The Arbor Fellowship

As I wrote about in this blog post, Chuck and I are planning to move back east sometime in 2021-22. We don’t yet know where or when we’ll land, but we’re starting to do our research and make plans. I opted not to renew the grant for the program I’ve been running at Creative Waco, and I’m now developing a multi-level ministry to arts students, which I’m calling The Arbor Fellowship. I’ll be writing more about the name and the project on the blog over the next weeks.

I’ll be ramping up the project in three phases. Phase 1 is already under way, and should keep me busy until we move.

Books

I’m working on two book projects. I actually started on the first one about eight years ago and it got sidelined by a full-time job. I’ve never gotten back to it, although it’s been on my heart ever since.

It’s the book I would have wanted as I was graduating from college with an arts degree.

I imagine it will get a better title one day, but the gist of it is 10 Questions Young Artists Ask (or should) About a Career in the Arts. I’ll ask 100 of my artist, educator, and theologian friends to answer whichever of 5 theological questions and 5 practical questions they have strong opinions about regarding life as an artist. I’ll edit those answers into a book that will, I hope, give emerging professional artists (and their parents) some really useful information and encouragement as plan their next steps and enter the marketplace.

That should be a relatively easy and quick project (she says…) since I’ll mostly be editing, not writing.

The second book comes from my own brain 😐 and will be based on the work I’ve been doing with arts business and entrepreneurship for the past 10+ years. Again, no real title yet but the basic idea is How the Arts Work/How Artists Work.

I’ve found that artists often have a hard time articulating exactly what they want people to get out of their work – what the value of their art is to the public. “The value of the arts,” “the benefits of the arts,” “why art matters” are topics of conversation that happen a lot around artists and audiences, but rarely with and between artists and audiences. Often that ends up meaning that artists don’t communicate well about their work to the people who might buy it if they knew what was in it for them.

This would also be a faith-oriented book because I can’t talk about the value of the arts without talking about why God modeled creativity, gave us materials to work with, and planted the skill and vision in artists’ minds.

Speaking/teaching at colleges and universities

Never having written books before, I’ve been doing my research. And I hear that unknown authors don’t make much money on non-fiction books. But books are helpful-to-necessary in getting speaking engagements, especially in academia. Which is great, because what I really want is the opportunity to talk to student artists in-person. These are the people I care most about helping (see this blog post).

I plan to develop several short (50 to 90-minute) talks that I can offer to Christian colleges and universities. They could book me for one talk, more, or all of them in a two-day workshop. In these sessions, I’d share some content from the books and, hopefully, sell some. But I’d also be building interest in a one-semester course in Arts Entrepreneurship. It usually takes 1-2 years to get a new course into a college’s catalog, so this effort needs to start immediately.

This takes the project into Phase 2.

Now that online and hybrid learning is par for the course (literally…) it would be easy enough to teach one course at several colleges at a time as an adjunct instructor, perhaps spending a few days in person on campus each semester.

This would be a multi-disciplinary course, since I strongly believe that artists need to be hearing how artists in other disciplines work. Some folks in academia <ahem> believe that their musicians, for instance, <ahem> can’t learn anything from artists in other disciplines; when in fact, a French horn player has much more in common with an actor than she does with a composer when it comes to creating paying opportunities for herself.

Today’s young artists tend to be multi-disciplinary anyway. Many artists are what I call “Well” artists because, when I ask them what kind of work they do, they say “Well,…” Maybe they write songs, DJ, and tag. Or they paint, tattoo, and do performance art. The era of the one-trick pony, artistically, has passed (writes an old pony who really only directs plays…).

Community and Coaching

Phase 3 of the project would add building a community and doing one-to-one coaching.

The community aspect is really the most important part of the project – thus the name “fellowship.” Artist communities have been important through history. Think of The Inklings, a group of writers who met weekly to “spur one another on to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24) In the book Originals, Adam Grant talks about how it takes a skilled eye or ear – another artist – to really see or hear what’s happening in another artist’s work. Artists also get each other better than “the public” ever will, and it’s encouraging to be understood as we do the hard work of making.

In addition to offering one-to-one coaching (which I’ll likely be doing informally from the beginning) I’d also plan to match emerging artists with experienced artists in their field for short-term, informal mentoring. I follow a British project, Arts Emergency, which has had amazing results with high school-aged artists. “Arts Emergency is an award-winning mentoring charity and support network. Our Network members share opportunities, contacts and advice so that young people can flourish in higher education and the cultural industries.”

So how will this happen?

For at least the first two years, I’ll largely need to be supported through financial partnerships. The books won’t generate much income, and I wouldn’t want to have a college’s ability to pay my fee to hinder them from offering services to their students. It will likely be two years before I’d start teaching classes for the colleges.

If The Arbor Fellowship sounds like something you might want to support (and, you’ve read this far, so sounds like it might be…), please read more here.