The Importance of Creative Communities
Written by: Rachel (Davis) Etheredge
Brand Hacker and Communications Strategist IG: @shehacksbrands
We all work differently, and that’s ok! But, no matter how you work, aligning yourself with a community of peers can grow your network, knowledge, and opportunities for collaboration. You are not alone. I’ve worked in agencies, on in-house design teams, and even as a freelancer; Each one of these environments had their ups and downs. The constant through all these for me was creative communities. They were - well are - my haven; a place for me to cultivate connections.
Last year I was struggling. I was in a place in my life where my now hubby and I were closing down our digital consultancy and moving cross country from Baltimore to Texas. Everything was up in the air. Each night thoughts would race through my head about whether to continue on my path in the design industry. Was there a place for me in design? Should I stop in my tracks and take a different path? To make sense of my thoughts and get some outside perspective I looked to creative communities.
One, in particular, stands out; Elevate & Cultivate is my home. It’s a place that for me started as just a chat with Illiah and Lauren as they began this amazing community. I felt, and still feel honored, to have such an active role in expanding the group and creating a place that everyone can feel they belong. This community gave me purpose when I was searching for something in my own life; it gave me motivation to move forward in the creative field. This community made me remember why I love design.
No matter what type of community works best for you the benefits are undeniable.
We all want to feel supported - that’s just human. What’s critical to me here is ‘honest’ support. Make sure you find the right community for you where you can discover those willing to tell you the truth, nicely of course - there’s no need to be mean!
I have met the most extraordinary people through creative communities. You never know who you will encounter, if there will be an instant connection, and where it may lead. I met one of my very best friends through an AIGA workshop. Flash forward to walks through the farmers market ending with an accountability chat over coffee every Saturday. Even though we now live in different states, we still find time for virtual coffee dates and some kick each other in the butt accountability talk.
Learning never stops. Technology is always changing, and there are constantly new tools and techniques. You can google all day long and never even come across many of these. A creative community can give you insight into others workflows and how they may be tackling challenges. Don’t forget to share your own wisdom and experience; there is someone out there waiting to hear it.
I can’t even count how many collaborations have come out of creative communities for me. I’ve gained speaking gigs, been able to conduct my workshops for others, and even acquired new clients.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying if you join a creative community you will magically have all this - lifelong friends and true connection - you have to put in the work. Sharing goes both ways. You have to put into a community without expecting to get back. While hopefully, you get reciprocal effort - you shouldn’t give your knowledge just because you want something in return. Give back to the community because you want to, because you want others to benefit.
In the midst of all this sharing, don’t forget to set boundaries. It’s ok to say no; you should share your expertise but know the limits and make sure others don’t take advantage of you.
Creative communities come in all shapes and sizes.
While Elevate & Cultivate was the perfect fit for me, it may not be the right environment for everyone. Here’s a little glimpse of some communities that have had an impact on me.
Elevate & Cultivate: Of course this community has my heart. The willingness of members to jump right in and help others, without expecting anything in return is incredible. The openness and compassion when members they put themselves out there and ask for help is unmatched in my opinion.
Online Geniuses Slack Team: This free Slack team has some amazing conversations going on. While mostly focused on digital marketing, the wealth of knowledge is clear. Almost weekly they have Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions broadcast on Facebook Live and a corresponding Slack channel.
The Designers League: This Facebook group operates at a larger scale with over 17K members. With a massive member base like this, you would think it things would fade into the noise, but I’ve found this is an excellent place for me to share my own knowledge and learn new things. While some things get lost in the shuffle - I find most posts to be extremely helpful.
The Professional Association for Design (AIGA): In my personal experience I’ve had mixed feelings about AIGA, but I can’t deny I have met lifelong friends through this organization. Explore your local chapters and see if this is the type of community that will fulfill your needs - it’s different for everyone!
Ladies, Wine, and Design: This is a new one for me! I recently became a co-lead for Ladies, Wine, and Design SATX here in San Antonio. What I like about this meetup is the goal is to keep the monthly ‘salon nights’ small and mostly free. This small group mentality encourages deeper conversations and friendships.
Code for Baltimore: My hubby and I started this local meetup as a brigade of Code for America a couple years ago. We were able to spark interest in the coding community and bring people together across industries for the good of the city. In particular, we focused on the importance of collaboration between designers and developers. We are truly impressed with how the new organizers have grown this community after our move to Texas.
I could go on, and on, but I won’t! There are so many communities out there, take a look and figure out what’s best for you. What works with your personality and not against it? Where will you thrive? Truly embrace community, and it will embrace you in return.