The More, The Merrier (Maybe)

It’s been over 12 years since I left the large, communal, non-profit artist run center studios and gallery that I helped found in 1996:  Dynamo Arts Association.

Dynamo was created out of the desire to continue the community atmosphere of shared space and resources that I, and the other founding members, had grown accustomed to while we were attending Emily Carr.  My biggest fear upon graduating was that I wouldn’t be able to maintain a studio practice without the support and creative energy of my peers.

Helping to create Dynamo was one of the most demanding – and rewarding – things I’ve ever done.  I loved my time there.  The experience I had co-managing the 18 studio spaces and 750 sf gallery was incredible.  I’d never felt as connected to the arts community as I did while I was part of Dynamo.

However, there are challenges with running a space that big, and with that many people.  I realized that a large portion of my time at Dynamo was spent managing rather than making; I was so busy building a place for artists to work that I didn’t have the time to focus on developing my own practice.

After four years, I gave Dynamo notice that I would not be renewing my sublease.  I felt I needed to strike out on my own.  Get my game together and see if I could make the art career I wanted happen.

Since I left Dynamo I’ve worked in studios situated in my living space.  My first un-shared studio was located in what used to be the bedroom of my old apartment (I moved my bed into the large living room).  My second solo studio – the one I’m in currently – is a specifically designated studio space on the first floor of my live/work loft.

Studio, sweet studio.

I’m not going to sugar coat it.  Trying to work in isolation after being part of a thriving artist community was unbelievably difficult.  Learning to work off my own energy, coupled with the sense of mourning I had over leaving my “baby” to fend for itself, made for an erratic, undisciplined practice.

[Note: the “baby” was able to fend for itself just fine.  Dynamo, kept alive and thriving by new generations of artists, still exists, now at a new location in Mount Pleasant’s commercial district.]

I had spent so much creative energy on the smooth running of Dynamo that once it was no longer a part of my life I didn’t have a clue what I should be doing.

What followed was a rough two years.  Me trying to get my studio legs back, learning how to motivate myself in what sometimes felt (and truthfully, sometimes still feels) like a void.

Though I’ve trained myself to work well in isolation, several times over the past decade I’ve found myself thinking of Dynamo…often with a combination of wistful regret and relief.

I love having to worry only about myself.

I love the moments of peacefully working in my own private studio.

I love the convenience of my studio being in my living space, but…

I miss the camaraderie, electric atmosphere, and the inspiring presence of artwork made by someone other than myself.

More and more I find myself mulling over the option of an external, shared studio.  I don’t know if having to commute to work would have a positive or negative impact on my current practice, but it would sure be nice to rub elbows – and brain cells – with fellow artists on a regular basis.

How about you?  Do you thrive working on your own in a private space, or do you prefer the sometimes-chaos of a community setting?

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