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Laura Zabel: Zig-Zagging Careers and the Artists Who Love Them

State of the Artist note: This post, from Laura Zabel, is in response to our Visualizing Artists’ Careers project.

I can’t stop looking at these graphics. I love the unbalanced stars that show us just how different each person’s trajectory and career is. And somehow simultaneously demonstrate how important and catalytic an opportunity like a McKnight Artist Fellowship is and how, in the end, its only one little blip in a whole set of opportunities to see and work to make. And I love the combined graphic of all the artists’ activities; it’s a beautiful trumpet shaped testament to the strength and depth of the artists in this community.

But it’s the globes that I love the most. They remind me of those six-word novels—I make up a whole story for each one, just based on the lines swooping across the world or notching back and forth in a small area, digging deeper and deeper. Sometimes, I know the artist and their work and the visual serves as a reminder or new perspective on things I already knew about them. And those anonymous ones, they make me so curious! But while I’m watching those swirling zig-zagging globes, I’m always thinking about how those lines represent ideas and relationships, connecting people on opposite sides of the earth. Why is it that so many artists have these globe-traversing careers? For sure it has something to do with need—needing to find opportunities, audiences and inspiration from other places and not being satisfied with only what is close at hand. I think it also has to do with curiosity—art is about seeing new things and travel is a literal representation of that purpose. It makes me think that artists are like bees—going from flower to flower, pollinating, creating hybrids, feeding, taking, making things bloom.

I love that the power of these graphics is in the relationships and the places. It is a way of measuring the impact of an artist without even looking at their work. What if this is the connective tissue between the intrinsic impact and the economic impact of artists? The social impact. The bonds, relationships, and people impact. Each stop on the journey, each pin in the map, represents a whole set of people who are changed. People who are changed in ways big and small: students who were influenced; audience members who were moved; collaborators who were introduced; neighbors who enjoyed a morning coffee together.  What about those people and places are different because that artist’s work was there? What did that artist bring back home to us from that experience?

There is an undeniable uniqueness* to artists’ contributions to the world and I think it’s in this ability to buzz from place to place leaving blossoms in their wake. There is great power and great promise in thinking more about how we quantify this network and the social capital that artists contribute to our communities.

*I said unique, not special!

Laura Zabel is Executive Director of Springboard for the Arts. Based in Minnesota, Springboard works regionally and nationally to help artists make a living and a life.

Topic: Arts & Culture

March 2013