On Building a Better Creative Community With the Duo Behind THRIVE

THRIVE co-founders Tara Galuska and Jamie Smith | Photo: Scout Magazine

THRIVE is more than just an Art Studio. It’s an inclusive support system for woman-identified (including trans, cis, genderqueer and non-binary) artists that has been building its community since 2015. Born out of a personal need for connection among fellow creative professionals and aspiring professionals, founders Jamie Smith and Tara Galuska have grown the local collective from just six friends to over 200 members.

Through their continued commitment to their cause the duo are proving that not only can Vancouver overcome its reputation for being an isolating and competitive place for artists, but the city can also be at the forefront of change. We recently caught up with the pair to find out what makes them and THRIVE tick…

Can you describe THRIVE in ten words or less? THRIVE exists to make being a female artist less lonely!

What are you most looking forward to in the next year? Growth! These last few years have really been about understanding and perfecting what we do and now is the time to grow not only our membership but our team too.

What do you think is the key to successfully growing THRIVE over the years? Listening to our community. THRIVE has really been shaped by listening, adjusting, testing and then systemizing based on what our community needs. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t, but we just keep showing up and trying again!

Thrive currently includes four branches – Mastermind, Art School, Talks and Talks Podcast…what other avenue do you see the studio exploring in the future? Rather than adding more we are putting our time and focus into what THRIVE does best and where we see the most transformation for our members. That is our THRIVE Mastermind program. This is where members meet monthly to discuss the ups and downs of being professional artists. In between meetings our members also have access to our online platform, the THRIVE Network, where they can share resources, advice and support.

What have you discovered to be the best strategies for engaging the Vancouver community? Showing up for one another. The more you show up for other artists and people in the community, the more they show up for you.

Outside of the local Vancouver community, where do you look for inspiration and ideas? We are always inspired by people who are resilient, driven and dedicated. We find that in our artist community here in Vancouver but also the international artists we work with too. Being an artist is a lonely career path filled with a lot of highs and lows, and we’ve learned that no matter where in the world you are the emotional journey is the same. Hearing from others helps us enjoy the wins and pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off from the losses.

What art community enterprise/model do you aspire be like and/or consider to be the “ideal” model? We don’t really have a specific model we have been working from – most of THRIVE has been made up! We have been inspired by lots of organizations and leaders along the way, of course, but we find it’s best when we keep our blinders on and create for our people.

What needs to change in Vancouver in order for THRIVE to reach its potential? Not sure we have an answer specifically for this but… We love having Vancouver as home and while there are some challenges like ahem, affordability, we see more opportunity here than we do impossible hurdles.

Why is a community of artists so important? We don’t believe you need to suffer to make great art! Amazing things happen when you are connected to a rich and diverse community. Being an artist is lonely, so it’s important to get out out of the studio, out of your head and into the world with like-minded artists. Being isolated affects artists’ confidence, their artwork and their families. Feeling heard, seen and loved is a recipe for determined and lasting art making!

“The story of the ‘starving artist’ means that sometimes artists feel they need to stick to themselves and hoard what they have because it could be gone at any moment. That just doesn’t ring true to us or to our members. Instead we believe that by coming from a place of generosity and abundance with our knowledge and experiences we all have something to gain and the art world can only get better.”

What does a successful creative community look like to you? A successful community is one where its members feel it belongs to them and they drive the growth and initiatives. We believe THRIVE is a movement and with any strong movement it must go beyond the organizers, we must all participate in the change we want to make.

How do you deal with competition and competitive attitudes within the artistic community? At the very beginning of THRIVE we set out our core values and they are the foundation we have built everything on. Our first core value is “We chose community over competition by joining THRIVE.”

The story of the “starving artist” means that sometimes artists feel they need to stick to themselves and hoard what they have because it could be gone at any moment. That just doesn’t ring true to us or to our members. Instead we believe that by coming from a place of generosity and abundance with our knowledge and experiences we all have something to gain and the art world can only get better.

We hold our members to this and have heard time and time again members say they feel supported instead of in competition, and that really is magic!

What can non-artists do to provide support and/or make Vancouver a better place for creatives? Art is important. Full stop. It also couldn’t be more important in a city that is often referred as the “no fun city” and where new development reigns. Without truly valuing the work of artists we are just ten years away from being super boring!

Non-artists play such an important role in making Vancouver a better place for everyone including creatives. Artists need people to share their art with, so people who appreciate, support and show up for artists will help keep them here. We all need to invest our time and money in what we value!

What words of advice do you have for creatives who want to start up their own art communities? Create what you need and keep going!

THRIVE was built on a belief that there could be something better. Jamie started it with just 6 of her artists friends because she needed that support. It grew because other people needed it too.

Starting out is especially hard but with a strong foundation built on your values and a mission for your community means you’ll be able to weather the inevitable storms. It has taken a lot for people to know we exist and to see the value and staying power in what our community is doing, so perseverance is key.

Start small and you may find that your group becomes a “thing” and then your “thing” becomes a community and maybe even a movement!

