Ten Lessons from Artistic Collaboration

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BY NATALIE ST. MARTIN

For my first collaboration, undertaken as the practicum portion of my MFA-IA program, I chose a very traditional type of project: I enlisted church friends to make quilts together to donate to a women’s shelter. In Downtown Seattle, this idea almost seems original!

I had a few goals for the project: to foster friendship and prayer among women at my church, to raise awareness of the plight of women caught in the local sex trade and the need for a safe house for them here, and to give me the opportunity to explore collaboration and community development through art by joining a long tradition of church ladies making quilts for those in need.

 I called it “The REST Quilt Project.”  REST is a local non-profit that helps girls, women and men who are caught in the sex trade.  At the time, a restorative housing program through REST was still only in the planning stages. 

The quilts were given to the REST Restorative Housing program for its opening in September 2012 at the end of the project.  They’re kept in the living room to snuggle in during movie nights and evening devotions. 

From the initial meeting to the finishing touch, the project took nine months. We made two quilts, one elaborate twin-sized one, and a simpler smaller one. It was a more challenging project than I had imagined, and it took longer than I had expected— but we both accomplished my goals and learned valuable lessons.

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Lesson 1: CAST YOUR VISION WITH CONFIDENCE AND EXCITEMENT.  REPEAT.

Lesson 2: WE HAVE MORE IN COMMON THAN WE EXPECT.  WE ARE DIFFERENT IN WAYS THAT SURPRISE EACH OTHER.

Lesson 3: WHAT LOOKS SIMPLE IS NOT.

Lesson 4: DON’T OBSESS OVER DETAILS.  DON’T BE A PERFECTIONIST.

Lesson 5: PRAY TOGETHER.  EVEN IF IT FEELS AWKWARD. 

Lesson 6: PEOPLE PLAY DIFFERENT ROLES AT DIFFERENT TIMES. PEOPLE APPROACH THE SAME TASK IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

Lesson 7: AN UNLIKELY LEADER MIGHT EMERGE.

Lesson 8: GREAT CONVERSATIONS HAPPEN WORKING SIDE BY SIDE.

Lesson 9: TALKING IS FUN, BUT GET TO WORK!

Lesson 10: VARIETY IS BEAUTIFUL.

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