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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 12:09 am

Nonprofit helps area artists succeed

Adam Nicholson of Sala Creative Association


Adam Nicholson has been involved in the Springfield arts scene for years. Now, as founder of Sala Creative Association, a newly minted 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, he is developing a forum for local artists, working across all formats, to use as a resource for everything from professional development to networking.

During the earliest iteration of local arts collective The Pharmacy – back when it still occupied the former Watts Brothers Pharmacy space (from which the group derived its name) on South Grand Ave. – Nicholson had taken charge of the group’s since-abandoned “literati” wing, which encouraged aspiring area writers to attend critiques, perform at organized readings and even engage in collaborations with visual artists. When The Pharmacy’s space limitations led the group to tighten its focus to just the visual arts, Nicholson departed the organization.

Since that time, he has remained active in local creative life in various ways, including a position as contributing editor at Twelve Winters Press, a small literary publishing house in Sherman. Most recently, Nicholson has been a significant contributor to the popular Springfield-based web series “The Studio Show” in various capacities, most importantly acting as a liaison between the show’s producers and many of the artists and musicians who have appeared on the show.

Spending time around artists and other creative people led Nicholson, 36, to observe certain generalities about artistic types, observations that helped lead to the formation of Sala.

 “Artists can be difficult to nail down,” he said. “Some of them seem almost pathologically opposed to being viable, just on a practical level. A lot of artists seem to have difficulty with relatively simple things like scheduling.”

To this end, Sala’s mission is to find ways to help independent artists of various stripes to build skills having to do with promotion and other business and professional areas essential to success, but which nonetheless seem to leave many artists – being more concerned with their own creative expression – stymied or indifferent.

“The service is almost entirely an online platform I’m trying to build up,” Nicholson explained. The concept was inspired partially by his frustrating experience as a member of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which he described as offering an annual, one-week, difficult-to-navigate professional development conference aimed at writers in return for a hefty fee. It seemed to Nicholson that a more accessible, affordable venue for the same kind of information could be helpful to many artists.

He pictures the eventual platform as a membership-based website featuring YouTube or Coursera-style videos of presentations from experts in various fields. It would also act as a social network for members, allowing them to get in touch with people who can help them manage those sorts of things. Belonging to Sala will be “cheaper than Netflix,” according to Nicholson, who says that he does not expect the price to exceed $60 annually for individual memberships.

“I see the creative process as being pretty similar from one medium to another,” Nicholson said. “Obviously, skill in oil painting doesn’t convert to skill in writing but across all arts you have this concept of composition and you are engaged in this exercise of taking an idea or concept that you want to communicate or put out there in the world. And the kinds of support and information I plan to offer should be applicable to artists across the board.”

In 2015, Nicholson initiated a crowd-funding campaign to put together a beta version of the Sala site but fell short of his goal. The disappointing experience did bear fruit in the form of the organization applying for and receiving 501(c)(3) status. “It wasn’t a big struggle, we got it on the first pass,” said Nicholson wryly. “If nothing else, if I do another crowd-funding project, I’ll enjoy reduced fees.”

Over the holidays, Sala had its highest-profile moment so far. Over the course of several evenings, Nicholson presented a pop-up store selling work by local artists, followed by several nights of performances, all on the premises of the DEMO Project art gallery on the Springfield Art Association campus. DEMO usually hosts monthly exhibits but had decided to take December off this year. “They approached me about using the space for Sala and I said, ‘Hell yes! Please!’”

Weather conditions got things off to a slow start. “That first week the whole town was iced over,” Nicholson recalled. “Even some of the artists who were exhibiting didn’t make it out for the first three days or so.” As weather conditions cleared after Christmas, the performances  – encompassing two sessions of literary readings by local authors, one evening of area music and one of standup comedy – were much more successful, bringing money in for the performers and for Sala. “We actually ran out of chairs during poetry night,” Nicholson remembers. “People listened and laughed and had a ball. It was very cool.”

Nicholson believes that Springfield has a uniquely impressive creative community. “If you get around enough and meet enough people, you start to see that it’s just teeming with high-grade, high-volume talent and energy,” he said. “I’d like to see the creative folks around town able to make a primary living doing what they do – rather than tending bar or being a barista to make money and doing their passion projects on the side. That is something I want Sala to help bring about.”  

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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