The Arbor Fellowship

I’m developing a new project to mentor student artists to serve and shape culture.

Specifically, The Arbor Fellowship fills the gap in professional and entrepreneurial training,

  • to keep artists of faith creating over time,
  • as they increase in skill, social influence, and maturity,
  • and shape culture to be more loving in the image of God.

I’ll be ramping up the project in three phases. Phase 1 is already under way, and should keep me busy for the next year or so.

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 few years of a full-time job. I hadn’t gotten back to it until now, 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. You can read more about it in this blog post. I’m asking artists, educators, and theologians to answer whichever of 5 theological questions and 5 practical questions they have strong opinions about regarding life as an artist. I’m editing those answers into a book that will, I hope, give emerging professional artists (and their parents) some really useful information and encouragement as they 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 is based on the work I’ve been doing with arts advocacy, professional development, 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 want it if they knew what was in it for them, and audiences don’t make thoughtful decisions about what to purchase or encounter based on what they want.

I’ve started this book without a specific faith perspective because I want it to be more broadly applicable. But there’s not too far I can go in “the value of the arts” without running into, well, God….

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 than one, or all of them in a two-day workshop. In these sessions, I’d share some content from the books and, hopefully, sell some when they’re published. 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 will take some time to develop.

This takes the project into Phase 2.

Now that online and hybrid learning is standard fare, 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.

Community and Coaching

Phase 3 of the project would add one-to-one coaching and building a community. I’m already doing some coaching informally with already-in-the-marketplace artists, but as soon as I have the time and funds, I plan to start training to become a certified coach.

I also plan to match emerging artists with experienced artists in their field for short-term mentoring, hearkening back to the premodern “apprenticeship” model. There’s a British project, Arts Emergency, which has had amazing results with pairing high school-aged artists with experienced professionals for “opportunities, contacts and advice so that young people can flourish in higher education and the cultural industries.” I’d like to do something like that.

But 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.” 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.

So how will this happen?

For at least the first two years, I’ll need to be supported through financial partnerships. The books won’t generate much income and, although I’ll welcome being paid by colleges to come and speak, I wouldn’t want their ability to pay a fee or travel expenses to keep Arbor’s services from their students. Once I get to the point of teaching 2-3 classes each semester, the need for financial support for me will go down, but I might need to hire help to manage other aspects of the project.

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.