Artist Meetup Blog Entry 4

April 2024

A Community of Communities

Our April meeting was SOAC’s tenth artist meetup. Double digits—this is big! I am in awe of our community members for their fierce commitment, their tireless vulnerability, and their open leadership.

I am also enamored by the momentum around our city’s arts organizers. Did you know there are many other artist meetup-style events popping up all over Atlantic City? Before I get into recapping our April meetup, let’s talk a bit about the evolution of meetups in our area!


Last summer, shortly after we started hosting our artist meetups, I met with South Jersey Cultural Alliance’s (SJCA) organizers Shoanne Seijas and Tania Qurashi to discuss our community gathering ethos. We exchanged ideas and talked about the pillars of community access. We also discussed the necessity of open-sourcing our ideas so that others could copy, alter, and personalize community-building structures to suit their needs. 

Our friends and collaborators at SJCA have been hosting their Coffee Shop Chats in Hayday Coffee on New York Avenue for the last few months. This series migrates, and will soon shift to another café in another South Jersey county.

Weekday Underground

Now, as the SJCA Coffee Chats move out of AC (for now!), they leave in their wake inspiration for another monthly series at Hayday,  Weekday Underground’s “Sunday Social” series.

Heart & Bone

In another corner of the city, at the Noyes Arts Garage, Miko Beach’s Heart & Bone Studio held its first Skellington Art Society meeting in February—I’m hoping we’ll see more from Miko soon!

“I’m thrilled to introduce the Skellington Art Society!” He said in an Instagram post “Originally, it wasn’t meant to be formal – just friends gathering to discuss art, create, and share space, ideas, and tips. However, after going to [fellow community artist Katie Weightman’s] local writing club, I realized this was a more thoughtful way of bringing my idea of creative sessions with friends to life.”

He continued, “I’m still figuring all of this out as I go, and I want this to be a collaborative experience. My goal is to have different focus areas, art discussions, collaborative paintings, and maybe even guest takeovers. Who knows? Given my family’s roots in Jersey City and being raised in Atlantic City, I want this club to focus on art you’ll see in a cityscape environment – graffiti, street art, street-inspired art, street fashion, and maybe even street photography.”


This month, retrofutureUSA hosted its first “Still At The Kids Table” monthly meetup geared towards collages, vinyl, and film at Union Hall Arts.


TennAveAC also started their “Artist Town Hall” series this month. This appears to be a dual-purpose info-sharing and info-gathering session, where they can advertise their upcoming construction while also collecting ideas from the community of surrounding artists. There is an air of transparency and open communication here that is very alluring, and I look forward to seeing the relationships they build.

Anchor Rock Club

Last but not least, a beautiful, heartfelt and related offering: Anchor Rock Club recently created a map of “indie AC,” calling it “the side of Atlantic City you don’t have to gamble on.”A variety of relaxed spaces and resources for open discussion, meetings honing in on particular mediums, genres, or passions, art showcases, and dialogue around how to provide further resources to the artistic community? And all happening in Atlantic City right now?! I am elated. This is cause for celebration!

What does it look like to honor the needs of our artists?

This is the question that birthed our meetups’ Trading Posts. Over the course of three full trimester cycles of our artist meetup curriculum now, our community has sought to address their comrades’ needs in a variety of ways.

For April, I asked our members to create a list of needs and offerings. We started by each anonymously contributing a need, written on a folded piece of paper, into a cup. I then distributed out the pieces of paper, and we took turns reading each other’s anonymous needs.

Here is the list:

• Understanding and accommodations for health and mental fatigue
• Patience
• More accessible active recreation
• Paying customers and/or audience
• More grant offerings in arts and education
• More community outreach in the arts
• A space for art on the north side
• Feedback on in-progress artwork
• Parent support
• Speaking opportunities

I find that it is always a healing experience to recognize our thoughts repeated back to us. It ensures that we feel known, even just a little bit.

Once every member took their turn reading their comrades’ anonymous needs (and I finished jotting the list of needs on our whiteboard), we inverted the question by asking what we feel we can offer to our community.

Here is what our artists anonymously wrote:

• Volunteer teaching students work-readiness skills
• Humor/acting in plays
• Craft show and meeting planning
• Being part of a clean-up crew
• Assist at Boys & Girls Club
• Care, time, and a listening ear
• Time and participation
• Insight
• Kindness
• Music education
• Connections/introductions
• Art recommendations, resource-sharing, and general art talk
• Assistance organizing events and ideas

It should be noted that these lists are not a complete representation. I specifically asked that our members only contribute one item each. The activity was less about creating a complete map of needs and offerings and more about providing insight into the similarities between our needs.

