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The Unique CAMP // Collaboration + Community

The Unique Camp // Creative Business Conference Liz here, returning to reality after spending last weekend in Big Bear, California at Sonja Rasula’s brainchild Adult-Summer-Camp-Creative-Business-Summit, also known as the Unique CAMP. After a busy winter and spring season, I wanted to take some time to expand my perspective, shake things up a bit, and hear from other business professionals within the creative field. And I did, x1000. [I’m a long-time summer camp graduate + ex-staff, so this is totally my jam. And I mean, Whitney was going, there was an epic last-night dance party, and they take away your cell phone for four days. Easiest decision ever.]

While I’m still digesting everything that happened, not to mention all that I learned, there were two theme that struck me from the experience:

The Unique Camp // Creative Business Conference

1A. Community // at Camp
I’ll be the first to admit that I was apprehensive about walking up to a group of 200 adults and sticking my hand out to introduce myself. I know what my strengths are, and cold-call introductions are not my favorite. That being said, I was really grateful and surprised to see just how open, friendly, and willing the entire group of people were — from campers to counsellors to staff to workshop leaders. Everyone smiled, introduced themselves, chatted about their backgrounds and challenges, and we often brainstormed ways to get a new website up while standing in line for lunch. The entire camp body came with a really diverse array of backgrounds, and it was helpful and gratifying to pool our resources and knowledge, but also to realize how many universal challenges across disciplines. Finally, our cabin groups bonded quickly over camp cheers and late night talks. I’d be warned by other conference goers (What If, Photo Field Trip, etc) that everyone comes back inspired, united, and full of support. And they’re right. I’m so jazzed to support my girls and other friends amongst their pursuits, and keep in touch with shared Flashdance mixes.

The Unique Camp // Creative Business Conference

1B. Community // At Large
Both Sonja Rasula and Brian Morrow touched on this in their separate presentations: the importance of a supportive, vocal creative community is not to be underestimated. Coming to Austin from NYC, I can say that I often felt intimidated, unsure of where or who to reach out to, and that everyone else seemed to have some kind of Texas connection, while I, the Canadian-ex-New-Yorker definitely did not. I was reminded that a couple of particular experiences in the last three months have illustrated to me just how powerful and important making new comers or strangers feel welcome and encouraged is.

Of course, the creative community in Austin is strong and thriving. I’m thinking through ways that I can reach out and engage in small or larger ways, and how to make those newcomers feel welcome and invited. Or maybe shake up existing friendships and introduce them to other really amazing and talented friends. I will [sheepishly] admit that I’m the biggest cheerleader and butt kicker to my friends and colleagues, but I do, truly, love nothing more than to connect people to others doing important or interesting things — and I’ll officially put this out there: I want to find a way to translate this into a bigger Austin network for me personally, and for The Nouveau Romantics at large.

The exact medium or mode is TBD, but I’ll keep you updated.

The Unique Camp // Creative Business Conference

2. Collaboration vs. Competition
Again, this comparison came up in more than one workshop and presentation. Philosophically speaking, how do we approach our creative work or business in relation to our competition? I’ll admit that the New Yorker in me is competitive, but that even goes within myself moreso than anything else. But what happens when we embrace a collaborative spirit — not just the literal interpretation of collaboration [albeit critical: I believe more minds are far better than one], but the notion of communal support, of sharing, of teaching, of mentoring, of pushing ourselves, friends, colleagues, competitors, to do the best work we can? I start to think about those that have embraced teaching [flowers, photography, design, et al] and how much fulfillment they’ve found in seeing their students potential blossom in front of their eyes. What if we translate this to a broader audience, and challenge / support each other in this process?

Sometimes it’s just the needed advice on whether or not to jump and pursue a physical studio, or how best to approach our pricing, or how to refine who our ideal clientele is. Other times it’s the philosophical discussions on how to evaluate our businesses evolution, or what sustains us creatively through slumps.

Everyone needs a teacher or mentor sometimes, and in turn, we can turn around and feed another when need be. This, I believe, is the true spirit of collaboration. And one day, it turns into real projects, with real teams, and turns into rent money and a cocktail hour.

The spirit is, ultimately, the same.