Is Artist Collaboration a Solution?

I may be coming across as a bit of a complainer, with my past criticism of Deseret Book, Self Publishing and the LDS product industry. Instead of criticizing, let me point out an example of cooperation that might serve as a model for others. I believe that by working with each others, artists can achieve more success.

In 1999 an exhibition by a group of LDS photographers led Glen Nelson to form the Mormon Artist’s Group, a collective of approximately 50 creative artists, including novelists, poets, historians, screenwriters, playwrights, librettists, composers, painters, photographers, sculptors, architects, choreographers, and so forth. Nelson calls the group a collective because of its informal operation — no legal organization, no formal membership and no dues. While this informality requires a greater committment from members and from Nelson, it has the advantage of simplicity and low cost.

Despite the informality, the Mormon Artist Group has been remarkably active. During the past seven years, the group has produced 14 different events and projects, including 8 different works for sale. Since the group doesn’t exist as a legal entity, each of the works for sale is simply a partnership between the participants, who share the costs and profits from their work.

This system has some substantial benefits, as well as a few drawbacks. When many artists collaborate, the effort that each has to make is substantially less. Typically, each artist has a list of friends that will be interested in his or her work, and joining the lists from all the participants usually means a wider distribution of the work. This system also means that the costs for an individual artist are substantially lower than if the artist produced a project by himself.

Of course, since each artist is only one of several in a work, each artist shares the spotlight and whatever profits are earned with the other participants. But Nelson reports that of the 7 Mormon Artists Group works that have gone on sale to date, all but one has at least broken even.

The Mormon Artists Group is not the only collaboration of Mormon artists (I know of a few others: the Association for Mormon Letters, LDStorymakers, a few Mormon choirs; but I don’t always know how they work — and I’d like to know of still other collaborations). But collaboration might be a good model for others to follow.

Every artist needs a place to display his work and hear feedback and criticism. Groups like this can provide that. Since the creative act is often lonely, Artists also need human, in person, contact with other artists — so ideally they need a local organization that they can work with. They also need an outlet that helps get their work promoted and distributed in some fashion. Groups like these sometimes also act as publishers, galleries and promoters.

I don’t believe that any one of these organizations provides everything that an artist needs. But it is clear that artists need organizations like these. We need more of them — local organizations, organizations that promote and distribute the work of Mormon artists, and even organizations that help non-artists get to know the work of Mormon artists.

Of course, the best thing about these organizations is that they are quite easy to start — if an artist follows the example above, starting an organization doesn’t require money, just time and effort. And an organization like this not only helps the artists, but can improve the status of art by Mormons in the community, both among Mormons and among others.

I’d love to get other ideas and reactions to this. This is just one way for artists to improve the promotion of their art. What else should Mormon authors and artists be trying to do to promote their own work and improve the status of the arts among members of the Church? What other organizations are there? What kinds of things should these organizations be doing?

Regardless, I hope artists see the point. I’m not suggesting that a particular organization is needed, just that artists need to be active in their careers. And in the process, I believe they will also help our community.

6 thoughts on “Is Artist Collaboration a Solution?”

  1. Kent,
    I didn’t get to say how much I liked this.
    Collaborative art is such an interesting exercize for an artist, for a lot of ego has to go out the door for it to work. I have an musical friend, Nathaniel Drew, who helps me write musicals. I do books and lyrics and he does the music. We’ve written an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and are also working on a Restoration musical called “A New Age of Miracles.” It’s really hard sometimes, because you have to come to the realization that this isn’t just “your” baby. It’s like two parents raising a child, where neither of them has sole say as to how its raised.
    As to other Mormon Artists groups, most Theater groups as by nature this way (as to a Mormon flavor, there was Nauvoo Theatrical Society, and the Handcart Company in New York). I’ve been playing with the idea of forming a theater group called Lion House Acting Company, where we would focus on LDS plays (primarily my plays at first, and then expand to include others).
    One of my most positive experiences with a Mormon group of artists, was the Mormon Arts Foundation Retreat in Salt Lake. It was an invited group of Mormon artists who meets annually at the Little America. It was such a surreal, but supportive experience to interact with people who you’ve grown up hearing their names (the group includes the likes of James Christensen, Richard Dutcher, Dean Hughes, Doug Stewart, Eric Samuelsen, Lee Groberg, Sam Cardon, James Arrington, Marvin Payne, Dave Wolverton, Liz Lemon, Tim Slover, Adam Abel, Doug Thayer, etc. etc.). What I learned from those folks and the supportive enviornment they created by establishing such a support group has been invaluable. I believe that such good can be the cause of great good and uplift in any artistic community.

