October 17, 2014

It was been stunningly beautiful in Minneapolis this past two weeks, sunny and mild, and I've been watching the neighbor kids attack their raking with determination. (We could learn something from them.) I have put most practical things on hold in favor of an extra walk or at least napping in a sunbeam, and I'm confident that in a month or two I'll thank myself for soaking in this last big dose of vitamin D. 

I've been taking this transition time to do more things just because I want to, which I highly recommend. I've been perfecting my manual car driving because I donated my poor car, and I'm sick of being the person who stalls in front of you at lights. And I've been sorting through my bedroom and office closets, donating or throwing out loads of things. I have to admit that this makes me ridiculously happy, because man I like getting rid of things. I remembered that I have a library down the street and requested a few of these recommendations. I zoomed through 2 seasons of The Mindy Project, laughed my face off, and then started Call the Midwife at Laura's recommendation. Now I'm thinking that maybe I want to become a nurse in England and leave the car in favor of a bicycle. What do you think? 

I've been waiting for this space to catch my breath for quite a while, and it's pretty great. 

A couple things I recently read & wanted to pass on:

I really like this advice for artists from Austin Kleon.

The Jealous Curator's recommendations for affordable art.

Laurie Van Wieren shares the process (and the photos) behind 4x4=100 Choreographers Dancing Outside.

Ira Booker wrote another piece about Small Art, and so articulately captures why I love these events.

Happy mid-October.

5 With: Laura Brown

October 15, 2014

You might know Laura Brown from her entertaining twitter commentary or this popular ARTCRANK print or because I like to discuss her awesomeness a great deal. While I'm smitten with Laura's artistic style, I also just plain admire her work ethic and commitment to her career. Since we met in early 2012, I've watched her dig in and prepare for (and then apply to) graduate school, Doing the Work in the truest sense. She continues to inspire me and to teach me a lot about persistence and asking for what you want. This fall Laura moved to Austin to pursue her MFA at the University of Texas on a full scholarship. Though Minneapolis is certainly not the same without her, I'm overjoyed for her big career step. And, so happy to share her words here.

photo by Erik Hess
Describe your work and how you got to this point in your career:
I am a printmaker and book artist. My work explores human relationships and our relationship to time and space, and is driven by the process of translating ideas into visual symbols, taking them through the printing process. I always like the adventure of how the printing changes the final outcome of the original idea.

I got into printmaking in college, because I had a wonderful, enthusiastic professor who was really interested in students and would teach us anything we wanted to know. I’ve arrived at this point in my career just by not giving up. I think that being successful as an artist is really a lot about persistence. Persistence looks different for everybody, but boils down to a commitment to continuing to make things and make your work better, and to continuing to have a curiosity about the world and life. 

I first applied to graduate school right out of college and didn’t get in. I spent the years between then and now taking part in residencies, and gathering information about how people make art and artistic careers. I got involved with a supportive artist community, made more and more work, and figured out what my voice was-- what my work was, what I liked, and what my process was. I applied to grad school this time because I was ready for a more challenged, committed studio experience, and time to make work more intensively. I’m ready to build my career into something more than a part-time pursuit.

What's a current creative challenge you face?
Right now I’m in a new academic atmosphere, which is a little weird. I’m at a major point of reassessing why my work is meaningful, what I’m making work about, and why the world needs what I making. Grad school is a big opportunity, and I want to make the most of it.

How do you balance paying your bills and making art?
When I was working a full-time job with money, I didn’t have time or creativity for art. When I chucked the job, I didn’t have any money to survive. I think for the most part the solution has been to make enough to get by, to live frugally, and to commit my non-working time to making art, almost to the exclusion of any other pursuit. I’ve said ‘no’ to a lot of things to make this possible: dating, owning nice things, and having a car. It’s not a martyr thing-- I’ve made the choice, so I don’t get to complain about it. 

Now that I’m older, I do think a lot more about money and being practical, and what other things I want besides this romantic idea of making a lot of art and being a broke bohemian person. Going to grad school is a step towards hopefully becoming more financially stable, and being able to facilitate continued art making in the future. I needed more stability.

