Building an Inclusive Creative Community

Quilt class by Cortney Heimerl - Pyragraph

I have always tried to think of ways to encourage community on a local level.

It is something that has influenced my work and my friendships greatly and it’s also one of the reasons I started organizing craft fairs.

I like what comes out of seeing people offline and I like the encouragement and the support that naturally comes out of these situations. Milwaukee’s creative community is quite small and I have heard and been accused just working with my friends. It’s natural to gravitate towards people you know—you are already familiar with their strengths and their weaknesses, their aesthetics and even their communication styles. It takes a level of guesswork out of organizing and creating. But always working with friends doesn’t do much to encourage the community to expand!

I think of this a lot and remember what it was like to wish I could be more involved and seeing people who were moving and shaking all over the place but the crew was exclusive and I was on the outside. So instead of try to climb that social ladder, I made my own crew. And now I know I make people feel like they are on the outside although it isn’t my intention.

How can you share what you know to create community?

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this and it occurred to me that I could teach a free quilt class and open it up to whoever responded. I received a box of fabric scraps from a friend and it seemed like the perfect materials to share what I had. I posted a photograph of the box on Instagram and underneath I asked who wanted to learn to quilt and I collected email addresses.

Ten people responded and then I set a date. Surprisingly to me, everyone could make it so we started organizing who could bring a sewing machine and who could bring irons and ironing boards. I chose a simple square and blew it up to make it a little easier to work with and then we had the class at my house after my kids had gone to bed. I was surprised at how well it worked. Everyone left my house that night with a machine-pieced quilt square, batting and backing fabric, a needle, quilting string and a little knowledge on how to quilt it. Everyone is going to quilt theirs at home and then we are going to get together again to learn how to bind it. I am so excited to post a photograph of everyone holding up their finished mini quilt—I can’t even describe how excited.

The class was free, I met a few new people, I got a chance to catch up with a friend or two and I got to know some acquaintances better. It was fun. Not only did I get a chance to expand who I knew, I got to expand who everyone knew. I also had a chance to share the knowledge that I am most interested in with some interested ladies. Pretty cool night.

So if you’re reading this, think about it. How can you share what you know to create community? How can you expand your network to incorporate more people? How can you strengthen your creative community? It was an experiment that seemed to have worked—and I’m still brainstorming more ways. And also—if you are reading this and would like to become involved let me know! Contact me! Let’s do this!

Photo by Cortney Heimerl.

Originally posted at Cortney Heimerl’s blog.

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About Cortney Heimerl

Cortney Heimerl received her BFA in printmaking and art history in 2005 from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. She received her MA in visual communication from New York University in 2007. Since then, Cortney has co-authored the book Handmade Nation: The rise of DIY, art, craft and design and she contributes articles on art and craft to a number of magazines online and off. She is a Founder of Maker Market, as well as an annual maker fair called Hover Craft that encourages establishing and growing a strong creative community in Milwaukee. Cortney is a mother of two, a wife to one, and her dog is named Watt. 

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