The Arts Sandbox
Sometimes in the arts world I feel like I’m playing in a giant sandbox with big kids. Everybody around me is exploring and performing with these really cool, colorful toys making interesting work and yet there’s this childish mentality of “This is mine. That is yours. Go back to your own corner and keep your hands off my stuff.”
When it comes to sharing our ideas, resources and toys, artists and organizations big and small do not always make nice in the sandbox. A lot of sand gets kicked around. Why is this? Where’s the collaboration and sharing of ideas? Where’s the happiness of being creative beings and working together to solve problems?
The world has changed. If smaller arts nonprofits and individual artists are going to survive the new economic reality – certainly less money and resources to go around – it’s time for a major mind shift around the way we do business, operate and share.
For the past six to twelve months I’ve personally been exploring career alternatives and recognize traditional nonprofit 501(c)3 status is no longer a sustainable business model. There’s the L3C, the B-Corporation or fiscal sponsors like The Field and Fractured Atlas that are interesting options. I think others in the arts and culture sector should wake up to this fact and begin to investigate alternative ways of existing and coexisting.
The concept of sharing is successfully demonstrated in another way: co-working spaces. In New York City, co-working spaces are quickly popping up everywhere. Individuals and small businesses that mostly are technology and social good startups cohabitate in one giant office space. Places like General Assembly, the AlleyNYC, and GreenSpaces provide options such as hourly “hot desk” time and designated meeting and office space (or something as simple as an office table). Collectively pooling resources such as rent, utilities, phone and internet makes absolute sense.
But it’s not just about affordable space. The good stuff happens when the people within the space are actually talking, interacting and working together.
I was recently given the gift of employment freedom from my full-time arts non-profit job and signed up my ArtsEdTechNYC group to be a tenant at the Centre for Social Innovation, a swank co-working and meeting space with a social good focus located in the Starrett-Lehigh building in Chelsea. The space not only looks amazingly beautiful, but it’s filled with such great opportunity.
In only a short time, not only do I now feel like I have a wonderful physical space to work from, I actually am meeting incredible people working within the space doing great things. I hear people say, “We’re so happy you’re here,” and “What can I do to help you?” or my favorite so far – endless smiles and hugs every time I walk in the door. The positive energy, meaningful networking and sharing ideas have been instantly transforming.
So why the hell can’t those of us in the arts not experience this same thing? Sure there are major institutions that have resources like office, meeting and rehearsal space and I know there are many temporary “pop-up” arts spaces but is anyone out there truly modeling this co-working idea in the arts?
My experience at CSI has gotten me thinking about the benefits those in the arts could experience having a co-working environment that includes not only office and rehearsal space, but classrooms for the community to participate, a digital media lab, an online virtual teaching community – the possibilities are endless.
Who out there wants to help me build an arts sandbox where everyone can explore, play, create and share?