Nine Tips for Artists Pursuing Collaborative Hustles During COVID-19

Studios are closed. Shows are cancelled. But these artists offer advice on resilience, collaboration, and working ‘poco a poco’.

Jonell Logan is somewhat of an artistic matchmaker. As the visiting curator for the winter/spring 2020 artist residency season at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, Jonell met Andrew Wilson, an Oakland-based textile artist and recently-arrived artist-in-residence. She thought of her friend CT Anderson, a Charlotte artist and founder of Springclean, a local textile nonprofit. The two artists, similar in mission and medium, had much to discuss when they met—just as Jonell predicted—and began to collaborate on projects.

Then COVID-19 hit. Stay-at-home orders meant Andrew couldn’t use his studio, due to McColl Center having to close, and CT had to cancel shows.

They didn’t stop collaborating or creating, though. During a recent Facebook Live hosted by McColl Center, the two artists shared nine tips about finding collaborative hustles, even through the challenges of COVID-19.

1. Resist the urge to rush. Think “poco a poco.”

CT admits it: Her natural speed is fast. But during this time, with so much to figure out and so much to overcome, she’s learned to slow her pace, to go poco a poco (“little by little” in Spanish). “We are hustling, but the hustle doesn’t have to be fast,” CT says. “Give yourself time. It’s important to have a process to create something that people can feel the care that went into it. There’s a rush to create the next great novel or the next great piece. Things take time.”

2. Connect with your community.

Andrew encourages artists to continue to talk and collaborate however they can. “Where’s your community? Who are the folks on your Instagram chat list? Who are the folks you just call rando to see what they’re doing? Check in with those people because they’re the ones who anchor us and hold us together. It’s so important. And for anyone who has those strong friends who never ask for anything and who are bulldozers and always have their stuff together? Call them. Please. Call your strong friends. They need your love. Because they’re trying to steer a ship with no crew.”

3. Consider scaling down work.

Before COVID-19, Andrew worked on a large quilt. When he lost access to his studio, he lost the room to create work on that scale. He scaled down. He designed hats with etchings of the 18th Century British slave vessel Brookes, images that abolitionists used to teach about the horrors of the slave trade, and that he uses to show how the past intertwines with the present. Andrew designed jewelry, and pincushions sewn from fabrics that belonged to his late grandmother.

“It talks to this idea of the range that artists have, of what they can make and what they do make,” Jonell says. “You may see an artist’s work in one context in a gallery space or in a museum, but this entire spectrum of work is being created out in studios outside of that public space, that speaks to interest and skill and price points.”

4. Use or reuse what’s nearby.

Springclean sources textiles from all over the world, but the nonprofit had to rethink its business model and supply chain during COVID-19. From acquiring donated fabric to cleaning it to delivering final pieces, the nonprofit went all local for supplies and services. “Now we have to take a look at what’s around and use it, just like our grandparents and everyone else who came before us did,” CT says.

5. Value—and employ—local artists.

 “The expectation is that the only way to support artists in a tough time is to buy their work,” Jonell says, “But really think about … creating another economy that doesn’t rely on things coming from other places or specialized skillsets. Often they’re right in the community we’re in.”

CT’s art is also her economic and social justice mission: “The whole point around Springclean is to reclaim textile material that people throw away. However, my secret mission is to reclaim jobs and social mobility for the people society throws away … [This time has] put me face to face with the problems we’re trying to solve. We’re trying to help people. People are out of work, so we’ve had people sign up to be artists for Springclean. Everything we sell, 50 percent goes to the person who makes it.”

6. Discover new ways to show your work.

The online space can seem like a transactional consumer space, Andrew says, and it’s not ideal for people to interact with art. But he and CT have discovered new ways to share their work. As textile and jewelry designers, their art is wearable and easier to display. Think of public spaces as show spaces for smaller work. “Places like McColl Center, public libraries, parks even—places that are open or that will soon be open—we can still enjoy those places without overcrowding,” CT says.

7. Create the work that people need now.

At first, Andrew resisted requests to make masks for COVID-19. Then his father, a truck driver, told him how much he and his coworkers needed them. He and CT got to work, designing and creating high-quality masks for Springclean with silver-copper nose wire and removable fabric filters. They not only designed beautiful masks, but they created a solution for people in need. “When you get a mask that was designed and created by us for the people we love, you know there was care at every step of the way,” CT says.

8. Acknowledge that this time is hard …

“There’s this idea that making work is fun! Being creative is fun!” Andrew laughs while shaking his head. “It’s hard. It’s hard work to do in isolation, too. There’s this idea that artists exist in isolation, and we don’t. We have massive communities and that’s what openings are for, that’s what studio visits are for … We can’t do that anymore, and it becomes this battle of all of the monsters in your head that are trying to come out, and then there’s this expectation that they have to come out, that you have to be productive.”

9. … but that midnight will pass.

When the stay-at-home orders began, Andrew received an email from a friend that changed his perception of the moment. “She signed it, ‘See you on the other side of midnight.’ And that’s stuck with me since I saw that email. Midnight will pass. It will pass. And it’s also not lessening the blow of midnight either. The kinds of conversations I’ve been having have been validating of the challenge. That is key. Then we can move through it instead of denying it.”

Watch the chat in its entirety on our Facebook page, and join the next Facebook Live, Creative Shifts: No Studio Required, on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. Find the full list of McColl Center’s upcoming events.