Serving Artists by Connecting them to their Community: Assets for Artists

Assets for Artists – a MASS MoCA project that operates in collaboration with many other partners including Art Built and the Midas Collaborative – is located in North Adams, Massachusetts. Its purpose is to help artists in all disciplines strengthen their financial and business capacity to sustain a lifetime of creative excellence.

Since 2008, Assets for Artists has served more than 1,000 artists with professional development workshops, financial and business coaching, artist residencies, and support for artists re-locating to North Adams, Massachusetts.

For nearly ten years, this emphasis on business development and professional support guided both Assets for Artists’ programming choices, communications, and capitalization. So when they first began working on Creating Connection – an effort that encouraged them to experiment with community engagement -- they found themselves with an opportunity to stretch to something new.

Blair Benjamin, Director of the Assets for Artists initiative at MASSMoCA, reflected on how Creating Connection pushed them in new directions:

“We had previously chosen to avoid community-building work with artists, instead focusing on individual, transactional benefits, primarily of a financial nature. Community-building benefits can be harder to quantify, and are not prioritized by most of our traditional funding sources. The Experimentation Fund provided the structure and support we needed to investigate how our work might relate to a different set of goals and benefits than is normally covered by our regular operations.”

Communications highlights community and connection

One of the first places Blair and his team applied Creating Connection messaging was in a video and outreach campaign to identify new participants for the North Adams Project, an initiative that offers funding and professional development for the growing artist community in North Adams.

And it worked.

“Engagement with the connection-focused video we created (promoting applications to the North Adams Project) was extremely high, getting 29,000 views on Facebook -- more views, comments, and shares than any other video MASS MoCA has posted on Facebook.”
- Blair Benjamin

The team also applied connection messaging in social media posts, especially communications for the residency program. In A/B testing of Facebook posts, the Assets for Artists team saw slightly higher engagement on posts that were connection-themed, and they also saw an increase in applications for the residency program – with 767 applications in January 2019 compared to 586 applications the year before.

Embracing role as community-builder and convener

The Assets for Artists team also tested new ways to connect the artists in their community with new support networks and services. The most successful of these tests was their “Artist Town Hall” event, which focused on convening artists and artist service organizations in their community.

“The Artist Town Hall event… brought together 115 local artists for an evening of discussion and network-building, which we learned had been sorely needed. The response was so strong that we decided to follow up on the Town Hall event by continuing to convene that planning committee to discuss future programming in the same spirit as the Town Hall. As a result, we’ve begun planning a quarterly meet-up of local artists.” – Blair Benjamin

Blair and his team continue to use the Creating Connection messages to market these events and have been overwhelmed by the level of interest (129 artists pre-registered for the last event.) In addition to planning a quarterly meet-up of local artists, they have also started a monthly e-newsletter for the local community highlighting events and opportunities to connect.

Shifting strategic planning

As Assets for Artists celebrates their first decade of service and looks to the future, they will do so, according to Blair, “with a greater eye toward fostering collaboration and connection.”

“The most profound impact of our Creating Connection work may be on our strategic plans for the next 5 years. Our immersion in the Creating Connection message framework and toolkit had a significant influence on the discussions and writing of our plan… leading to a shift in our approach to our state-wide and regional artist services programming.” – Blair Benjamin

Tools and resources for you

Access our resources and tools to get started applying Creating Connection today. And keep up with Assets for Artists by following them on Facebook and visiting their website.

Banner image and photo gallery are courtesy of Assets for Artists.