Monday, September 12, 2011

Tribes of creatives gather for WY Convergence conference

There are two terms that I’ve been hearing a lot lately: “creatives” and “tribe/tribal.” I guess that’s actually three words, although “tribe” and “tribal” are often intermingled when the subject is brought up.

“Creatives” are people in the creative industries of visual arts, writing, performing, humanities, historic preservation, filmmaking, culinary arts, etc. Only recently have they all been lumped under the heading of “creative industries.” The State of Colorado now has a Creative Industries Department. These entities are engaged in “creative placemaking” on a local level and statewide. Together they power the “creative economy” that includes “cultural heritage tourism.”

You may now curse me for writing (in parentheses) every single buzz phrase swirling around in the 2011 arts world. That’s a lot of creative juju.

Meanwhile, we’re all in these tribes grouped according to our passions. Wine-makers, computer gamers, poets, Americana musicians, progressive political bloggers, Tea Party activists, traditional knitters, cyclists, etc. There are innumerable subsets to these groups.

Tribes are nothing new. Most of our relatives lived in tribal cultures. We banded together for mutual interests, mainly food and shelter. That’s real basic tribal stuff. I heard "tribal" a lot over the weekend at the Scottish Irish Highland Festival. The leader of the Aussie Celtic band Brother announced several times that the band was about to go "tribal." That mainly consisted of beating on drums. Arbannach is a tribal Celtic band from Scotland that gets tribal on every one of its songs. Scottish clans are tribes. In olden times, they banded together for safety against other Scottish clans whose main purpose, it seems, was hacking each other with huge swords. You can still buy the swords and wear them proudly, although hacking of neighbors is usually frowned upon.

These days, clans have gear. My wife Chris's Cumming clan has a brand in its ancient crest, its own tartan and several varieties of scotch. It offered for sale a book about its 13th century clash with ancient enemies in the Bruce clan. You can get bumper stickers and other cool stuff at its web site. And you can join if you have roots as a Comins, Cumming, Cummings, or about 50 other versions of the name. This is important, I think, this sense of belonging to a group, a tradition, a family. That's what we seem to need.

There were many tribes at the Celtic fest. Pipe band tribes, herding dog handler tribes, music tribes, Guinness-drinking tribes (Slainte!), the U.S. Marine Corps, Society for Creative Anachronism, full-armor jousters, and many others.

Entrepreneur Michael Hyatt does a pretty good job of putting this all together on his web site. Here’s part of a post entitled “Marketing is Dead:”
Most creatives I know hate marketing. They want to write, speak, or entertain. But they hate the thought of promoting themselves or selling their art. If this describes you, I have good news. Marketing is dead. Okay, maybe I am overstating my case.
Marketing may not be dead, but, in the world of social media, it has morphed. Dramatically.
Tribe-building is the new marketing.
Marketing is no longer about shouting in a crowded marketplace. It is about participating in a dialogue with fellow travelers.  
Marketing is no longer about generating transactions. It is about building relationships. 
Marketing is no longer about exploiting a market for your own benefit. It is about serving those who share your passion—for your mutual benefit.
In his groundbreaking book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”  
I reviewed this book right after it came out in 2008. It is just as relevant today as it was then. It is the first book I give to new authors. It is must reading if you are serious about building an enduring career as a creative. 
Seth says that a tribe only has two requirements:
1. A shared interest
2. A way to communicate.
I bring this up because arts and humanities groups around Wyoming are addressing these issues Oct. 6-8 at its Convergence Conference in Cody. Keynoter is well-known "creative economy" guru Steven Tepper from the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and public Policy at Vanderbilt University.

One of my tribes, the Wyoming Arts Council, is offering travel stipends for individual artists and staffers, board members of volunteers of arts organizations. To get a stipend form, call the WAC at 307-777-7742. Get the complete schedule at

I’ll see my fellow tribal creatives Oct. 6 in Cody.

Bring your drum.

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