by Cory Bilicko
Usually, when I hear the words “boot” and “camp” used together, I kind of bristle and brace myself with the expectation of a screaming Lou Gossett Jr.-type spitting out insults from among his arsenal of assaults, or I imagine a low-fat fitness trainer with uncomfortably high expectations telling me I can do just 20 more push-ups.
But, a few weeks ago, when I heard about the nonprofit Cultural Alliance of Long Beach’s (CALB) Artist Boot Camp, I jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of getting whipped into shape artistically. After all, being a somewhat newbie art-maker, I figured I have a lot to learn.
I signed up online, paid my $10 (for the entire, five-hour event), and then showed up early last Saturday morning at 727 Pine Ave. in downtown Long Beach. I tell you, it couldn’t have been any more different from a real boot camp. Though I’ve been a lifelong civilian, I’m pretty sure there’s no coffee, bagels and fresh fruit when you show up for basic training. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
At Saturday’s event, we artist types were greeted at the front door by several smiling faces who gave us name tags and asked us what type of artist we are: visual, performing or digital/literary. Since I’m visual, they gave me a red ID tag. Then, we were allowed to choose three of the 18 different classes that would be offered between 9am and noon. There would be three sessions, with six different classes offered during each. I selected Getting Others to Pay You to Create Art, Accounting for Artists and How to Promote Yourself as an Artist. Some of the others offered were Setting Up a Nonprofit Organization, Protecting Your Intellectual Capital, Legal Issues in Art, Curating Exhibits, and Integrating Artistic Vision into Community Needs.
Inside the vast assembly room were tables lining the walls with an unbelievable amount of freebies. I picked up a few paintbrushes, a white marker, some acrylic paint samples, some pigment powder and a cup to put it all in. I also purchased a book with lots of valuable information to help those in the arts industry get their acts together. Then I helped myself to breakfast and enjoyed the people-watching opportunities.
Right around 8:30, we were welcomed by the event’s organizers, including Karen Reside, CALB’s secretary and chair of the event’s organizing committee, who explained the process for breaking into classes and where to find them. There were several rooms adjacent to the main one where the classes were conducted.
Each class presented so much useful information, I’m glad I had a notebook with me to jot down all the great ideas. I learned about various art opportunities through the City of Long Beach, how to approach business owners about hosting your art show, how to present a portfolio and the importance of having an online presence.
After the classes, a catered lunch was there waiting for us: a delicious salad with chicken skewers and a caramel-apple bar for dessert. (I couldn’t help but have two!)
As promised earlier in the day, the most special part of the event was the lunchtime guest speaker, Dr. James Sauceda, whose soulful, poignant speech about art and culture truly moved me and, admittedly, got me teary-eyed. After a morning of presentations about the business and marketing of art (all very important and certainly worthwhile), Dr. Sauceda brought it all home and reminded us of art’s true purposes and potential powers. “Art need not be pretty,” he said. “Art needs to speak to the soul.” That’s a gem I plan to keep in mind as I create pieces for my next exhibit. He also implored us to incorporate unexpected atmospheres and the faces of other cultures into our work, and to speak for the welfare of all. Through our art, he said, we can share our suffering, but we can also share our compassion.
His oration changed me. I walked out of that event a different man and certainly a different artist– one who is more in touch with the untapped gold that lurks beneath the surface of my blank canvases and within my tubes of acrylics. I’m now invigorated and amped up to see what comes of my renewed state of mind.
I hadn’t planned on writing about the Artist Boot Camp for the Signal, but after all the knowledge, encouragement and inspiration I’d been granted, how could I not?
On Tuesday, I emailed Karen Reside, thanked her for the event and asked her to say a few things about it for a piece I’d decided to write. Here’s part of what she had to say:
There are few local seminars specifically designed for artists in Long Beach. Once they are out of school, it is a challenge to stay informed about changes in conditions that impact them. According to the Los Angeles Economic Council, the creative community is the fourth-largest industry in Los Angeles County. These jobs are higher-paying on average and need an incoming stream of creatives to develop cutting-edge ideas and designs. Art is usually one of the first items cut in school budgets in difficult funding times, cutting off the development of these creative individuals.
Creativity can’t be outsourced and is one of the growing industries in Los Angeles County. Artists need to be working with young people to mentor them through the process. There needs to be more resources to support artists so once they graduate from college, they don’t leave Long Beach. CSULB graduates more fine-art and design majors than any university west of the Mississippi and the most of any public university.
The Artist Boot Camp is about providing support so artists can successfully set themselves up as a business and gain access to all the tools small-business owners have. Since artists do most of their work in isolation, the Boot Camp also provides an environment to network and develop collaborations, stimulating the flow of creative ideas.
Artists are truly visionary leaders and, as a community, we need to release those skills to provide a healthier, more expressive city.