It’s been about a month since we have transitioned to a mostly at-home existence. Everyone has grieved their formative lives differently, but one of the things that has been so incredible to see are the people who are stepping up to creative community initiatives to elevate all of us struggling in these difficult times. In the arts community, one of the people who has done this is Shane Izykowski and the COVID Creative Convention.
Izykowski humbly requested that our interview focus less upon him as a creator and more on the initiatives he and others are taking to help empower artists during quarantine, but we would be remiss to not briefly discuss him here. Izykowski is a lifelong artist, inspired by horror movies, special effects make up and more under the umbrella of “the darker side of things.” He has served a variety of roles in museums including Art Director, Lead Artist and Museum Preparator before transitioning into working as a full time artist.
We had the opportunity to talk to him more about what he and several volunteers are doing to help out the artistic community at this time.
(Image: Shane Izykowski,"Haunting of the One Who Never Was." Oil on Masonite. 8” x 10” framed to 10” x 12”. $525 + shipping. Website.)
Hi Shane! Thanks for spending some time with us. How did you first get involved in the artist community as a whole?
I am fortunate to have a voice, and more importantly, something to say. My message has always been to inspire artists to create meaningful work, to convince the world that artists deserve recognition for their hard work, and to share information and experience with others so that they may benefit.
I started a podcast in 2018 called Drawing From Experience, where I share tips, advice, motivation, artist interviews and inspiration, as a resource for artists and creative people all over the world. In 2019, the podcast peaked at #30 on the Apple Design Podcasts in the U.S., and in January of 2020, I launched an online Facebook group called the Drawing From Experience Creative Community.
Every Wednesday people share their #wipwednesdays and every Sunday, I request their Creative Conquests from the past week. I share three Creative Conquests on every episode of the podcast, and even give a Patreon shout out to a page of my choosing. I am always trying to foster an inclusive community, and encourage artists of all backgrounds to share their work publicly and have meaningful conversation around their own personal experiences, inspirations and hardships. It's not easy to navigate the art world, with all of it's quirkiness and often unfair gatekeepers. So, a lot of artists I know find comfort in the fact that there are other artists going through similar experiences.
Personally, I've struggled a lot in the last few years, but I am infinitely fascinated in the idea that we can all help lift each other up, which will help the art world, as a whole. For a long time, I've felt empowered to be a mouthpiece for artists, which I am thankful for, and I've realized along the way, that I can't do it alone. The more supporting characters that step up to help, the more we can all achieve.
How has COVID-19 affected you - and can you begin a discussion about how Covid Creative Convention began?
My art business was affected right away. A huge portion of my art business is based in the convention world, and one convention I had booked in March had to postpone until October. I was also invited into Monsterpalooza for the first time this year, and that got cancelled until 2021. All of my gallery shows were either pushed back or cancelled altogether. Some local shows that I was going to exhibit my work at have now been rescheduled.
It was through this series of events that I had a thought about how to help artists that are struggling the same way I am. It was one of these thoughts at 4 a.m. that I knew was a bit crazy, and half wanting to be talked out of it, and half wanting to be convinced, I put a call out for help in my Creative Community. I requested 2 volunteers and got 15. I pitched the idea to the group and they convinced me to tighten up some of the ideas and make it a bit more official.
The main point of the idea was to pool all of the artists from all of these cancelled conventions from around the world into one place, and point the collectors to that same place: to connect collectors directly to artists, so artists could continue having a place to sell their work, but in a virtual space. It seems like a very simple idea, but has grown into building two websites, creating some semblance of a marketing plan, having an open call for artists around the world, receiving almost 600 artist submissions, and even putting money out of our own pockets for hosting fees. That's not even to mention the countless hours of sorting, correspondence, discussion and planning. A free event for artists has its own specific sets of challenges and hurdles, but we've been navigating those to the best of our ability. From the beginning, I knew we needed to approach everything with a level of humor, specifically because of how serious the global epidemic was becoming.
The artwork of Jimmer Willmott was perfect for the marketing aspect, and some fun catch phrases created the face of the Covid Creative Convention. I knew the idea would be well received, but there was no way to predict the volume of work and hours it would actually take to get it going. Our initial launch date was very ambitious, and we've had to push it back until the website is completely built.
(Kria Lindquist, "Schism."Ink & Pen [print]. 5x7 - $15. 8x10 - $25. Website.)
Talk us through how the Covid Creative Convention works.
We had an open call for artists and vendors that went until March 29th. Having received so many, our launch date for the website got pushed back to a more manageable time frame. But, by the time this story is published, we'll have already launched! We were sure to make the submission process as easy as possible. The barrier for entry was as simple as we could make it: Fill out a form on our website, then send us 5 images of your work with descriptions for each. The second part of that formula was enough to deter a lot of artists from completing their submission, unfortunately. Submissions were 100% free and all of our volunteers have worked for the sheer purpose of helping other artists survive. Our marketing plan from the beginning was simple: post among all of our artist resource pages, some clever memes, keep people as engaged as possible until we're able to launch. There were SO many cancelled events and art shows because of Covid-19, and I thought about not only the disappointed artists, but the collectors and patrons of all of these events. We are trying to tap into those audiences to let them know that there is a solution for that dollar burning a hole in their pocket. In addition to listing all of the artwork on the website when we launch, we are doing a "Daily Dozen" Featured artists/vendors post on our Facebook invite which will continue to hold an active space for people to see new art daily. It will also give the artists an opportunity to tag, share and promote their artwork on social media and funnel potential collectors to the Facebook invite, and ultimately to the website to buy from the artists directly. The best way for people to participate now is to visit the website and purchase artwork to help keep our artists and vendors alive!