Share some advice:
  • Get clear about what you want and how you define success-- what do you want from your art making? It’s something that only you can decide: do you want to do it for fun? Do you want it as a career? 
  • Put yourself out there. You won’t get anything back unless you do: put your work out there, apply for things, ask for help. It was really helpful for me to join a cooperative studio at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, because I found a bunch of great people who were willing to mentor me. Regardless of your art form, there’s probably a community for you to join to get mentorship, help and advice. Take advantage of this. 
  • Keep going.
What’s inspiring you?
Some of the artists I go back to time and again are Sister Corita Kent, Helen Frankenthaler, and Anna Eva Bergman. They are like visual comfort food to me. Lately I have been digging a bunch of random stuff--grad school has a way of overwhelming you with things to look at and research. I like to keep up with printeresting.org, which is a blog that covers a wide variety of print-related media. If you are in Minneapolis, you should really take a look at my friend Kjel's work in the current MCAD Jerome Emerging Artists Exhibition (up through November 9). It's colorful and funny and smart and I love it.

You can find Laura and her work over here, and read more 5 with interviews here

Connecting to the Work | Excitement

October 14, 2014

I shared in my Pollen interview (and in this post and this post) that in 2011 I began a career shift, which naturally began with a moment of crisis: ahhhh! I don't know what I want to do with my life (as these moments generally go). At the time I was climbing the dance grant ladder, assuming that I wanted to make work in more prestigious venues. I also worked as a freelance dance and theatre teacher, piecing together income from a variety of gigs in a variety of schools and arts centers. Neither the teaching nor the choreography was proving to be especially satisfying. I can see now that this was because I was very focused on external validation & doing these things because I thought that's what a career as a choreographer was supposed to (or had to) look like. Also, I hadn't properly identified what made me tick: what energized me; what aspects of my work I was truly good at; what I needed.

So that's what this series of suggestions is about: connecting to the work. You know, uncovering what gets you fired up or what you want to be building. This could lead you to an aspect of your money job that you want to be doing more of, a career shift, or even to finding that thing you want to pour more of your non-work time into. 

In my case, I realized how much I love connecting people to one another and creating shared experiences. I realized how much I liked building things from scratch & directing processes. This led to this blog, Small Art, Small Dances, and working on Open Field-- all of which I found more satisfying than the work I'd been previously doing. And that feels really good.

But in the beginning of this transition, I was pretty unsure of what I wanted to do. I only knew that I wanted some kind of change. The suggestions that follow (well, one for today) seem elementary, but made huge changes in my own life over time. Especially this one:

#1- Keep a list of things that excite you, and why. 
(If you don't know why, that's ok, too.)

This list should contain anything that you feel a strong reaction to-- that you care deeply about or want to spend more time with, or that seems to be jiving with your gut in some way; things you believe in emphatically. They shouldn't be limited to any category (for instance, your career) and certainly don't need to make sense. 

I suggest this because
  • Sometimes, especially in times of transition, it's hard to remember what you like, and it feels good to reconnect with this
  • You can, over time, start to connect the dots between the things that you care about and notice commonalities
  • One thing that excites you can lead you to other things that excite you, and though the first thing might not end up being the thing that really clicks with you, the thing that it leads you to might be (whoa, long sentence, hope it makes sense)
Here's what you can be reassured of: something excites you. Worry less about where this journey might lead you and more about having fun. And yes, I know that this is nearly impossible, but I still put the challenge out there: have some fun.  

Up Next

October 10, 2014

As I transitioned out of the Walker during my first part-time weeks, I had two simultaneous thoughts:
  • Holy sh*t, it's an adjustment to be master of my own time again --AND--
  • I've been waiting 7 months to jump into many of these projects, so, let's do this!
Here are some of the things I'm working on building over the next few months:
  • A website: ...for Ben and I! We've had our website for 2 years, and it honestly hasn't been a great fit for us. I have lots of opinions on websites now! I'm rewriting a lot of our content and moving us over to Squarespace
  • Candy Simmons' Blueprint Project: Candy and a great team of collaborators are working on the final version of the piece we workshopped at the end of last year. We start rehearsals next month (taking breaks throughout the year), and the piece goes up in November of 2015. The luxury of time!
  • Resources for makers & doers: I'm repackaging my consulting offerings, and working on designing ebook content for people who need a lower price point option than 1-on-1 work.
  • Wintertime gathering opportunities: Something that feels like a cross between a Small Art and a dinner party. We have this great big kitchen table...
  • A newsletter: Really, truly. 
  • An office: I think I'm ready to put art on the walls!
  • Baby steps towards a dance piece: I'm making the next thing in little chunks, as I get funding. First step: get in the studio (or work 20 minutes at a time again).
What are you building? What are you excited about? Do you want to join in a wintertime party?

