If you missed the first half of this article, click here.
Community 3: My Artist Cooperative
The third small community I want to talk about is the artist cooperative that I joined last November. As most of you know, I am a photographer and I decided last year to try to sell some of my prints. So I joined a cooperative of about 18 local artists that runs an art gallery in my city. Once again, I am being blessed by a small community!
It is inspiring to be in a community of artistic people! I was in a community of creative people as an engineer, but the focus wasn’t normally on the visual. Learning techniques from fellow photographers as well as artists in other media has opened this outlet for my creative spirit to blossom (What did you expect from a flower photographer!).
Although we share techniques and ideas, the art we create is an individual effort, so we are not a team in that regard. However, since we are all part of the cooperative that runs the gallery, we all share in the duties and the visioning for that enterprise. Since we are operating on a very tight budget (“starving artists”!), we have to be creative in advertising our gallery and arranging entertainment for our events. The cooperative is less than two years old and we are still paying off loans incurred at its inception.
This third community causes me to think like a small businessman/entrepreneur while exploring my visual creativity and developing a self-supporting hobby. All this happened within the supporting, nurturing environment of a small community of people with a shared goal.
Community 4: My Fans and Favorites at AC?
The last small community I want to mention is the one you and I have formed on Associated Content. I say “you” to all of my fans who are not only readers and viewers of my content, but are also Content Producers at AC. We form a community through our shared goal of creating something to share with others through the various media available here. We form bonds with our comments and personal messages to each other. Our stories share our histories and our dreams, our philosophies and our concerns.
The AC community has some similarities with my artist cooperative: we share creative techniques and ideas; we support each other in our efforts and successes. It also shares some of the characteristics of my church community when we share our beliefs and our spiritual practices. But overall, it is the most loose-knit of these communities I have mentioned — We do not share a well-defined common goal and we are a virtual group, never seeing most of the members face-to-face.
What Makes a Group of People into a Small Community?
So, what are the characteristics of a small community? Here are some of the ones I feel are most important:
Common Goals – The community has well-understood common goals, whether written in a mission or vision statement or just verbalized among the members.
Connection – The community gets together regularly, to support the common goal. It is the sense of unity that comes from working together creates that makes a real community.
Communal Celebration – The community celebrates their collective and individual successes together. They honor the individual contributions towards the collective goals.
Collective Identity – The community retains its identity even as individual members are added or leave. This is due to the strength of the common goals over the strength of any individual’s personality and to an organizing structure that defines necessary roles. Thus the community may have leaders, but these will change over time and the community will adapt.
If you agree with this list, I think it applies to all the communities I have mentioned with the probable exception of AC. I think AC has communal celebration and some form of regular connection, but our goals are mixed – some are here to try and make a living, some to explore their creativity, and some may not be sure why they are here. AC also has a vague community identity with little defined structure.
What’s so Good About Small Communities?
I have listed at least three small communities that I have participated in and grown as a result. Of course, a typical business work group will attempt to embody the four characteristics of a small community I listed above — these are the signs of teamwork. Teamwork builds character because you have to work together and support goals that are bigger than yourself. When you get paid as a result of teamwork, we call it a career; when you are a volunteer on a team, we call it service. I have found that service is a major spiritual practice. When we work together as a team to express our individual or collective passions, I would call it joy!
I think this listing of communities, in the chronological order that I joined them, also highlights a progression in the type of goal that formed the community. In a workgroup, the underlying common goal is financial security. In a service organization, like a church, the underlying goals are to learn and serve. In a creative community like my artist cooperative, the goal is to express our passions. These goals are not meant to be exclusive; I expressed a lot of passion in my career and I felt that my products were a service to our customers. But I think you get the point: As we get older and more financially secure, we are more open to joining communities that help us express higher values on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We are driven to be self-actualized if we are able to meet our lower needs successfully.
Small communities form strong support networks to help us individually achieve goals in alignment with the common goals of the community. They have a stability and availability that can outlast any single friend and help you express parts of yourself that your own family may not be ready to support. If you really want to grow in some area of your life, try to find (or create!) a small community that has shared goals in this area. You may be amazed!
BTW, regardless of whether AC is a small community or not, I still luv ya!