A conversation about community with artist Dani Dodge

Anyone who subscribes to my email list, has read my book, taken one of my classes, or even had a casual conversation with me knows that I firmly believe community is an artist’s best resource for discovering, and accessing, information and opportunities. And during this uncertain time in the art world the more artists and arts professionals cooperate and support each other, the better for everyone. That’s why I get so excited when I see artists who are serious about their own work and careers and also actively cultivating and supporting their community. Dani Dodge is one of those artists.

Dani Dodge’s solo show “Personal Territories” is at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History through August 5th Photo: Kristine Schomaker

Dani Dodge is a Los Angeles-based installation artist who creates immersive, interactive environments that incorporate video, paint, sculpture and sometimes performance. She has been exhibiting her work for over a decade. She’s also an active advocate for community. Dodge, David Spanbock and Kio Griffith and a handful of other artists created BLAM, a collective that had galleries in Los Angeles and New York. After BLAM’s Los Angeles location lost its lease, Durden and Ray invited her to join their collective of artist/curators who work together to create exhibition opportunities at their downtown Los Angeles space, as well as in concert with gallery spaces around the world. Dodge also founded and moderates the Facebook group Los Angeles Art Opportunities, which is how I first discovered her. Dodge originally created the Facebook group as a platform for artists and curators to share notices about opportunities in Los Angeles and beyond. It has since grown to over 6,000 members, is public to view and includes opportunities relevant to artists well beyond Southern California. I recently had the opportunity to ask Dodge about Los Angeles Art Opportunities, and her experience building and maintaining a community-based resource for other artists.

I’m so impressed with the community you’ve created via your Facebook Group Los Angeles Art Opportunities. Can you share when and how the group came to be?

I moved from San Diego to Los Angeles about five years ago to become a part of the art scene in the City of Angels. Within a few months I realized there was no central source of opportunities for artists. In San Diego, there had been one, which I believe had been sponsored by the city at first.

As a former journalist I feel strongly that the free flow of information helps a community grow in strength and understanding. I wanted Los Angeles to be recognized as the world leader it is in art. If all the possible opportunities could be shared, then artists would find the ones most appropriate for them, and Los Angeles artists would be seen more around the world.

So I started Los Angeles Art Opportunities and invited 100 of my Facebook friends to join. It has grown from there to more than 6,000 artists today.

Is it open to any artist or arts professional? And what are your rules and guidelines for participation?

Only visual artists who live in the greater Los Angeles area, which I roughly define as Ventura to San Diego and out to Palm Springs, can join the group. I also allow people who can provide opportunities to Los Angeles area artists to join. But the listings are public and anyone in the world can see the postings. They just can’t post or comment.

The reason I limit membership is because the goal is creating community specifically among Los Angeles area artists.

Unlike most Facebook groups, I check the profile of every person who applies to make sure they live in the larger Los Angeles area or can provide opportunities to SoCal artists. I also message each one to make sure they understand the rules of the group: no self-promotion, just sharing opportunities that can help us all grow as a community. Only about one-quarter to one-third of the people who apply are allowed to become members.

I also strive to make it a place of civility. The group includes a wide variety of artists from different backgrounds: from artists still in college to artists represented by large galleries to museum curators.

So if someone posts about a job or a call for art, I strongly discourage people from getting snarky because they don’t consider the pay high enough or the fee too high. Or I just remove them from membership. I want everyone to feel welcome. I want Los Angeles Art Opportunities to be a place where people are comfortable posting all kinds of opportunities, because there are all kinds of artists in the world, and LA.

What has surprised you about how the group has developed?

The biggest surprise was how it took off and the generosity of  the members. When I started I created three posts a day. While I still search out opportunities and post them, I can count on the members of the group to post at least a few opportunities per day and often more than a dozen!

With the Facebook group and your involvement with Durden and Ray, it’s clear that you put a high value on collaboration and community. Can you share any examples of how your own career has benefitted from that attitude?

That is an interesting question, and I never really thought about it that way. I put a high value on collaboration and community because I believe that it is important to contribute to your community. My community is the Los Angeles art world. I’m a former journalist, so it comes as second nature to search out opportunities that will benefit others. So, for me, it was just natural.

As a result of Los Angeles Art Opportunities, many artists have gotten jobs. They have gotten into important shows. It has helped people find each other. The experience has been super gratifying. It has allowed me to get to know many people I may not have otherwise met.

Being part of a collective has been a way for me to find other artists interested in mutually supporting each other and also interested in making the Los Angeles art world a stronger place. The art world is changing rapidly. Many galleries are closing. It is important for artists to step up and create opportunities to show our own work as well as that of other artists in the community who should be seen. Through our exchanges, Durden and Ray also brings the work of international artists to our Los Angeles gallery. These are unique opportunities for those artists, and it is also exciting to see our community expand.

I always like to ask artists, is there anything you know now that you wished you’d known when you first started out? Or what’s one piece of advice you’d give artists who are just starting out and/or struggling now?

I wish I’d known that I should just be myself and bring to life whatever weird idea ruminated in my brain. In my early years of art I was tentative; afraid to let people see too much. But it was only when I allowed myself to create the work that was in my soul that I was able to feel truly whole.

Also, take advantage of social media.

Today, social media is a place that artists can connect outside of gallery openings. Many artists contribute to the community of artists on Facebook both in Los Angeles and outside of it. The work they do creating and monitoring posts makes the art world a bit smaller and a bit more manageable for each of us. For example, Kio Griffith created Los Angeles Contemporary Art Scene as a place to spread appreciation and support for other artists’ work and events. Jason Ostro started the Los Angeles (LA) Art Show list to help artists get the word out about their shows. BAILA, Black Artists in Los Angeles, is a visual artist networking group. Nationally, Megan Geckler founded and monitors the Arts Grants and Residencies Club out of Los Angeles, while Melissa Staiger manages Art Opportunities, Jobs, and Advice out of Brooklyn.

I encourage artists to look at their communities and ask themselves, how can I contribute? Maybe it’s a Facebook group. Maybe something else. Giving to the community is one of the best ways to become part of the community.

Well said! And I encourage you to explore Dani Dodge’s work. Her solo show, “Personal Territories” is on exhibit at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, MOAH:CEDAR location, through August 5, 2017. She has an upcoming solo show, “Weight of Expectation” at the A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn October 12 through November 12, 2017. She will also have a residency at Shoebox Projects in January/February 2018 that will conclude with the solo show, “Moment of Impact,” on February 18, 2018. If you can’t view Dodge’s work in person, visit her website and Facebook page, sign up for her newsletter and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. And don’t forget, wherever you are, to pop over to the Los Angeles Art Opportunities Facebook group and check it out. Then take a minute to consider how you can expand and support your local and global community, both online and in person. 

Photo of Dani Dodge by Mark Dodge Medlin