After reading that title, you might be thinking, “Why would I want to organize a community art event? Aren’t those projects best left to the non-profits?”
Here’s the short answer. Not at all!
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Today I’d like to awaken all of you to an opportunity where you can not only give back to your community, but also position yourself as an artistic presence in your town.
Once your name becomes affiliated with instructing and organizing community art events, you will be seen as one of the go-to gals or guys for local arts—and that will increase your own artistic credibility. It has been said that what you place into the lives of others comes back into your own, and community art events are certainly a prime example of that.
I have had the privilege of organizing and participating in more than 10 very large community painting events, and I will tell you, first off, that a whole lot of artistic ego needs to be left at the door.
I’ve discovered that when artists helping me didn’t have the right frame of mind, the event, in some moments and for some people, went sour. This frame of mind might startle the typical visual artist.
The right frame of mind going into an event like this is to just let go and let the process work. . . it doesn’t have to be perfect.
My first community art event
In 1986, I organized my first large community mural. The canvas was over 300 feet long, attached to a fence during the Riverfest (a local summer festival) and was a statement on community.
You’ll love the premise. Each “painter” had cups of 3 colors, a sponge, and instructions. They had to paint in their own space on the canvas, whatever they wanted, without interference. The only stipulation was they had to merge their idea with the painters on their left and right, to collaboratively create the idea of community; getting along cooperatively while retaining individuality.
The event was a total success—painters stood at that canvas and didn’t want to leave. Some dabbed their sponges, some smeared them, and some even felt so unified to all humanity that they dabbed their paint filled sponge across all boundaries, breaking “the rules” of the event and invading the space of other painters.
People asked, “Can I run my yellow squares into the middle of your red waves?” And others said, “Can you bring your purple-ish stars along this line?”
I learned a lot that day. I learned that given certain parameters, humanity wants to get along. When people are united toward one goal, they actually come together in polite, missioned sensibility.
I also learned that any attempt by me to “straighten things out” was an ego play that did not serve the project. Art is in everyone. Creativity is a gift of being human. What they needed from me was encouragement. The rest took care of itself.
Lest you think we had no troublesome players, we did have a one young individual who attempted to ruin the work of others. As facilitator did I have to come and place the lad in handcuffs? Surprisingly, no.
The community took over and registered their complaint with his disregard of their contributions. He was summarily dismissed and sent on his way. And suddenly I knew what art was for in a way I never experienced before. These people were not professional painters. Instead, they were “artists” in the truest sense—willing and responsible participants in their own culture
When the mural was finished, I had coached only a few people on how to mix color and how to merge their art with the next guy’s. As they handed me their sponges and cups, took off their aprons and thanked me for participating, I gushed over what they had accomplished.
Each person’s creation appeared in 2 foot segments of the canvas, and between each was a creative adaptation of one artist giving way to another—two strangers collaborating to make something beautiful from the merging of their individual styles and personalities. My eyes teared. It was profound.
And best of all, everyone wins
Sometimes you think your offering will be an enriching event for mankind, and sometimes the universe conspires to teach you the beauty of humility. Each human being has the gift of creativity. Each and every one. And that is why they recognize the artwork they love, when you create it.
It’s incredible—something will change inside you when first host a community painting event. I know, right now you’re probably running through your mind every reason why you couldn’t do it or why it wouldn’t work. That’s normal. We tend to think of the obstacles first. And sometimes fear of the unknown is our biggest enemy.
But what if I told you everything you could do to make it happen, step by step? Would you be willing to follow through and set up the contacts, calls, volunteers, media and promotions, donations and local celebrity support to make it a success? How about if I told you they were waiting for your call?
How would it be to discover that hundreds of people were behind you 100% percent and completely willing to be a part of it? What if you found out that others would come along and get involved because they believed in your concept?
That is what you’ll find when you silence the negative, fearful thinking, and embrace your true calling as an artistic voice, enriching the lives all around you.
When you get the opportunity to see an accountant paint for an hour, enthralled, and then sheepishly apologetic for not giving way sooner. . . lost in the paint and the swirls and strokes, you will appreciate more fully what it means to be labeled, “artist”.
Sometimes I think we are here simply to provide opportunity for the members of our human community to touch an inner awareness or voice that they too share. Sometimes our courage to pursue the arts gives others the courage to do the same, even if only in small ways, for a short time.
I mentioned that you will increase your credibility in your own community if you facilitate a community art event, but the whole experience is a win for the community that participates as well as yourself—as long as you have the right attitude.
Whether you drop paint balls off a building, do a community cityscape, stencil, squirt, or glue together; art created by the general community requires a selfless spirit and a general sense that beauty will emerge from whatever appears temporarily chaotic.
It is this trust in the process along with letting go of some arbitrary perfection standard that will bring out the best in people and yourself.
For those of you willing to risk this journey yourself, stay tuned for my next articles. I’ll be writing about the steps to take, the obstacles you’ll face, and some of the many ways that YOU can create a successful community art event in your own hometown.