Artists Thrive: Raising the Value of Artists

Artists Thrive Summit, Berea, Kentucky Summer 2019. Photo Courtesy Artists Thrive

Artists Thrive: Raising the Value of Artists

By Genie Davis

Artists Thrive is not a single organization nor is it a collection of organizations. Rather, it helps individual artists and support organizations to live up to their ultimate potential.

The best way to uncover the personal assessment tools Artists Thrive offers, and kind of community interaction it encourages, is to visit the site and take the profile test at

Casey Summar, a Carpinteria-based consultant on the project, discusses the context and meaning of Artists Thrive.

“It came about as a result of conversations among grantees and other organizations that the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation supports,” Summar says, of Artists Thrive’s roots. The Tremaine Foundation funds innovative projects that offer practical solutions to basic societal problems.

“The foundation is the backbone support of this. The conversation really started with thinking about organizations in different parts of the country and their beliefs and values in regard to artists, all working toward improving conditions in the community for their artists. It was really a conversation about what we all are trying to do in these communities, and how do we build shared language talking about this work that we are doing, and how do we evaluate it,” Summar explains. “We thought, can we actually pinpoint things that would make it more likely for artists to thrive? Are there ways that we could talk about it from east to west coast that would serve as an assessment tool for the communities, and for Tremaine to use?”

With these questions in mind, Artists Thrive evolved based around language generated by that group of artists and administrators.

“Once they started playing around with this language, we saw a much broader application possible. I love that the Tremaine Foundation uses projects in this way, making it more a collaborative effort, not just thirty or forty organizations but hundreds. The Artists Thrive tool is about the conversations it starts, and so it keeps changing. You’ll use it and have insights, and we want it to be a living, growing thing so that the community can continue to grow and become wider.”

Summar asserts that Artists Thrive is about everyone in the arts community and a wider variety of organizations beyond it, all sharing and supporting the work of artists.

“It is an initiative that is offering the field a vision, language, and values around what they need to succeed as an artist. It invites questions about having a thriving art sector and how that values communities. It is for everyone to use in any way that is possible,” Summar states.

Artists Thrive Summit, Berea, Kentucky Summer 2019. Photo Courtesy Artists Thrive

According to Summar, “I want people to know that the real power in the tool is when it is used as a conversation starter. It has great applications for personal self- assessment and reflection as an artist and has a bigger impact in seeing what artists around the country do when using it with organizations they want to partner with, or fellow artists. They can say this is the language some of our peers are using, is this true in our community? Do we feel artists are being valued, paid, collaborating in this spirit, advocating?” She adds “It is asking those questions, and we are seeing some really exciting things coming out of that to engage in a rich conversation about the value of artists, about how artists are valued in communities.”

Summar has seen a variety of outcomes from this conversation starter, including personal ones, in which artists who engage with the survey on the website talk about ‘a-ha moments’ for them, such as prioritizing studio time. From there, it can be an empowering tool for artists to self-organize around, increasing accountability, perhaps finding a partner to advance both artists’ careers, or sharing information with other artists.

“In a lot of communities, we are seeing artists that can use it as a rallying point, even if they don’t have a group in place already that gathers artists,” Summar attests.

There are also organizations using Artists Thrive in a host of ways, structuring conversations with artists in terms of evaluating their own work with them.

“There is a great story out of Creative Many in Michigan, an organization that has changed the way in which they have paid artists. The conversation from Artists Thrive made them reflect on how they paid artists, and the importance to fairly compensate, creating conversations about internal budgets and partnerships,” she says. “And that creates a ripple effect with other partners and peers, from the very personal to changing practices in other organizations.”

Sharon Louden and Jennifer Dalton collaboration during the Artists Thrive Summit, Berea, Kentucky Summer 2019. Photo Courtesy Sharon Louden

Summar started working on the initial Artists Thrive effort two years ago, and hosted a summit last August as an open invitation for people to come and dialog about raising the value of artists in the community and working on the tools of the project itself, the language. Another such conversation will be coming up this summer, allowing the contribution of new ideas and going forward from there.

Summar has worked hand-in-hand with the Tremaine Foundation on creating tools and resources for those seeking to put art and community building tools into practice, such as a guidebook.

Working full-time on the project with the Tremaine Foundation is Heather Pontonio, the senior program director there. The Artists Thrive website lists the team that has contributed so much time and energy to create the tools, and collaborators and organizations that took the pilot version out to their own networks.

“The reason I became involved in the project,” Summar relates, “is that I ran the Arts and Business Council in Nashville which works closely with the Tremaine Foundation. When I moved here and started consulting independentally, it was a natural fit.”

Artist Sharon Louden is also involved with the project, and her focus is on bringing more artists’ voices into the process rather than organizations or institutions. With that in mind, when she took her book The Artist as Culture Producer on a national book tour, she talked about Artists Thrive. Among those Louden connected to was Shoebox PR’s Kristine Schomaker, an artist herself, and committed to building communities.

And it was through that connection, that this article, this iteration of a transformative process, is taking place – to bring more artists, supporters of art, and arts organizations into the mix of communication and valuation; and for all involved to – thrive.

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Sharon Louden and Jennifer Dalton collaboration during the Artists Thrive Summit, Berea, Kentucky Summer 2019. Photo Courtesy Sharon Louden


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