Posted by: Liz Massey | May 25, 2009

Where do you go to find creative community online? Part III: Do-it-yourself community

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

In the last installment of this series, we took a look at several large-scale social networks run by artists, for artists. We ended with Quinn McDonald’s smaller (but growing!) Raw Art Yahoo Group and that is a good starting point for today’s post, which looks at baby steps you can take to begin connecting with artists and innovators.

These steps will be a little different from those given in the first two posts for this series—instead of plugging into a pre-made solution, these options are a lot more hands-on/DIY. On the other hand, the result is a customized community-attracting site or tool that can help you befriend just the sort of persons you want and need in your creative life.

Ways to build a personalized creative community online

Create a Yahoo Group

One of the oldest cyber-connecting options and still one of the best, in terms of ease of set up. As a writer and editor, I think word-oriented people flocked to Yahoo Groups (in the same way they flocked to other types of e-mail discussion groups)—I’m not as clear on how coherent groups based on visual or other art forms are.

One of the keys to gathering your ideal tribe through a Yahoo Group is to let the world know it exists. Quinn did a great job of explaining what her group was about on her blog; she will be able to link to it in other situations and give interested readers a quick snapshot of what her community is about.

My experience as a Yahoo Group member is that the best creativity-oriented groups have a “critical mass” of members who enjoy interacting and sharing links, work, and thoughts with each other. Members understand a few simple ground rules (one group I belong to simply says, “treat each other with respect,” and that seems to work) and moderators are able to sense when to throw out fresh fodder for discussion, or when to contact an aggressive or inappropriate commenter off-list.

Start a blog

Another solid choice for community building that’s stood the test of Internet time. A lot of my friends who don’t blog wonder why anyone would want to know what they had for lunch (which is their little stereotype of what blog content is all about); I typically respond that if that’s all they have to blog about, they need to get some better hobbies.

This blog and my other one on writing and editing have given me a chance to meet dozens of other bloggers and hundreds of readers who enjoy thinking about the creative process. Beyond reading and responding to the folks who stop by and comment, my research for the blogs has led me to network with and befriend a number of exciting, fun, and productive artists, scientists and innovators.

I haven’t taken as much time as I probably should to visit the blogs of others and comment on their posts, a time-tested way of building blog traffic and meeting others. However, I have had great success in helping people learn more about my blog by linking to theirs in my weekly “Surf’s Up” post. Other ways to meet new blogging artists include contributing posts to blog carnivals and participating in a group blog.

A nice example of a group blog that builds connections between the group members, as well as those to drop in to comment or just soak up the atmosphere is the Creative Construction: Life & Art blog. A number of creative women, many of them mothers of small children, post thoughts on their new projects, challenges to daily art-making, and their responses to a weekly creativity prompt (here’s one related to Mother’s Day). The comments (from co-bloggers to each other as well as from, and to, visitors) are encouraging and warm, and it’s a wonderful place to drop by and sample slices of these remarkable women’s creative output.

Start your own social network

You don’t need a cubicle-farm worth of programmers or a marketing army—all you need is a good idea and Web 2.0! Ning is one of several do-it-yourself social network providers. I’ve heard really good things about the drag-and-drop ease with which you can set up a Ning community on just about any topic. I first learned about Ning when I joined a web content professionals group that was Ning-based; one of the most interesting creativity related sites I’ve found, one owned by someone I originally connected with on Facebook, is Sherry Gaynor’s Creative Awakenings network.  Her Ning community is a place for readers of her book, “Creative Awakenings: Envisioning the Life of your Dreams Through Art” can come to participate in forums, read and comment on her blog and meet each other and discuss the book.

The nice part about Ning-like networks is that you can create a group around a creativity sub-topic that you’d like to discuss with others, craft an environment that encourages collaboration and interaction, and do it all in a safe (password protection for most of the content) environment. It’s likely that Ning or similar set-ups would work for formal collaborations on creative projects, as well. Here’s a high level example of that at work: Global Sensemaking is a Ning-powered community that says it is “helping humanity address complex, interrelated global problems—such as climate change, energy policy, poverty, and food security—by developing and applying new web-based technology to assist collaborative decision making and cooperative problem solving.”

Start your own e-newsletter

As you might have noticed, this is one of my newest projects here at Creative Liberty! I hope to have the very first edition of Creative Liberation out in a few days—many thanks to those who have already signed up.

One of the best explanations (in a very arts-business context) explanations of why e-newsletters are vital for creating a “community” around you and your art comes from Clint Watson of FineArtViews blog. In his post “I’m Not Surprised Your Art Isn’t Selling…” Clint walks visual artists step-by-step through starting an e-newsletter to send to their e-mail list, one that is a harbinger of timely, relevant, focused information from someone that readers enjoy hearing from.

In another great post of Clint’s, he explains why cultivating connections this way is so important. Again, his focus is helping working artists sell their art, but his comments hold true for anyone wanting to become part of a community of artists.

“How do you START or GROW or NUTURE a clan? By being personal, timely and relevant. You must ‘be there’ at the right time, and in the right place to personally connect with someone, to start a ‘conversation’ (online or offline) with that person, and your goal, at that point, IS NOT to sell them your artwork directly (although it’s great if you do).  Your goal, at that point of first contact, is to get permission to continue the conversation.  In the real world, this normally manifests itself as permission to add that person to your email list, to add them your show mailing list, or perhaps even simply to schedule a follow up phone call.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s not about “sales” or about surface-level connections—e-newsletters, blogs, small-scale social networks and e-groups are all ways to connect with likeminded folks on the Internet, and share your passion for art and creativity in appropriate and fun ways.

The question to you:

How do you build creative community online? List your favorite connection tools in the comments below!

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