5 With: Nancy Rosenbaum

October 8, 2014

5 With is back! My ambitious January goal was to share 26 of these mini interviews over the course of the year. Though I doubt I'll quite hit that mark, I'll be posting a new interview through the end of 2014. I love these posts because they allow me to share the work of many of the makers and doers that inspire me; I love them because they show evidence that there's no one way to go about creating the work you want to see more of in the world.

I met Nancy Rosenbaum at a Small Art a couple winters ago, when she was on the verge of a career shift. I've since watched her find her best work: telling the small and big stories of all sorts of humans. Nancy has a knack for asking the perfect question, and for illuminating the extraordinary elements of ordinary people. I love how she details her journey of connecting to her curiosity and letting that lead her towards a new career path. Good stuff, especially for the many transitioning makers I know.

Nancy Rosenbaum interviews a stranger in the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona (photo by Nicki Adler)
Describe your current creative work:
My creative work involves connecting with people conversationally and then creating a narrative from what they tell me. Lately I’ve been producing a lot of audio stories, but I also work in print and enjoy taking photo portraits and pairing those with a quote or written vignette. This past year, I experimented with live narrative events where I would interview someone in front of an audience. I’m interested in stories about how people change (or don’t) and how they find and create meaning in big and small ways. Life is messy and complex and I want the stories I produce to reflect that messiness.

Earlier in my career, I worked as an educational counselor at a community college in Brooklyn, New York. This was good training for engaging with all kinds of people conversationally. I’ve always been curious and motivated to connect with people by talking to them. I learned to tell stories sonically and on the page through pursuing various training programs (the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies; The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University). In my mid-30s I moved from the East Coast to Minneapolis for an internship at American Public Media. That internship was followed by a five-year stint as a public radio producer, which furthered my training as a storyteller both technically and editorially.

Right now I'm focusing on steadily creating a body of work. I don’t just want to make these stories for my own fancy; my hope and aspiration is that the narratives I put out in the world resonate with people on an emotional or personal level.

What are your biggest creative challenges?
I took a photo workshop with Wing Young Huie this summer, and he spoke about the complicated business of inserting yourself into someone’s life as a documentarian. I’ve had some experiences lately that resonate with that observation. Asking people to entrust you with their story is no small thing. However, your work can’t be driven by a desire to please or protect the people in the story – or to tell the version of the story you think they want you to tell.

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you?  
I have not cracked this code-- it’s a work in progress. I have a part-time job that gives me an income floor. It’s not enough to make my life work completely, but it’s a base I can build from. I’m grateful that our local community radio station (KFAI) has Legacy funding to support independently-produced radio features. Those stories are my primary creative outlet at the moment. Every story idea I’ve pitched, they’ve accepted. I’m so appreciative that I get paid to make those pieces.

What resources have been helpful to you? 
A few years ago, I was really confused about my next steps professionally and creatively so I did what comes naturally to me – I started talking to people. I did a ton of informational interviewing and in some cases those conversations led to shadowing people while they did their jobs. Those experiences gave me a flavor for what it’s like to exist in someone else’s world. There’s a book that helped me called How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric. He talks about trying things out first and then reflecting on those experiences later, as opposed to spinning your wheels perfecting a beautiful master plan.

Last year, on the heels of a layoff, I traveled to South America for three months. That experience of being a traveler reacquainted me with my curiosity. I didn’t set out to do a project while I was away, but I gravitated toward photographing people using my iPhone and sharing little vignettes about those encounters. As the trip unfolded, I could see that when I stripped away my job title and my home-based identity, I was habitually drawn to connect with people conversationally and then share something about those experiences with other people. So when I returned home, I kept following that thread in different directions.

What's inspiring you right now? 
I’m inspired by Hillary Frank who produces the podcast The Longest Shortest Time about people’s experiences of early parenting. The podcast started as a personal project and she turned it into something extraordinary that’s now her job (WNYC picked it up as part of their podcast portfolio this past spring). I’m inspired not only by the storytelling – which is raw and poignant – but also by how Hillary created a community of listeners around the content. The podcast has evolved into something that’s bigger than her. 

You can find Nancy and her work over here, and read more of the 5 With series here.

