Artists Summer Institute 2014: A Look Back with Documentary Filmmaker Melissa Hacker


Filmmaker Melissa Hacker at the 2014 Artists Summer Institute in New York.

I don’t win lotteries very often. I did, years ago, win a lovely mixing bowl at the local supermarket, but that did not change my life in a meaningful way. The lottery I won this summer just might.
I was selected to participate in the August 2014 Artists Summer Institute (ASI), co-presented by Creative Capital and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Five days, 55 artists, in an air-conditioned office building in lower Manhattan.
Before I write about those five days, I need to step back to give a bit of background. I’m a documentary filmmaker, and we seem to often fall outside of the art world. I would argue that those of us making films independently, with creative control intact, often working and re-working the same film for several years, are artists as much as photographers, writers, painters, choreographers, installation artists, and others. We love what we do (much of the time) and we struggle to create sustainable lives, allowing us enough time and money to create the films we need to make.
And we need support. The Artists Summer Institute is a great support, encouraging us to think and talk about issues that we (ok, I, but I suspect I’m not alone) tend to avoid, and teaching us strategies and skills to address them. Strategic Planning, Marketing, the Internet for Artists, Financials, Verbal Communications, Arts and Entrepreneurship. Big, important, anxiety-raising topics. The key takeaway for me is the importance of strategic planning and goal setting. Colleen Keegan, the Strategic Planning team leader opened by stating that “many artists are successful in spite of themselves” and, as someone who has never been able to create a five-year plan, I could understand that. Strategic Planning was presented as a “structure to support your art”, a way to be proactive rather than reactive, and an opportunity to achieve your visions: clarify your goals, think of your grandest creative visions, and steadily take small steps to achieve them. At times this first day felt a bit like a crazed Tony Robbins motivational seminar, but it was inspiring, informative, and, most of all, useful.

Filmmaker Jonathan Goodman Levitt, speaking to the group at the 2014 Artists Summer Institute.

One of the highlights of the week was getting to meet and see the work of a diverse group of artists, as everyone did a (very well organized, with working technology) three minute presentation. Different worlds came together, the ASI team facilitated community by posting big sheets of paper on the wall—one marked “share,” the other “seek,”—and collaborations began. The speakers and workshop leaders were all wonderful (I apologize for not mentioning everyone by name), and the Creative Capital and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council folks kept everything running beautifully and on time. One afternoon there was even a special 5th anniversary cake!
It’s only in the last two years that I’ve started applying for “artist” things – artist residencies and development workshops – and I encourage documentary filmmakers to join me. If you are at a point with your work where concentrated time would help, artist residencies have been a revelation: a gift of housing and workspace (often in a beautiful location), food and a community of artists, and all you are asked is to focus on your work. ASI is an annual event, notices will be posted early next summer, apply!

Artist participants in the 2014 Artists Summer Institute.

More News & Stories