  2. Great post, Kent. I wish we could get more discussion on this. As your and Mahonri’s experience attest, it seems like, at the very least, collaboration can provide a lift that helps drive individual efforts.

    Since we haven’t had much response here, I’m going to ask the group at LDStorymakers if they’d be willing to do a Q&A for posting here at AMV.

  3. I find Kent’s suggestions fascinating but due to lack of experience with such highly organized, energetic, and perhaps sophisticated groups can’t fully grasp their potential and benefits. Words like these ring in my mind almost as a description of an artist’s utopia:

    “Every artist needs a place to display his work and hear feedback and criticism. Groups like this can provide that. Since the creative act is often lonely, Artists also need human, in person, contact with other artists — so ideally they need a local organization that they can work with. They also need an outlet that helps get their work promoted and distributed in some fashion. Groups like these sometimes also act as publishers, galleries and promoters.”

    I can see the benefits of such a group, especially to a time and energy challenged writer like myself. But imagining what such a group would look like and how I might contribute to it? My mind can’t grasp it. Maybe this is because a few of the LDS groups I’ve been involved with absorbed my time and energy and required I change the way I execute my art to fit a concept of church art I couldn’t bend to.

    I would like to see a group such as you describe organized for LDS artists (and perhaps lyrically-minded scientists)that explore and celebrate nature in their work. So far as I can tell, though, there’d be little room for movement for such a group in the LDS culture as it now operates. But it looks like what you’re suggesting, Kent, is that part of the group’s purpose is to create a market for and interest in a variety of subjects as rendered through the artistic eye.

    Also, you say this:

    “I don’t believe that any one of these organizations provides everything that an artist needs.”

    IMO one kind of organizational experience that LDS writers need (at least, that this LDS writer needs) is one that provides contact with non-LDS artists and other non-LDS professionals in the field.

  4. Patricia wrote:

    “I find Kent’s suggestions fascinating but due to lack of experience with such highly organized, energetic, and perhaps sophisticated groups can’t fully grasp their potential and benefits.”

    Well, I’m afraid that your comment makes it clear that I didn’t do my job!!

    I don’t think that the groups I mentioned were “highly organized” or particularly “sophisticated” (except the ones I participate in, of course!). I was hoping to convey exactly the opposite — that these groups can be formed and run even by inexperienced, unorganized and surely even unsophisticated artists.

    In fact, the idea that an organization can be created without formal legal status, tax returns and fancy titles, is one of the major points I’m trying to make. We need these organizations, so we need to start them, be willing to make mistakes, and in this way figure out how to get their works promoted and publicized.

  5. Kent said:

    Well, I’m afraid that your comment makes it clear that I didn’t do my job!!

    I don’t think that the groups I mentioned were “highly organized” or particularly “sophisticated” (except the ones I participate in, of course!). I was hoping to convey exactly the opposite — that these groups can be formed and run even by inexperienced, unorganized and surely even unsophisticated artists.

    Me: Naw, it wasn’t that you didn’t do your job, it’s just that I’m having a failure of imagination regarding what you propose.

    BTW, is there some reason other members of the Mormon Artists’ Group couldn’t do a Q&A as well as LDStorymakers could?

  6. Not at all. But since Kent is part of it, I figured he can represent it in whatever manner he thinks best. Q&A, news release, his own post, inviting others from the group to guest post, etc.

Comments are closed.