Lift as You Climb: 5 Ways to Contribute to Your Artistic Community

In the pursuit of our careers as artists, we tend to think a lot about individual needs. We focus on promoting ourselves, fighting for our own opportunities, and hustling to get ahead. All of this is good and necessary, but when you take a moment to consider the impact of the arts on society, there is a bigger picture to be considered.

 

Film, theatre and the arts in general provide catharsis, inspiration, education and entertainment. They promote compassion, empathy, and self-reflection. In a world that is more in need of these qualities than ever, finding ways to help can feel overwhelming. A career in the arts can start to seem frivolous.

 

But there is real good to be done. Not only for your community (both artistic and at large), but for the quality of your art as well. Here are some ways to use your career in the arts to dip a toe into something greater.

  1. Create opportunities for yourself and others. ‘Lift as you climb,’ an adage paraphrased from the inspiring words of activist, suffragist and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, Mary Church Terrell, is a notion that can guide artistic philanthropy. We talk a lot about creating your own opportunities, but that is only square one. As you create opportunities for other artists, you elevate the work, gain perspective on your craft, and broaden the scope of representation. The stronger each artistic community becomes, the more we contribute to a national dialogue in a meaningful way.
  2. Fight for community outreach. There are so many ways to do this. Working for a theatre company? Establish an education program that takes the arts into public schools. Donate proceeds to community causes. Raise awareness on current issues through thoughtful season selection. Making an indie film? Partner with sponsors who benefit their community. Choose material relevant to the needs you see in the world.
  3. Fight for Diversity and Representation. No matter what side of the table you’re on, you can fight for diversity of representation. Fight for works written and directed by women and minorities. Fight for casts that represent diversity of  race, gender expression, sexual orientation, and mental and physical abilities. Lend your voice to inclusion.
  4. Be an Advocate and an Ally. Take personal responsibility. “Whitewashing” roles that should go to minority actors has plagued both film and theatre. It’s all very well to be the one that steps down from such a production, but try to be the one that doesn’t accept the role in the first place. Try to examine your role in upholding outdated industry standards and see what you can do to reverse them.

  5. Listen. Accept that yours might not be the most important or relevant story in the room. Listen to your fellow artists and community. Discover where there is a lack of support and remember that the ways in which you assume you should help may not actually be the most helpful. Choose your moments to lead and follow, and keep learning as you go.

 

I almost sub-titled this article “5 Easy Ways to Contribute to Your Artistic Community.” But you know what? These aren’t easy asks. They require commitment, research, effort and constant vigilance to maintain. They require self-examination and evolution. But you chose this business. You chose a path that opens windows into other people’s psyches. Translate that interest in humanity into action on behalf of humanity. You have the power to affect and alter the voice of your community. Use it thoughtfully and well.  

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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