5 Takeaways from the 2016 Creative Capital Artist Retreat


From left to right: Brian Tate, and Creative Capital artists Okwui Okpokwasili, James Scruggs, Ahamefule J. Oluo, Heather Hart and Jina Valentine

A lot goes into making impactful artworks. After Creative Capital announces a new round of artist projects, we bring the artists together to work on and discuss what they need to make the project actually happen. This all happens at our Artist Retreat, and we’re in the middle of one right now!
The artists spend nearly a week meeting each other, taking an intensive suite of business courses on everything from tax planning to working with arts institutions, and having one-on-one consultations with art world professionals. The crux of our Retreat, though, is presentations: each artist has 7 minutes to present their work. This year, we’ll hear from nearly 80 artists over the course of three days. Follow our Twitter account and the hashtag #CCRetreat to hear about them in real time.
Before that though, here are five takeaways we’ve already come up with since we got started on Tuesday.

1. “Your audience has an audience.” 



One of the consultants we bring in to the Retreat workshops is Maria Diokno from Everyone At Once, who talks about how to build, engage and activate a digital audience. The title of the presentation “Your audience has an audience,” speaks to one of her core takeaways. When you build an audience through social media, you aren’t just speaking to individual audience members who may be fans of their work. You are also speaking to the audience that your unique fans have.
One way to strategically access these outer rings of potential audiences is by making your work easily shareable online, like by making gifs of your performance work. Artists like Kenya (Robinson) makes her character CHEEKY LaSHAE recognizable to new potential fans by creating gifs of her work.
Don’t know how to make a gif? Check out the site Giphy for help!
2. Michelle Obama’s phrase, “When they go low, we go high” is already a mantra.
While we’ve been here at the RPI campus in Troy, New York, the Democratic National Convention has been underway. Clearly, Michelle Obama’s speech has resonated with a lot of the artists, because we’ve been hearing some catch phrases from it in conversation and presentations. Many of the artists this year are dealing with the most important issues of our time: from mass incarceration to immigration. Although she wasn’t speaking about art, Michelle’s phrase really spoke to one of the strategies artists use to make change.
3. Doing a budget can help think through the creative process.
Surprisingly, business strategies actually go hand in hand with the creative process of making an artist practice happen. As Mara Isaacs from Octopus Theatrics told us in the “Working with…” panel discussion, a budget is never complete until the artwork is made. And thinking about the budget can help edit and expand on certain items of a project.

4. Utilizing business structures is crucial even for artists.
Many of the artists that we support started their projects as DIY, or reactions towards existing systems. But as a project expands, using the systems in place, like 501(c)3 structures, can help build impact. At this year’s Retreat, we heard from a number of artists who since receiving the Creative Capital award have earned nonprofit status or worked with a lawyer. This often makes it easier to earn more grant money from other institutions, or to purchase real estate that can be useful in your artist project.
Sharon Bridgforth’s project, dat Black Mermaid Man Lady/Home, is a reaction to rapid gentrification happening in the Bay Area. Since earning a Creative Capital award, she started working with a lawyer which will help her create an infrastructure to purchase space and eventually give to an emerging artist in the community before moving to a new city.
5. Be authentic!
Authenticity is a contentious word lately. With all the artists presenting their work, there is a lot of discussion about what kind of persona best works when facing over 300 art world professionals who have money, space and resources to help make projects happen. Artist and therapist Kirby Tepper talked the artists through this: your authentic self will always make a more appealing presentation. Even if you make mistakes, these might be the crucial point of endearing your audience to you. Someone described wanting to see a movie after seeing that the director had a cat. Cat-ownership can be totally unrelated to the project, but it might resonate with your audience!
To read more about the artists’ presentations by following our Twitter account and the hashtag #CCRetreat this week through Saturday, July 30!

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