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.