The International Shenzhen Artist Forum (ISZAF) will be celebrating their two-year anniversary this September. For those of you/us who have been a part of this community of artists and enthusiasts, you will know that we started out, like most organizations of our kind, at a small gathering in a cafe. What began as a simple idea to connect the artists of Shenzhen, quickly grew into a pulsing virtual (WeChat) and physically communicable artist group. A place where artists of all kinds can share their ideas, asks questions, draw, pose, photograph, show, share, and ultimately, express themselves with each other.
Originally, the idea of an artist network/organization in Shenzhen came to me in this epic, snooty, and seductive kind of thinking that it would be amazing to start a secret organization of artists who did really awesome shit. Granted, I had just come off five years of teaching art at a local international school and had just been christened as a first-time father who was going to start the full-time venture of being a stay-at-home dad. Both quitting my job and being a new stay-at-home dad with a five month old, was quite new and abrupt. It was as if someone pushed the reset button on my life and literally presented me with a clean slate and new baby. After all, I was an artist, with all the apparent time in the world; what was I going to do with myself?
MORE POWER IN FEELING CONNECTED
Two years and counting, ISZAF has become something more than just a simple café meeting to fill the need of connectedness with others of our kind. With over 300 members in our WeChat group, a seven member administration team working pro-bono, and a highly supportive extended community both in Shenzhen and the greater Pearl River Delta region, ISZAF has become a true community for artists. As an administrative team, all seven of us have commented on how the artist community has grown in ways that we would never have imagined. Of course, Shenzhen had artists. Of course, the artists were talking to each other. The problem was that the artists were not feeling empowered as a group, a whole, or as a unit. There is power in numbers but there is more power in feeling connected.
As ISZAF turns another year and continues to grow, I am always asking the question what’s next? How can ISZAF continue to grow? When I use the word ‘growth’ I don’t mean it to be the objective as if we have some imaginary quota to meet; ISZAF is not a business. One of the principles we as an administrative team and as an organization stress is the pure independence we have of self-operating; how we do shows, events, and activities. We are truly an artist cooperative, self-sustained by the support of the artists and cooperation of all our community members. The question of growth is pivotal when regarding how our organizational system works. Being that we are sustained by our own energy and support, how do we maintain our organization? How do we push boundaries both in ourselves as makers and as visual orators within the community? What is the next level for us?
As an administrative team, we have many ideas but we also want to hear from you, our artist community. What do you seek from a community like ours? What kind of art leadership are you looking for? How can ISZAF be improved as a tool to better your art making and showmanship within the great city of Shenzhen we call our home?
Please, please, please, let us know in person or write to us at (firstname.lastname@example.org). We want to hear from you both your thoughts and ideas on the trajectory of ISZAF.
Either way, I know year 3 will be full of promise for us as creators and makers! ISZAF has begun to dig deep in the community, connecting ourselves in ways we never imagined to the people and the way we make art here in China. We hope to really push ourselves this year in providing more platforms for artists to connect, converse, and convey within the community.
See you all around! Happy art making!