What happens if and when something is purchased?
So, our idea from the beginning has always been to connect collectors directly to the artists. Which is why we've spent SO MUCH time on compiling contact information and websites of every artist/vendor, and we've listed that on EVERY.SINGLE.IMAGE. Simplicity is key here, so we want the collectors to go directly to the artist and work out the sale with them. We've encouraged our artists to follow through and make it a pleasant experience! After all, this is all for them! And, people want to help right now! Buying from an artist directly during this time is the best investment of time and money. It's a fact. You get a piece of art and all the good will karma, the artist gets to pay bills or buy groceries, and continue making more art to keep the world a beautiful place. That is the best exchange money can buy. I literally cannot think of anything better than that right now. The artists will be working out all sales, shipping and timelines with the collector directly.
(Joey Edwards,"SILVA CERVO." Wire sculpture and mixed media. 13”h x 18”w x 13”d. $280. Website.)
Are there particular themes or heats of art promotion (like, online art shows? or is it more general) If there are particular deadlines for this opportunity?
Just like any online marketing, consistency is key. That's why we decided to roll out the plan like we did: Post ALL of the artwork on the first day on our website, make it available for collectors right away, then keep social media active by featuring a ton of artists every day! We have no marketing budget, we are simply riding on the coattails of organic growth. This is grass roots, or maybe even just the soil that the grass is planted in. To keep those roots firmly planted, we're reaching out to any and all of the art communities we belong to for help. The initial post for submissions from my personal Facebook page had around 150 people share it, which is why it grew so fast, and outside of our own personal reach. 150 isn't a lot in terms of social media, but it was enough to get enough eyes on our website and spread the word quickly. I think people realized the good-will nature of this event and that something like this is needed right now. All of the deadlines for entry have passed, and the only other deadline is for the collectors: as in, each artist only has up to 5 pieces, and I'm hoping they get scooped up quickly!
Where do you see this opportunity going or what are some of your visions/goals for this project both as quarantine continues and then when we begin to live life outside of quarantine?
So, a lot of artists reached out to submit after our submissions closed. After repeatedly having to turn people away, one response kept coming up: "I'll submit next time!" To that I say, I HOPE there is no next time! This entire thing exists because we're in crisis mode, and artists are the true pioneers of problem solving. How do we fix the problem of cancelled shows and in-person events? Make our own, from a place of professional experience in the convention, gallery and event world. We hope there will no longer be a need after this initial event happens. But, because we're in such a state of the unknown, who knows? We have built a resource of amazing artists from around the world, so it's quite possible that we could do something more with these artists in the future. Whenever we return back to some semblance of normality, I'm sure the need for online conventions will dwindle. But, I do see more people embracing online sales and events in the wake of our situation, which could only mean good things. Nothing beats seeing art in person, but as we continue into the digital age, there is no denying that the reach on social media casts such a wider shadow than in-person sales. To me, I try to look at the brighter side of online sales: You fall in love with a piece, you buy it from an artist, it gets shipped to you. When you receive it, chances are that it will look INFINITELY better in person, so it's like falling in love with it all over again. I would encourage anyone who loves work online to purchase it with that positive thought in mind.
(Nathalie Fabri, "Life!" Acrylics. $750. 24" x 30". Website.)
How can people get involved - both submitting or as a volunteer? Is there anything specifically you're looking for right now?
The best way for people to get involved is to visit our website, purchase artwork, share our daily featured artist/vendor posts from our Facebook invite and invite people to the Facebook invite. The artists have done the work, now it's time to get some eyes on it.
Are there ways for people to donate funds to what you all are doing? If so, how?
We have taken no money, and in fact, our volunteers have shelled out website and hosting fees. I had a previous Uber developer create a custom search bar for us, and he even paid for the first month of our website subscription plan. What a beautiful thing. The best donation is not a donation at all. The best way to donate to our cause is to buy from these artists. The sense of completion will come when we get word from the artists that people have bought from them.
What sorts of actions and activities are you encouraging other creatives take during this difficult time?
I am so glad you asked! I know it's easy to get caught up in the panic, especially with our news organizations trying to incite that in us. I encourage every artist to spend time, first, thinking about how often we say to ourselves, "if only I had extra time, I would..." Then, create a list of those things. I often ask myself, how can I be better? How can I get my art and my art business to the next level? This is the perfect time to tackle those projects that you normally wouldn't have time for. And, of course, create more artwork! Work in a series if you aren't normally able to. But, building things like your website, mailing list, social media accounts, and Patreon could be the pivotal puzzle pieces that get you to the next step. Also, try not to feel daunted by all of that, and take some time for your mental health. You'll thank yourself later. I think it's important to get comfortable and adapt to this drastic change, and move as much as you can into a digital space. Art jams, immersive art parties and meetups with friends on Zoom, Whatsapp, Marco Polo, Twitch, Discord and House Party have been keeping me sane during isolation. To know that others are going through the same range of emotions as you are will make you feel less alone and trapped. I'm also excited to see what new digital tools come out of this crisis for artists, and some fresh takes on old ideas that will propel creative people to the next level. I would also encourage artists to see what other artists are doing to release artwork digitally, and to engage in conversation around those subjects so we can work together to ensure that we'll all come out of this raised up, instead of beaten down. Now is the time to go out of your comfort zone, because we've all been forced to do that anyway.
Thanks to Shane for taking the time to talk to us last week. All art featured in this post was created by some of Covid Creative Convention's volunteers. Other volunteers include Annie Walker and Tranifer Lovely - please go check out their websites.
Do you know someone doing something amazing for the creative community? Shoot us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org .