Strategies for Artists to Build their Own Opportunities, Using Community as a Resource

“It doesn’t matter where you live,” Sharon Louden says, “whether you live in New York, or Denver—it matters how you treat people in your community, and how you approach those who can give you opportunities.” As a visual artist, Louden has made a sustainable practice not by relying on the gallery system, but by communing with other artists, forming partnerships and creating a network of like-minded individuals who support each other by working together. Through these relationships, Louden has created her own opportunities and learned to leverage her unique capabilities as an artist to create a healthy business practice. She shares her expertise in her regularly offered four-part online workshop designed to empower artists who want to turn generosity into opportunities.

“What the workshop allows artists to think about is how they personally can change this culture of the economy of scarcity,” Creative Capital Awardee Mallory Catlett told us after taking the workshop this past spring. As part of the content she shares with participants, Louden talks about her list of resources, best practices, and case studies for creating opportunities. Seemingly disparate lessons are united by Louden’s theory of generosity, cultivating a system that is supportive to artists rather than exploitative. Catlett added, “What was really inspirational to me was the way she made a connection between things like writing emails that aren’t self-serving, offering and sharing resources instead of asking for them, even how to collaborate—all of that emphasizes a spirit of generosity.”

“The workshop didn’t talk at the 30,000-foot level; it was real life work examples. At the end of the class we were supposed to have ten career goals. I ended up having 30.” — Kathryn Hart

“The gallery model is only just one model, so there’s no point being dependent upon it,” said Kathryn Hart, a Denver-based artist who also took the class. “The workshop didn’t talk at the 30,000-foot level; it was real life work examples. At the end of the class we were supposed to have ten career goals. I ended up having 30.”

Online courses aren’t always the easiest way to form a community, but for each workshop series that she leads, Louden makes sure it happens. Artist Sue Dean told us recently, “I went into it with lots of unknowns,” but Louden immediately put her at ease. “The online workshop drew me in instantly because of Sharon’s expertise, friendliness, directness, and sense of humor,” she said. Additionally, Louden organizes an extra gathering at the end of the workshop series to allow participants to meet, get to know one another, and exchange contact info.

At the end of the last gathering in Louden’s studio, “critique” groups formed, uniting artists all across the country. “We meet every month,” Virginia-based artist Sally Veach told us about her group, “and we take turns giving feedback on our work. It’s a very supportive group, and it’s a huge benefit to me. It wouldn’t have been possible without Sharon’s class.”

Inspired by Louden’s insistence that artists create their own opportunities rather than finding them, Julia Bloom started her own pop-up gallery in a freight elevator near her studio in Washington, DC. The artist-run gallery, like the workshop, is intended to give artists more opportunities to show and sell their work. “I know I would never have seen this project through,” Bloom wrote when she announced the first gallery opening to her fellow artists, “without Sharon’s and all of your support at the workshop.”

The four-part online workshop starts March 16, 2020. There are limited spots available, so register now!

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