I am not a morning person.
When my boss told me to meet him in Gastown at 8:30am on a Friday for something called CreativeMornings, I laughed at him. But after learning that musician Dan Mangan was the guest speaker, I immediately set three morning alarms (one for 6:30, a second for 6:35, and a final, serious alarm for 6:45).
If, like me, you’ve never heard of CreativeMornings, here’s a crash course:
CreativeMornings is a series of (free) monthly seminars that take place in nearly 200 cities around the world. Branded as “a breakfast lecture series for the creative community,” it encourages people to meet before work to discuss certain themes, like intention, anxiety, courage, and curiosity – also, free coffee and breakfast sandwiches.
This month’s theme is community: what it is, why we crave it, and how it feels.
As a musician, Dan Mangan and his sense of community are centred around music. I first heard him play in 2007 (I have the pictures on an era-appropriate flip phone to prove it).
Delighted at the chance to hear him speak (and hopefully perform), we made our way to SFU Woodward’s, grabbed some free breakfast, and settled in to talk about community with other creatives.
Here are three things learned from Mangan:
Don’t make noise – make an impact
He believes it’s important to foster a sense of community through the arts. He gave the example of a concert.
“You play to 30 people in a noisy bar, you might get 5 of them to remember your name,” Mangan said on-stage. “Whereas if you play to 30 people in a living room, those people not only leave with a sense of your music, they leave with a sense of who you are. They’re not just invested in your career or your art, they’re invested in you as a person, because they feel like they got an inner glimpse at what you’re doing.”
You might not have 100 million followers on social media, but you can still build a strong community of like-minded people by sharing your art in an intimate setting.
Lesson #1: “If your footprint cannot be wide, make it deep.”
Community isn’t always born out of conversation
What is art? And why do we do it?
“When you feel a certain way, there are all these reasons why we can’t convey how we feel,” he said. “Language fails, social context fails, to fully communicate an idea or a feeling. When you make a sculpture, or you write a song, or you dance, or however you express yourself, you’re saying ‘This is how I feel.’”
We can inadvertently create communities by simply putting our art out into the world, and allowing someone else to resonate with it. When one person goes online, to an art gallery or theatre to view art, and thinks “that’s exactly how I feel,” they’ve been added to that community.
“You’ve created for both people a slight bit of relief from the existential loneliness that we all feel.”
Lesson #2: “Art can fill in the gaps where language fails.”
Nothing brings community together more than shared experience
At the end of the day, art is about baring your soul in front of other people. For Mangan, it’s about “trying to get to a place where what’s going on is bigger than me, and it’s bigger than you, and we’re all participating together in something that makes us all feel united. You can forget about the ongoing train of thought in your head, and just experience something.”
As he wrapped up, I was ready for the ‘button’ moment – the part at the end of a seminar when the speaker reiterates the main points from the beginning of the day, and leaves the audience with one powerful, quotable line. But Mangan isn’t a typical speaker.
“Let’s kill some existential loneliness,” he said, jumping from the stage and grabbing his guitar. “I’m gonna get you guys all singing.”
He walked into the middle of the room, and led us in a stripped down version of his song ‘So Much for Everyone.’
As we’re singing, I couldn’t help but look around the room.
It was so beautiful to watch all the different people standing together, looking towards one man in the centre of the room and contributing to the song.
Experiencing that beautiful moment together, I really did feel like we were part of a creative community.
That might be cheesy, but so were the free breakfast sandwiches they served before the lecture, and everyone seemed to really like those.
Lesson #3: “You share an experience through art, and that’s where a community is born.”
Find more information about upcoming CreativeMornings events here.