How to Identify Where You're Stuck

October 6, 2014

When I look back at my creative path, an experience I've had at various times is stuck-ness-- a general feeling of not knowing how to move forward. Talking with clients and artist friends, I now see how common the stuck feeling is at one point or another. Stuck-ness is not always the same as being creatively blocked. You can also be stuck in ineffective work habits, around writing a mission statement that captures what you do, or even around figuring out what kind of work you want to make (now or in the future).

I talk to a lot of artists who have general frustration, but sometimes a really hard time articulating what the frustration is about in a concrete way. And, in my experience, concrete is everything. How can you fix a problem when you don't know what the problem is? I've created a list of many of the places I've seen stuck-ness in myself and clients. You can move through the five work areas below, and take note of which of the following statements you answer true or false to.

1) Connecting to the Work:
+ I have creative work that I regularly put into the world 
+ I have a pretty good idea of how my work ties together my strengths and past experiences
+ I have ways to make the work/have a creative practice (at least on some level) without outside funding or grants

2) Sharing the Work:
+ I know what my work is (and isn't), and so does my audience
+ I have a manifesto (or mission statement) that describes my work and why it's valuable to others
+ I know what sets my work apart from those who make similar work (what my personal magic is), and what values are inline with my work
+ I have a website or some way of sharing the story of my work with the world, and making sure that my audience knows how to BUY IT and SUPPORT IT (sometimes different things)
+ I have work samples that capture my work
+ I have a network of people -- collaborators and clients or audience members-- in various fields that support and share my work

3) Money:
+ I have revenue streams that aren't limited to grants (note: if you're an artist, your revenue streams might be derived from your skills, but not directly related to your art)
+ I have audience members and/or clients that can afford to financially support my work
+ I know how much it costs to make my work and support my lifestyle, and have methods for tracking this
+ I am familiar with the basic tax write-offs for my field, and know how to prepare for tax time
+ I regularly invest in myself and my business/continued education

4) Foundation:
+ I practice methods of self care, so that I can continue to sustain making my work
+ I have friends, family members and colleagues who help energetically support me
+ I understand what things give and take energy from me, and I know how to adjust accordingly

5) Work Habits:
+ I have consistent work habits
+ I regularly set aside time for business and money/organizational work (bookkeeping, taxes, work sample and resume updates)
+ I have a 5-year plan, and know what next-steps I need to focus on to get there
+ I know my pitfalls, and how to avoid them or work through them
         Common pitfalls include:
  • Getting in your own way (second-guessing, irregular work habits, jealousy, comparison, fear)
  • Idea overload and/or too many projects (causing energy diffusion) or projects that are unrelated to your main goals
  • Creative blocks
  • Spending more time getting inspired by others' work than making your own
  • Spending more time in big picture/big idea mode than in right now/next step mode
  • Spending more time making lists than Getting Sh*t Done
  • Island Mentality (attempting to tackle all of your projects alone; no one knows what you do; a general feeling of alone-ness or isolation in your work)

Ok, so the point isn't to feel bad about your numerous 'false' responses (trust me: you're in good company; this is a lofty list), but to use this information to your advantage. Once you know where you stand, you know what areas could use some improvement. I'm going to be gradually blogging through this list and sharing ideas on strengthening each area.

I'd love to hear: 
  • What's missing from this list? Do you feel stuck somewhere else?
  • Is there anything on the list that seems unclear?
  • Does anything on the list feel irrelevant?
You can comment below or email me at LMholway[at]gmail[dot]com.

Why Hello, October

October 2, 2014

September was a month for travel, transitioning out of my job and back into self-employment, seeing dear friends, relishing in warm weather, jumping back into the studio, and laying plans for what's ahead. My last day of official Walker-dom was Tuesday! I leave with a full heart, and huge gratitude for the opportunity.  

And now it's a brand new month! My work transition feels well timed with the weather. It's time to make soup and get things done. But first, I'm taking the rest of this week to tie up loose ends, clean and organize my home office, and take some time to relax and reflect. 

I'm an impatient person, and it's easy for me to want to do all of the things at once. Unfortunately, that's not possible (or even fun). So I'm thinking that this month I want to focus on...
  • Moving more and thinking less: taking lots of movement breaks and walks and stretches when I work
  • Working hard to do just one thing at a time: multi-tasking has not been helping my work or my brain
  • Setting realistic goals: really.
  • Breaks in general: i need one at least every 90 minutes
That's all. 

I'm looking forward to sharing more about what's ahead. 

[September adventures...]

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