Collaborative Spaces: Creative Practices builds community for artists

This is a city where creativity and community go hand in hand. In this series, I’m exploring the local businesses and spaces whose collaborative natures make them more than the sum of their parts.

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A former Oliver residence was converted into Creative Practices Institute’s new home in downtown Edmonton. Photo: Stephanie Medford

At Creative Practices Institute, Edmonton artists are finding new ways to connect, grow and thrive. Opened in the summer of 2014, the institute is run by Brittney Roy and Connor Buchanan, and strives to provide creatives with support and resources to help build their careers.

Roy says they chose a house in Oliver as their base of operations partly because of its central location and proximity to galleries and other artist-run centres like SNAP and Harcourt House, and partly because of the welcoming, homey feeling of the house.

Soon after finding the space they opened up several rooms as studios for rent and were pleased that they were snapped up quite quickly. “Having it fill up was kind of like, OK, we’re doing the right thing,” Roy says. They turned the living room of the house into a gallery, and use a large table in the dining area as office space and a spot to host their professional development workshops.

These workshops, covering topics like marketing for creatives, bookkeeping for artists, and grant-writing, have been very well received by the creative community. Professionals are hired by the society to teach their particular expertise, which means that they can cover almost any topic pertaining to professional development for artists. They also offer one-on-one consulting for people who want to dive a little deeper.

Roy and Buchanan both have extensive experience in arts administration and are artists themselves, however, they don’t pretend to have all the answers. “We don’t call ourselves professionals by any means,” Roy says. “We’re here as peers and we’re here to share with whatever experiences we’ve obtained.”

This, in fact, is the whole purpose behind Creative Practices — to bring people together to share what they know. Roy and Buchanan both noticed that they were a bit at a loss in terms of where to go once they finished their schooling. As Roy puts it, “You come out of university and you sort of feel like you drop off the side of a mountain and you have to scramble back up and try to figure out how to make a living and how to make a career out of your creative profession.”

Roy explains that art school teaches the conceptual and technical sides of art but that when it comes to building a career, many artists find themselves on their own. Marketing, applying for grants and exhibitions, filing taxes, and other essential skills are hard to learn by yourself and it makes a lot more sense to take a community approach to developing these skills.

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Independent film night hosted by the Creative Practices Institute. Photo: Stephanie Medford

“My theory behind education is that learning is a shared experience and we only learn better in a collaborative environment,” Roy says, “so why reinvent the wheel — and lose precious time — when so many artists around you have gone through similar processes.”

Another creative way that they encourage learning is through their internship program, which they administer through SCIP internships. This gives those seeking work in arts administration hands-on experience in a variety of areas, such as exhibitions, marketing, policy and development, and programming. Each intern works with the society to decide which role would benefit their professional development the most while also bringing value to the society. According to Roy, “Our internship is a big part, it’s like our backbone I would say.”

Beyond the value of learning from others, a strong community supports artists by helping them build connections and provide space for collaboration. To help encourage this community growth, the society hosts gallery openings, discussions, independent film nights and other events that help to gather like-minded people together. They have their annual fundraiser coming up on March 31, 2016.

“Especially in Edmonton because we are such a small community, I think it’s easy enough to really be in touch with that community,” says Roy.” As long as you’re open and you go to events and you talk to people, doors will open.”

Last month I visited the quirky-looking building in Oliver during an open house event. Roy gave me and my partner a tour of the three levels, letting us peek into the brightly lit studios upstairs and the printmaking studio in the basement. Weeks later I came back for a bookkeeping workshop that was jam-packed with useful information that I had been having a hard time finding on my own. I look forward to attending the workshop on taxes that Roy says will be coming up soon, as well as learning more about grant-writing in the future.

Everyone I’ve talked to while writing this series on collaborative spaces has said that Edmonton is experiencing a sort of creative renaissance, with more and more people stepping up and making exciting, beautiful things happen. Roy says that the art scene is no exception. Lately, the city is full of art collectives and artist groups popping up, which suggests that people are more willing to work together to build community and increase exposure, rather than relying on traditional methods and institutions. “It’s almost like a revolution in a way,” Roy says.

You can buy tickets for Creative Practices’ annual fundraiser, Express Yourself, on March 31 here, and visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter to learn more about upcoming programming and events, or find out about renting studio space.