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Every time you purchase a painting, use a hand-made serving bowl, attend a live musical performance, or watch an indie film, you are supporting a creative economy of artists, performers, and filmmakers that contribute to a more sustainable society. With over 140 artist, individual, and business members, the Rocky Neck Art Colony (RNAC) in Gloucester, Massachusetts is perhaps the poster child for what its president Karen Ristuben sees as the creative economy. “We’re doing everything that a non-profit organization can do to support artistic entrepreneurship,” she says. “Without a community like us, individual artists have close to zero chance of having an impact on the public at-large and our economy. People have to create. What’s life without art?”

A non-profit organization for 40 years, RNAC is part of a longtime arts tradition on Rocky Neck which has been a magnet for creative types attracted to this slice of land since the mid-1800s for its incredible light and the beauty of the sea. Ristuben says art is just as important now but with a twist. “People need to understand that the role of the artist in 2013 is to connect with the community and larger issues of the world as well as making beautiful art. The RNAC has stepped up to create an important asset not just for our use but the entire community.”

Ristuben is excited that the RNAC building also hosts business meetings and popular lectures along with art, yoga and other classes. “Maybe the boundaries between artist and community blur, opening up conversations that help support even more creativity and economic growth.”

I had the opportunity to speak with several RNAC artists at the gallery’s Best of Rocky Neck reception in April featuring the work of 60artist-members:

  • Otto Laske creates richly textured “visual music” animation, video-based photography, and digital painting that capture musical compositions in images and poetry.
  • Adriana “Gigi” Mederos uses acrylic paints and water-based printmaking inks, working abstractly on both paper and canvas. As RNAC’s Artistic Director, she’s also responsible for curating exhibits and serving as liaison between the artists and the larger community.
  • Barry Shuchter’s paintings reflect scenes from the artist’s work and travel experiences, including the vivid, “Asbestos Remover,” that reproduces a mural painted by Jose Celemente Orozco in the Baker Library at Dartmouth College. Shuchter had a job removing asbestos from the library’s ceiling. 

My company, SAP, has displayed artwork from both employees and internationally acclaimed artists at company locations for the past 40 years as well. The picture above shows the current display in Walldorf. Call it what you will—promoting creativity or fostering work/life balance—this commitment to display paintings, drawings, graphic art, photography, and sculpture gives artists a chance to share their work while bringing people together to change the way they see the world. Some might label art elitist or beyond the grasp of the average person. In fact, communities like RNAC and companies like SAP prove that art couldn’t be more central to the human experience. 

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