Artist Meetup Blog Entry 5

May 2024

“Go where you’re valued.”

This month began a new season of meetups for us. Our seasons, designed after a curriculum I created nearly a year ago, follow a rotation of three meeting styles: Forum, Deep Learning, and Trading Post.

The Forum opens the season, centering an open exchange of ideas. It acts as a sort of landscape painting of the moment, a survey of the needs and dreams of our community members sitting around the table with us then and there: what’s on your mind? What do you need to see from your community, and how can we help make that possible? What do you need to see from us in the next few sessions? The Forum says: we’re listening.

The Deep Learning session acts upon the Forum. After the Forum session, I return to my team and devise some exercises and resources that may help to provide a space of safe, caring experimentation for us all. As an artist and organizer, I am enlivened by the trust I’m given by our community to hear them—it’s an honor and the pride of my career. After our Deep Learning experimentations and further conversations about the community’s needs for deeper interventions, I return to my team and decide how best to provide mutual aid for the group.

The Trading Post always centers some shape of mutual aid. We’ve had a potluck in which our members also exchanged recipes and food/feeding stories. We traded vouchers for services that our members could provide for one another. We’ve also just talked. Forum, Deep Learning, and Trading Post: all can simply center open dialogue from disparate members of a fractured community and it will still be deeply impactful. Don’t underestimate the power of open dialogue in a space of trust.

“What makes these meetups different is that they’re a ‘safe space.’”

During this month’s Forum meetup, we sat together and planned our July 18th Celebration of Expression at the Noyes Arts Garage (sign up here!). Over the last month, the SOAC team has been busy securing space, partnerships, and funding, and reaching out to partners. We started first with members of our meetups, those who have made this series, and this upcoming anniversary event, even possible! Second, we reached out to the local community members whose depth in connection to their own communities shows them to be community leaders and community protectors—in a past meeting, a member of our community said “Who are you speaking for and why are you speaking for them?” and that is paramount here in who and how we connect and amplify at our July celebration.

For full transparency, I would like to share with you the rubric we’ve designed for community participation. Assessments are completed based on four criteria—Who, What, How, and Where—defined by these aspects:
• Who: proficiency; expression
What: articulation; relevance and relatability
How: display/performance; presence; community engagement
Where: storytelling; community resilience

(Here is the complete document)

Recall that during last month’s meetup—in which we dreamed up the idea for this celebration event!—our community members were eager to design and distribute an ethics standard for the greater AC artistic community. This sort of community-generated document would allow us to hold one ourselves and one another accountable with regards to pay, equity in the artistic landscape, AI usage, digital literacy, art-as-activism, opposition to gentrifying forces in favor of supporting the hyperlocal and the traditionally marginalized and oppressed communities of Atlantic City, how and when to implement systems of community care, etc.

I have proudly stated, here and elsewhere, that what makes these meetups unique is that Stories of Atlantic City is not an arts organization. Rather, our lens as a community-based information-sharing organization makes us the perfect facilitator to help you, our community members, to design and implement such artistic standards.

It is my belief that this communally-constructed celebratory event, and even a rubric as simple as the above, will help to lay the groundwork for a system of mutual accountability. The city needs artists who will stand up and speak on behalf of their communities.

Who are you speaking for and why are you speaking for them?

May was the Forum month in preparation for the July celebration; June will be our Deep Learning month (join us June 18th!), an opportunity for our members to workshop what they will be bringing to the celebration in July; July will be the deepest example of a Trading Post we’ve seen yet, a celebration of expression of all kinds in Atlantic City, the intersection of vending artists, showcasing fine artists, and a variety of performing artists!

Some aspects of our offerings:
The Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University has graciously gifted our community with the opportunity to participate with none of the standard overhead costs, artists will be able to sell to patrons directly for the day, our performing artists, DJ, mocktail bartender, and community reporter will all be afforded monetary support from our grant funding, and community members will be allowed to park free of charge.

This is community support. Not us supporting you, but you supporting you.

I delight in the hope that these artist meetups, and this celebration in particular, allow us to answer the question “who are you speaking for and why are you speaking for them?”

I revel in the possibilities to come from this great experiment.

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.