someone else gets the acclaim. In the end, I struggle with my own ego more than I'd like to admit.

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you? 
My administrative and consulting work is what really pays the bills, but my creative activity feeds my ability to approach that work with intelligence and insight. I regularly engage in projects that I know will produce little or no financial impact because I know that it's valuable for me and/or my community. When you do something with passion that improves people's lives, that's the kind of magic that you can't buy. So even when my shoestring projects are full of mistakes and don't look as great as my original vision, it's the impact on people that matters and what they remember. When you divorce creative activity from money it lets you do the stuff that's more interesting, and the more interesting stuff is what makes you gain a reputation for producing something of value. That said, there comes a point where you have to declare what that value is--and sometimes that means walking away from creative projects that aren't netting the opportunities or connections you need them to produce. I'll also point out that the only way being so opportunistic is plausible is that I work all the time: a typical week is 50-60 hours, with about 20-40 actually generating income. Finding balance there is something I've never successfully achieved.

Give some advice: what resources have been helpful to you? 
I was at a gathering once where Peter Howard, co-founder of Cornerstone Theater Company, which does process-oriented plays created in partnership with communities, was asked how he measures quality in his work. He paused, and said that he knows he's doing good work when he's uncomfortable--that if he's doing it right, he should always be steeped in the unfamiliar. That, more than anything, has guided my own work.

What local artists are inspiring/exciting you right now?
I am endlessly inspired by the folks organizing local movements around racial justice right now, specifically the Black Lives Matter and Million Artists movements. The most interesting theater is happening in the streets, and there's a lot to be learned there.

[Find out more about Scott's work via his consulting website or LinkedIn or company Facebook page. Find more 5 With interviews here.]


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