Coming up for Air

I got out of my usual routine for most of two weeks in July to be part of two programs I’m really passionate about, the Artists Thrive Summit and Air Collaborative.

The Artists Thrive Summit was July 19-22 in balmy (by Texas standards) Winston-Salem, NC. This was my fifth Summit, having attended two in-person in Berea, KY, then two pandemic-virtual, and it’s always a highlight of my year. The Summit brings together 100+ artists and people who work with artists around the belief that when artists thrive, communities thrive.

Artists Thrive is a growing initiative offering activities, practices, language, visions and values of what it means to succeed and thrive as an artist – and what it means to have a thriving arts sector and, eventually, thriving communities. It is a set of interconnected and holistic resources that can guide us in improving our performance and, ultimately, the conditions in which artists can thrive. Artists Thrive aims to change the narrative in the field and raise the value of artists in every community.

The central tool of the Artists Thrive movement is two rubrics, one for artists and one for people who work with artists, that help the user assess where they are and where they’d like to be in many different areas. This is one of five categories of the “I am an artist” rubric.

When I use the rubric with my students, I ask them to identify four rows (out of 24 rows across the five categories) that are important to them but where they don’t feel like they’re thriving. They place themselves on the scale, and identify some goals they can set or actions they can take that would move them one box to the right within the next six months.

The rubrics were designed by people working in the arts with input from people who attended the first two Summits. Artists Thrive encourages rubric users to make changes, additions, and deletions based on their own needs, interests, and situation. The categories and descriptions of each stage of “thriving” are starting points.

At the Artists Thrive Summit, we take the ideas and priorities reflected in the rubrics and put them on their feet, literally, as we do a lot of touring of the host cities and areas to see how artists are helping their communities thrive.

The Artists Thrive rubrics and Summit have had a huge impact on what I teach and think about, and I’m grateful to be part of it as an attendee and, for the past three years, a Steering Committee member. This year I even got to give a short presentation about the impact of professional accountability groups (aka “Mastermind” groups) on my work, and to equip attendees in putting together supportive groups to help them achieve their goals.

The host of the Summit for its first three years in Berea, KY, was the Air Institute, now called Air Collaborative. I learned about Air and got to know the founder, Beth Flowers, at my first Summit. So, when I left my position at Creative Waco, I suggested they bring in Air to both replace what I’d been doing with professional development for artists and to benefit Waco through their three-level workshop series that (1) brings artists and businesspeople together to create small, innovative, community/economic development projects and (2) teaches artists and businesspeople how to use each other’s superpowers.

At its core, Air Collaborative is an empowering ecosystem that provides creatives, businesses, and communities the tools, resources, and support to realize their potential. Diverse community members learn from each other, support each other, and put both creative vision and business know-how to work.”

The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation made a three-year grant to bring Air to Texas with Creative Waco as the statewide host organization. Creative Waco is also developing and piloting a bilingual version of the program.

I was selected as one of the ten facilitators who will lead workshops in cities around Texas. We had a three-day training in April, and led our inaugural Shift Workshop (second in the series of three) in Waco from July 13-15.

So, for most of a two week period, I stepped away from the book and all-things-Arbor-Fellowship and got back to my roots of thinking about and helping artists and communities thrive. Both events were fun, refreshing (albeit exhausting), and good reminders of why I want to make sure artists know their value and how they can really engage with the people and places that need them.

Now back to writing.  

Speaking of writing, I’m trying to get the book completed and published in time for graduation season next spring. You can help! Learn more here.


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