We quickly noticed overlaps in both needs and offerings. That, too, is a useful trick for helping people to feel known. So often, we are our own worst enemies—both undervaluing our own offerings/abilities and silencing our requests for aid. That sort of self-censorship can only exist when we are apart from community. When we get together and share, we find we have more in common than we have differences and that allows us to find deeper connections.

“Kindness is contagious.”

In fact, one member during our meeting said “kindness is contagious.” There was disagreement in this moment, with a fellow member jokingly responding, “pushover!” This opened a lengthy conversation about how much of ourselves we should give to our community and how/when we should reserve our energy to maintain peace.

Understandably, some folks who have spent ample time working in the recent AC landscape can feel cynical: members talked about “undercutting” and others “stealing ideas.” We acknowledged this truth and wondered how we move forward, through and out of it. When we design something that’s meant to be shared, it cannot be stolen. This is why I am so determined to open source information-sharing. This is why transparency is important.

“Hold the line!”

Our community members tossed around terms like “union,” “collective,” and “standard.” We discussed the need to create a system that would allow us to hold one another accountable for our actions. One member said, “It’s 2024: no one should go out the door for less than a hundred bucks. Hold the line!” Recognizing the value of others’ talents helps us to strengthen the recognition of our own talents’ value as well. This is why we must have a collectively-generated document.

We also discussed ways to address hyperlocal and place-specific needs, as well as imbuing this sort of document with a set of ethics, such as a critical response to AI in the Atlantic City arts scene. Finally, it was suggested that a standard or a set of bylaws such as this acts as well as a call to action: “By going to [community member]’s show, you are benefitting Atlantic City through [x y z reasons].”

What would it look like to celebrate a community of artists in Atlantic City?

Over the last ten months of meetups, the idea of a celebratory event has been tossed around quite a few times. We’ve discussed (and acted on!) showcases, albeit internal to our artist meetup template. We’ve talked about holding critique sessions. We’ve even had a mocktail happy hour!

We have never acted on something large-scale. What would that look like? How might a community practice curation together as an artistic device? This month’s meetup culminated in our members asking these sorts of questions.

As our conversation about city-wide standards wound down, I mentioned that we are nearing the one-year anniversary of our meetups. That feels like a huge accomplishment to me. I live for community organizing and sharing fun, experimental, vulnerable space with other creative folks! It continues to be an unexpected gift that my role with Stories of Atlantic City could guide me back to this sort of work—and I would love to find a way to broadcast our joy, creativity, and solidarity with the wider AC arts community!

That invigorated our membership, and they quickly drafted ideas and offered beautiful suggestions: A festival? An evening of performances followed by a brunch-hour of vendors? An outside event? A partnership with other orgs? I took these ideas and chewed them over. To close this entry, I’d like to share my thought process and where I see this thing heading.

The anniversary of the artist meetups is in July. That means we don’t have a lot of time to plan. Three months is enough time to plan about a 3-hour event, so that’s what we decided we would aim for. My colleague Byonce and I met with Michael and Sarah at the Arts Garage, and they graciously offered their space on Thursday, July 18th from 6 to 9pm.

Mark it on your calendars, folks!

Our event will be a celebration of our artist meetups, and a celebration of expression in Atlantic City. It will seek to center the kind of energy we have always brought to the artist meetups—open sharing, vulnerability, deep self-expression, and (most of all) experimentation. We will have tables for vendors, pop-up walls for artists, and a space for performers.

This is more than just a showcase curated by the SOAC team. This will be an opportunity for our members to practice community organizing and curating together. We will hold an information session over zoom on May 14th from 6 to 8pm.The following two artist meetups, May 28th and June 18th, will act as meeting time, preparation space, and feedback sessions for our makers and performers.

As we move forward with the Stories of Atlantic City artist meetups, I invite your thoughts and feedback. I am so excited to see this event become a reality, and I am eager to learn in what exciting, new directions we take our meetups!

Our Artist Meetup series is supported by New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a nonprofit that funds initiatives to benefit the State’s civic life and meet the evolving information needs of New Jersey’s communities. A first-in-the-nation project, the Consortium reimagines how public funding can be used to address the growing problem of news deserts, misinformation, and support more informed communities.