ArtsHub of Western Mass proves to be a necessary resource

The art of connection

ArtsHub of Western Mass is a website, but for the region’s artist community, say Lisa Davol and Dee Boyle-Clapp, it’s so much more.

“Like the steampunk aesthetic, Bruce Rosenbaum thrives on paradox. His work is a blend of golden-era opulence, modern functionality and futuristic aspiration,” author Daniel Hales recently wrote of the piece. Palmer-based artist who specializes in creating steampunk-inspired objects.” Similarly, Bruce himself is both an unabashed dreamer – an artist building whimsical castles in the clouds from materials very heavy – and also a very pragmatic and successful businessman.”

This article, one of many on the ArtsHub of Western Mass website, perfectly encapsulates the dual world of art and commerce that so many creatives must inhabit. They may create in isolation, but rely on connection – of different kinds – to bring their work to light and earn a living.

The ArtsHub, a free, centralized online portal that seeks to forge those connections, could be a game-changer in that regard, said its founders, Dee Boyle-Clapp, director of the UMass arts outreach service, and Lisa Davol, head of marketing for the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.

Lisa Davol

Lisa Davol

“We’ve all been trying to find a way to bring artists together because artists kind of work in their own silos, and they really needed a place to congregate to see who’s doing what and find access to resources, technical assistance, funding, and collaborators”.

Rosenbaum, Boyle-Clapp said, is “a person who is an artist, but he is always looking for other artists to hire because he needs people who have specific skills depending on the art project he is working on. currently. And he needed a place to find other artists. So ArtsHub is a place for him to quickly find people who are in the area that he can contact and hire. This is one of the roles that the ArtsHub will play.

One of many, in fact.

“It’s a concept that we’ve been talking about and that the artistic community has been talking about for years,” Davol said. “We’ve all been trying to find a way to bring artists together because artists kind of work in their own silos, and they really needed a place to congregate to see who’s doing what and find access to resources, to technical assistance, funding, and collaborators. There is a huge artistic economy in this area, but there is a need for connection around it.

The pair worked on creating an arts database in Franklin County, and similar efforts have been attempted in other areas of Western Mass. But ArtsHub’s vision, which caters to artists – visual, performing, written, etc. – Across Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties began to merge in earnest after the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council convened a Creative Economy Network.

“It was really the first time that everyone in the whole region could come together around a table and say, ‘Hey, this is happening in my region; what is happening in your area? “recalls Davol. “And all the needs are the same, basically.”

This was followed by a planning grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, followed by a much larger grant of $186,000 from the Massachusetts Office of Business Development. After extensive planning and a virtual summit that drew artists around the topic “How to Recover and Thrive” post-pandemic, the website launched in January.

“Now we have a place to find resources,” Davol said. “It’s a bit like a chamber of commerce for artists. It’s the same concept. They’re all small businesses, and they really need support and connection.

As the website explains, “We want to collaborate across various sectors of Western Mass.’s creative communities and help each other find opportunities for funding, studio and rehearsal space, collaborations, commissions, training, career, storytelling, promotion, etc. A good hub makes room for all local creatives, from studio and performing artists to architects and space designers, graphic and web designers, photographers and videographers, singers and musicians, artistic directors and administrators, employers and funders, tourists and visitors, audiences and customers.”

Boyle-Clapp noted that “we needed a website, a home base, a place to have an artist directory, a place where artists can find access to resources and studio spaces and answer the question, ‘how do you hire someone?’ All of this is really important.

Dee Boyle Clapp

Dee Boyle Clapp

“It’s a one-stop-shop for artists to find out what’s happening, what’s available, what I can learn, and what can I access that will help me in my career?”

Artists create a profile on the site and can interact with hundreds of other artists on topics like locating talent, professional development, public art opportunities, grants – the sky’s the limit, really. “It’s a one-stop-shop for artists to find out what’s happening, what’s available, what I can learn, and what can I access that will help me in my career?”

Contact

One of the reasons ArtsHub has succeeded so far where other efforts have failed is because its founders thought more strategically about how to partner with different entities to make it sustainable.

“A big part of that is the artist database. They are so expensive to create and so difficult to maintain,” Davol said. ArtsHub has therefore partnered with the New England Foundation for the Arts on this aspect, which broadens the range of exposure for participants.

Meanwhile, ArtsHub has enlisted a number of community liaisons to reach artists in specific communities – not just geographically, such as in individual cities, but Native American, Hispanic, African American and other demographic communities in the creative local ecosystem, to involve them and develop a richer and more robust membership.

“Liaisons work to help us understand what the needs of artists who represent these communities are and help them leverage the resources of the ArtsHub,” Boyle-Clapp said. “We see the ArtsHub as a platform, and now we invite other people to participate. Do you have a studio to rent? Are you looking for an actor or an artist? Do you have a grant available? This is the place to post it.

“It opens up opportunities for everyone, so it’s not an exclusive group, which is why community bonding is so important,” she continued. “They help open this up to the wider community of those who work here.”

The effort comes at a time when the arts community is recovering from an unprecedented challenge, especially for those reliant on public gatherings, which have been closed for extended periods during the pandemic. The $186,000 grant, in fact, specifically targeted COVID recovery efforts.

“The arts have been hit hard. Arts organizations have been criticized. It’s one thing to be shut down, but it’s another to have absolutely no access to sites and no place to be.

“How can we help this sector to revive? Boyle-Clapp said. “The arts have been hit hard. Arts organizations have been criticized. It’s one thing to be closed, but it’s another to have absolutely no access to the rooms and no place to be. One in six jobs in the Valley is linked to the creative economy, so it is essential that this sector is supported and has access to resources. We’re here to help make that as easy as possible.

Most of the initial effort was building the site, Davol said, and now the pledge piece is in full swing, enticing artists to sign up. And it was a hit, with around 2,500 artists from Western Mass. on ArtsHub now, many busy connecting to shared resources and opportunities, while posting events to a calendar page.

“I think after a year we can see what the impact has been,” she added. “There’s a lot of engagement on Facebook, a lot of people signing up. And the more people we can recruit, the better the resource for the creative community and the more job openings there will be. It looks really good now, but it could be so much bigger.

ArtsHub has also engaged writers to share stories on the site, from the Rosenbaum profile to a recent discussion about non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. “We have writers doing stories about individual artists and concepts,” Boyle-Clapp said. “These are subjects that interest people in the arts.”

A series of Lunch and Learn workshops will likely follow, with artists given the opportunity to talk about their work for 15 to 30 minutes, she added. “I will launch the first by talking about internships.

Davol noted that the Virtual Creative Economy Summit in January included workshops on everything from how to get leads and market your work to how to get into galleries. “The lunch-and-learn can be a way to continue that. We will see what happens in the first year and what needs are brought to the surface. What have we learned from this, what has come to our attention and where can we go? We are very open to possibilities.

Developing story

Not only does ArtsHub connect artists with resources and encourage the community to hire locally, Boyle-Clapp said the general public might also find the site useful, whether they’re looking for a musician for a bar mitzvah or planning to visit. region and looking for cultural activities to fill their itinerary.

“People have wanted it for a very long time. It’s a dream come true,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re really excited to have it here, and now we’re just trying to get more people to know about us, understand it, tap into its potential. It’s a site that should be used as much as possible.

Joseph Bednar can be reached a [email protected]

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