"We Do Not Create Alone" by NET Local Organizer Leah Marche

“For an artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone.” – Madeleine L’Engle

Let’s collab! That has become my new phrase.

As a NET local organizer in my hometown of Phoenix, I had the privilege to be more aware of and present within my community especially in regard to the performing arts.

The power and possibility of collaboration is as easy as ABCs. It simply starts with taking an initiative to meet someone. I began with reaching out to the current NET members in Arizona as well as people I knew but wanted to know better and those with whom I never connected in the performing arts community.

While Arizona has just a handful of NET members, countless of individuals are passionate about and participating in ensemble practice. The growth of the Phoenix metropolitan area, and especially downtown Phoenix which is home to an Arizona State University campus, continues to build a synergy between Artist, Business and Community. It has been exciting to witness how individuals and organizations work together to create a thriving place to live, work and play.

I live in downtown Phoenix in the arts district. I work in downtown Phoenix for a performing arts venue. And I play within downtown and central Phoenix as a volunteer with Radio Phoenix and a frequent goer to places like live music venue Crescent Ballroom or Changing Hands Bookstore.

According to a 2014 City of Phoenix “Phoenix by the Numbers” report, downtown Phoenix is home to more than 150 restaurants. The annual theater attendance is 934,549 and the annual sports venue attendance is 4 million. By 2020, more than 17,000 students are expected to be enrolled downtown.

Working at the Herberger Theater Center – an organization in its 26th year of existence in the heart of downtown Phoenix that began with private and public sector collaboration – I have experienced a great example of the art of harnessing partnerships and activating communities. Concentrated efforts to network and collaborate have occurred more and more as the venue looks ahead to its role to serve the performing arts.

Likewise, the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation works to stimulate the nationally recognized Roosevelt Row Arts District and “to advocate for the continuing presence and role of the arts and small business in the revitalization of the district, and to foster a dense, diverse and walkable urban community.” In addition to the organization’s well-known First Friday and Third Friday events, a monthly artist meet and greet takes place the last Tuesday of the month held at an establishment within the district.

Local First Arizona is another entity dedicated to “building a better Arizona.” It strives to create “localists” by empowering them to think, buy and be local. By means of a collaboration with an activist and realtor, the organization helps people to ‘get their PHX’ (fix) by celebrating and supporting new restraints, stores, bars and event spaces in the central Phoenix area.

These are just a few examples that make collaboration look sexy, if you will. Still, the emerging arts organizations showcase a passion for the arts – all the while surviving with minimal resources but thriving with innovative perspectives.

Leading up to the first event and during the months as a local organizer, I had a few NET Dates but mainly I showed up to events that I seldom attend. At those I events I made it a point to connect with people, those I knew and had yet to know.

Once the new year started, there was renewed energy within the community to start fulfilling those artistic resolutions. For my first community event was held in January. I invited individuals/organizations comprised of NET members as well as non NET members that demonstrated the values of NET – to an artist brunch at Phoenix Art Museum. Each attendee chose a wooden alphabet block from a bag and was asked to describe themselves using the letter. Then we briefly discussed the meaning and significance of ensemble practice, as well as identified some wants and needs.

The result? Many of the wants and needs were similar. But the most of them was the need for consistency. Not just in having regular collaborative meet ups and bringing up repeated conversations, but in ensuring that there is effective follow through of the collaboration as well as creating beneficial initiatives.

The final community event was held in March and hosted by Herberger Theater Center. Attendees were asked to identify as an Artist, Business person or Community member and then encouraged to Dialogue. In their groups they were given the questions posed by NET in regard to ensemble practice and co-creation. Brief presentations from arts organizers were made as well as a short keynote by Jaime Dempsey, deputy director of Arizona Commission on the Arts, emphasized the importance of collaboration Additionally, some showcases by NET members were performed.

Earlier in March, I attended the 3 Million Stories "Arts Graduates in a Changing Economy" conference at Arizona State University Tempe was informative and inspiring with its array of speakers, panels and breakout sessions over three days. Again, collaboration was a recurring theme.

It's like when you buy a car, and then you see that car or make of car all over the place. Likewise, I realized the more we are driving behind the wheels of collaboration we will arrive at more places of collaboration.

The community events planned were short, sweet, simple. They were new in concept. But what never gets old or what we can not afford to stop doing is connecting. My gears have been oiled by this experience and it introduced more ideas and ways that I could contribute my assets to my peers and arts community. During the final event, a many of the attendees identified as A, B & C, as an Artist, Business person and a Community member. My thought was that they would chose the one that best described them. Yet, as ensemble practitioners and co-creators we have multiple personalities in creating our cities and our worlds. And it takes becoming better in those roles we play, learning how to take on new roles in creative endeavors, and ultimately finding unusual and different collaborators to help us make sense of our purpose.

As Madeleine L’Engle said: “We do not create alone." I look forward to continuing the efforts of the local organizer project and implementing an initiative that keeps the community starting and ending sentences with "Let's collab!"

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

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