Happy new decade from the Smile Politely arts section. We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. Vacationers have returned. Students are making their way back to campus in the coming days. The wheel of the year has spun and with it comes talk of goals and resolutions. If you’ve had your fill of media ads and listicles offering products and services to help you be a better (e.g. leaner, richer, no sugar or gluten, new language-speaking) version of yourself, relax. We like you just as you are.
As artists, makers, or arts-enthusiasts, you may be looking at 2020 as the year you’ll hit a certain milestone in your work or reach a new level of understanding with your favorite composer or artist. I’m here to help you reach it. Our local arts community is chock-full of opportunities to find inspiration, explore outside your current artistic wheelhouse, put your work out there, or find your creative tribe.
As someone whose occupation hazard is deep contemplation, I have spent many a January (and beyond, if I am to be honest), stuck in the planning or ideation stage. My inner nerd could happily stay in the research stage for months on end. But I’ve learned that sometimes you just need to shake things up and take action. It can be a small step, or a giant leap. That’s up to you. Herewith you’ll find five ways to turn your 2020 arts resolutions into reality. Good luck. Be brave. Ask for help. And reward yourself for every victory, no matter how small.
Strategies for finding inspiration
The old cliche is true. Inspiration is everywhere. You just have to look. And the good news is you don’t have to spend a lot of money finding it. Even though exploring new art is part of work, I still try to make inspiration-dates with myself. I go to the library and see what’s in the current fiction section. I study the design of contemporary book covers. I go to the IDEA Store and marvel at the treasurers. I people watch. Weather permitting, I look at the changing palette of our landscape, natural and manmade. This can be both uplifting and depressing. Both are good fodder for inspiration. Spend time with a form of art you don’t work or ever plan to. Music can help writers find their rhythm. Film and photography can inspire new compositions or approaches to light for painters. Go to Krannert Art Museum. Go to Parkland College’s Giertz Gallery. Next time to stop for coffee. stop and really see the art on the walls. Or just stop and really listen to the sound of the various machines at work. Be open to what’s around you.
This next strategy is tricky and should be approached with care. Revisiting the art of your own personal sheros can be extremely inspiring. But in a moment of self-doubt or creative block, it can be paralyzing. Tread lightly when exploring what your colleagues are doing. As I’ll get to it in a minute, having the support of a creative tribe is incredibly empowering. Just don’t let yourself go down the comparison rabbit hole. We can and should learn from each other. But first we have to learn to do so without losing our own voices or unique values. Remember: the world is big enough for all of us. And besides, there is only one you.
Strategies for learning outside your wheelhouse
As artists, we can be driven and self-critical. These feelings can multiply quickly if money or financial security is involved. That’s why it’s important to find a way to come back to that child-like, joyful, simple urge to create something. And the best way to do this can be explore something where you have no vested interest, no previous experience, no expectations. Allow yourself to remember how to have fun. Take a dance class at Urbana Dance Company. Study the art of Shodo (Japanese Calligraphy) with master Shozo Sato at Japan House. Take a pottery class at Springer Cultural Center. There are lots of low-pressure, affordable opportunities at Hopscotch and Her Creative Collective. Exploring a different sense or sensibility can fuel your current work, or it at the very least, loosen you up and remember that you don’t have to be perfect at everything.
Strategies for shaking up your current arts diet
This one is for all of the arts enthusiasts who may feel stuck in a rut. While many local arts events are free or inexpensive, many are not. Let’s face it. We are more likely to explore something wildly different, something we may not like, if doing so doesn’t hit us too hard in the bank balance. Krannert Uncorked is a great way to hear new music (and to sample wine) for free. If you have the time, consider becoming a Krannert volunteer. You’ll meet lots of great people, have access to great performances, and get an insider’s view at this gem of a performance space. Volunteer for 40 North and get an inside look at a wide variety of local arts programming. You may also consider joining the Smile Politely arts staff as a writer/review. (Hint, hint).
Strategies for getting your work out there
This is a big one. It requires courage and commitment. But it is so worth it. Depending on where you are in your work, you may want to start by joining and presenting at a writers’ or artists group. Here you’ll get a lot of feedback at various stages of the process. You’ll also get the much needed support and encouragement we all need to keep going. See more about this below. If you’re ready for primetime. Here are some current opportuntiies to submit or perform. Her Creative Collective is accepting submissions for its upcoming show. The deadline is January 23rd. Find out more here. If photography is your thing, the 19th Annual Best in Show Photo Print Competition is accepting submissions with an early bird deadline or January 22nd and a final deadline of January 29th. Think outside of the CU arts box and submit your work to the McLean Arts Center 93rd Annual Amateur Exhibition. Find out more here. Let your art help the community by submitting to the Resist 4 Art Event. Sign up for 40 North’s announcements of upcoming calls for submission.
If you’re a poet, consider signing up for a spot at an upcoming Poets at the Post reading. You’ll meet other poets and experience the ephemeral magic of live poetry. If you’re an actor, start following the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre, Parkland College Theatre, and The Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company to learn of upcoming auditions. I can’t guarantee that every audition or submission will be a win, but I can promise that you’ll learn something. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And the more you’ll learn about yourself and about the process. Often its not about whether you aren’t good enough, its about what’s right for the overall production. Follow each rejection with another submission
Strategies for finding your creative tribe
As artists and makers we spent a lot of time alone. That’s just an occupational hazard. One that can lead to overthinking. Finding your creative tribe can make a big difference. Your tribe will offer encouragement and honest feedback. They’ll share opportunities and help your amplify your voice. They will also hold you accountable to deadlines and other goals. And this is something we all need to help us go from planning to delivering. Luckily our town is full of such opportunities. Her Creative Collective is not just a place to attend classes, it offers a chance to share talents and collaborate in a supportive environment. Visual artists and designers should definitely consider joining The Champaign Urbana Design Organization (CUDO) for networking, resource sharing, and good conversation. They have a regular happy hour and the next one is at 6 p.m. on January 23rd at Murphy’s Pub. And, last but certainly not least, the makers of the Misfit Market are looking for new member vendors for their February event.
Go forth and conquer. Be brave, but be kind to yourself. And report back so we can learn about the amazing things you are doing.
Top image: A photo collage of visual arts tools including a camera, sculpting clay, and graphite pencil and paper, along with the words “Artfully Created in Champaign County.”