By creativeagency

On Creative Communities and Making Space

I saw the Black Mountain College show at the Boston ICA this week. The show focuses on a small, short-lived liberal arts college in the south that somehow became a central node, bringing together central figures in Contemporary art practice–often before they became prominent. Figures like Joseph Albers, Buckminster Fuller, John Cage and Merce Cunningham taught at Black Mountain College, and its students included Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Ruth Asawa.

The show was great, well-curated and left me with a lot to think about. Seeing the work of Joseph Albers (mid-century color maven) and his wife Anni Albers (a weaver and maker with fascinating work who I didn’t know existed before the show,) as well as their students, all displayed together was wonderful, and common threads about the nature of seeing, materiality and figure and ground emerge in the dialogue among the works.

The show also left me thinking about something I’m always intrigued by–network effects and the creation of communities and cultures. Why did so many important figures come out of, or at least, pass through this institution I never knew existed? Did this institution ‘make’ the artists–especially the young ones–that passed through it, or did its participants make the institutions? What about the place, the culture, the format, the structure of Black Mountain College itself created such a ‘sticky’ experience?

These questions are complex, and w’re really talking about a system here, one with feedback loops and relationships. Black Mountain College didn’t ‘make’ practitioners or be made by them, it was a co-creative process. Furthermore, the institution wasn’t a closed system, it was a node within a larger network of culture production–for example, it was one of the many institutions that benefited from the talent that left Europe when the Bauhaus closed.

That said, are there common features to those kind of sticky, productive and generative cultures? And how do we bring some of their joy and creativity into our lives?

The volunteer team for Creative Somerville, the speaker series I run met up for the first time this Sunday. We’ve had volunteers for a while, but volunteer coordinator Lindsay Pike had the foresight to suggest we meet and get to know each other outside of our events.

It was one of the most energizing things I’ve done in a while. I joke that I started the Creative Somerville Series subconsciously as a (really elaborate) way to develop the kind of creative community and collaborators I wanted to have locally.

Yet after running the series on my own for the last six months, I have realized I’ve been unconsciously playing the micromanager/grand creator that small business systems coach Val Geisler advises against. I think it’s partially my design training–we’re taught that every detail must be perfect and rigorous, which can drive top-down perfectionism–and partially just the [reforming] perfectionist in me.

Sunday was amazing. We learned about who each other are, what drives us and generated ideas about how to turn Creative Somerville from a just a series into a venue for generating community, collaborations and more. I am excited about these five people I’m working with individually, and what happens when you add us all together.

It looks like this might be one of the ways for me to make good on my dream–of developing that creative community I’ve been seeking.

Sometimes it’s about driving forward, and sometimes it’s about making space for evolution.