What has been the biggest challenge about growing the THRIVE community locally and globally? That you can’t control time. It takes time to develop an amazing service, for word to spread and to build a reputation. It’s for this reason we have a birthday party for THRIVE every year because we believe it is so important to celebrate where we have come from and where we are going.

Who has been your biggest source of support and strength? Our community has stuck with us and supported us. They believe in what we are doing and they show up. Once this starts to happen you can’t give up, too many people are with you!

What words of advice can you give to local creatives who are struggling with isolation? You are not alone. The best thing to do is to find your people. They exist but you need to reach out and show up again and again till you find them!

How do you stay positive? There have been times when it has been hard to know if we were doing the right thing especially in the past when financially things got very tight for a period. It meant that we had to come back to our vision and our love for what we do and the people we serve.

We are so lucky to have such an amazing community around us and we get to hear stories of artists quitting their day jobs, getting artist residencies and shows they never thought they would, and crushing the goals they set! It is so exciting and helps us on the hard days because this work is important to us.

How important is social media to achieving THRIVE’s goals? It has been essential! We really started on a shoestring budget and the power of social media – particularly Instagram – has meant we have been able to reach so many artists all over the world very easily.

We love to use Instagram to continue our mission of helping artists feel less lonely. We post inspirational quotes, and showcase our members and leaders. Also it is so inspiring to see what others are doing!

What three goals do you hope to accomplish with THRIVE over the next year? Build an amazing supportive THRIVE internal team, continue to support our leadership team and grow our membership base. The bigger the network, the larger the movement, the stronger the voice to be heard.

How about the three personal goals that you hope to accomplish? We both would like to get back to our own art practices and get our art into the world. That had to take a back seat for a bit but now, with the support we have from THRIVE, we are excited to use everything we have learned. We also know the importance of self care, so exercise and time with our loved ones are top priorities too..

Why is it so important that THRIVE be a woman-focused community? The world has a long way to go as far as equality is concerned and that includes the art world! This is why we are driven in the work we do at THRIVE. We know that women are amazing artists, full stop, and that THRIVE will have been a success when the world catches up to that fact.

In our meetings we talk about our art practices and art businesses, but we also talk about the unique challenges that come from being women too. This means we’re talking about everything from sexual harassment at work, to pay inequality, to gate keepers in the industry who believe women can’t paint, and countless other challenges. It’s very important for us to have a safe space to do this and to be able to share this with others who truly understand so we can support and problem-solve together.

We strongly believe that men need to be having discussions about these things too, but we are not the people to be organising this for them, particularly when it comes to issues of inequality, harassment and the abuse that women face.

Powerful things happen when women gather and share, and we are a community of strong people who are working very deliberately to make the change we want to see happen in the world.

“Curious, smart people know that it is their job to seek out work by artists of diverse backgrounds and identities. Doing otherwise will result in stale and dull exhibitions, collections and galleries, and who wants that?”

How important is it to engage with men artists outside of the THRIVE community? It is very important and of course easy to do! With half the world being men and a vast number of them being artists or working in the art world we enjoy working with and engaging with them all the time!

Have your received any backlash due to the woman-centric nature of THRIVE? We haven’t. Our members join us because they feel seen, heard and safe to talk about the things that matter to them. We have of course received feedback on being woman-centric and we are always looking for opportunities to learn and grow so it’s great to gain an understanding of varied perspectives.

How do you think that the dynamics of an all-woman community differ from an inclusive one? We do think that we are an inclusive community, just one that welcomes and serves trans and cis women, as well as those who are genderqueer, femme-identifying and non-binary.

We would love one day for THRIVE not to need to focus on serving women only, as well as those who are genderqueer, femme-identifying and non-binary. We can’t wait until the world catches up to how things should be and we can just be a place for humans who make art!

What advice would you offer to men in the art community to support their female counterparts? The men who we have worked with in the art community who are doing a great job supporting their female counterparts are people who know their lives and work will only be better by doing so!

Curious, smart people know that it is their job to seek out work by artists of diverse backgrounds and identities. Doing otherwise will result in stale and dull exhibitions, collections and galleries, and who wants that?

If you genuinely aren’t sure about where to find female artists to work with or purchase work from we’d like to recommend visiting our Member Directory, Women Who Draw and The Jealous Curator. You’ll never again have to embarrass yourself by saying “I’d support women only if I knew where to find them!”

Where do you see THRIVE in the next decade? We’d love to have members on every continent supporting each other and thriving in their art practices and businesses!

What sort of legacy do you hope to leave? One where it’d be unimaginable for women to not be included in art history books and important galleries and museums. Where it would be unimaginable for women to be paid less for their time and work. Where it would be unimaginable to not have your art collection include art by women.

Which three local galleries/organizations are you currently most excited about? The Future is You and Me: A mentorship program designed to support young women of colour to take on leadership positions in creative and arts organizations.

New Media Gallery: A contemporary public art gallery devoted to the presentation of international, national and regional new media art.

Creative Life: They create opportunities for marginalized youth to experience transformation through the arts in the DTES.

Which artists from around the world are you currently most excited about? This is a little tricky as we have so many great global members, so here are some Instagram accounts we love that feature amazing global artists: @femcanadianartists, @women_artists, @thegreatwomenartists and @artgirlrising.

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