How Creative Outlets Make You a Better Community Builder

Jelena Woehr
September 30, 2014
May 3, 2024

Every day I discover a new way that art, design, performance, music, and culture work to build a better world.

From the League of Creative Interventionists to fantastical creatures prowling the Burning Man sands to the Thrashbird pieces all over my neighborhood in Los Angeles, I see examples of creativity in action every day. Maybe it's because it's my job to discover and connect purpose-driven social creatives (holla?),  but I sense there's something new happening here. Art is bursting out of our cities at the seams.

Could creativity be behind great community building too?

Turning a member complaint into a renewed community commitment is an art. Delighting your users on public social channels is a performance. And contributing to the growth of a community product takes strong design instincts.

It turns out that some of the most talented community professionals I know also channel their creative instincts into projects that ward off burnout, restore their energy, and help them find new ways to connect with others. For each of them, a creative outlet is integral to their work.

What can you start doing creatively to strengthen your community today?

Making Stuff: The Antidote to Inbox Fatigue

Bisque fired ceramic pottery, unfinished, made by Fiona.

Community building is a fun job. But any job that's mostly done in front of a computer screen can be emotionally draining, while failing to offer that thrill of building something you can hold. Remember that Cracked article about why the 21st century makes you miserable? What can we do about it?

Fiona Tang of Signal Camp hit on a fix that works for her: Pottery."I find making things offline to be really therapeutic to my day-to-day community work," she says. "Community building centers so much on writing - it feels great to use my hands and brain in different creative ways."

Want to get your feet wet in thing-making without committing to a pottery class just yet? Start small by fixing something. At work, you can channel your maker energy and take community member thank-you notes to another level.

Try It with Your Community:

  • Send your members an origami project.
  • Draw a silly flipbook about why you're grateful they're in the community.
  • Invite local members to come in for a lunch hour Lego playdate with your team.


"If Time Stood Still" postcard reading "I'd lose and reinvent myself a thousand times."

Sarah Judd Welch of Loyal uses her creativity to help her rest her mind, clear her thoughts, and manage stress.

"Like a lot of community managers, my emotions tend to be very close to the surface," Sarah told me, "And nothing prevents creativity and progress like ruminating and negative emotions. Most of my 'creative' activities involve creating space, quiet and flow in my mind, like yoga, running, and lifting. I also usually take at least one if not more walking breaks a day to think and/or clear my head."

In a culture that often treats self-neglect as a virtue, creative moments of respite can improve your work, happiness, relationships, and health.

Kelly Kim created the "If Time Stood Still" project after battling depression brought on by a life of worrying, hurrying, and frustration. She'll send you everything you need for a moment of reflection if you email her.

Try It with Your Community:

Instead of your regularly scheduled weekly newsletter, dedicate one week to creative respite. Ask everyone who opens the newsletter to spend the time they would have spent reading and clicking links to instead take a break in a way that best fuels their creativity. Invite them to share with you what they did and how it turned out.

Are Your Tweets Sharp or Flat?

Jazz improvisation by Michiyo Yagi.

Kapost's Andrew J. Coate uses an unusual skill to decipher rapidly moving Tweetdeck and Sprout Social columns. "I grew up playing jazz music. Now, I seem to scan the information in a Twitter feed and react quickly, using the same part of my brain that let me read sheet music and react to it."

Jazz is also historically an improvisational medium. Interestingly, Andrew shares, "I've even taken improv classes, which helps me react quickly, and, sometimes, makes me funnier."

Another jazz musician improvising at work: Kerry O'Connor, responsible for employee idea generation at the US State Department. Writing for GOOD, she says, "Looking back at my original dream of playing improvisational jazz, I'm proud to say that despite my rigidity as a musician, I can consider myself an improvisational artist. The musical notes are ideas, and the instruments are the different disciplines and cognitive preferences of people."

Try It with Your Community:

Try sharing music with and from your community. Whether that's a shared Spotify playlist or a real-world listening party with a local artist, you might find that bringing some musical interludes into your community makes it feel richer and more connected.

aTo get you started, there's a public rdio profile where you can listen to what's playing at GOOD's LA HQ.

When You Get to Bring It All Together....

These people who work with Darnell are having way too much fun.

Darnell Witt, Director of Community at Vimeo, lives the dream: "I’m fortunate enough to work for a platform that revolves around my main passion: film and video. The community I support is comprised of the amazing creative types I click with and admire. All day long, I get to take five minute breaks to watch psychedelic cat videos, epic time lapses, and short documentaries that help me feel more alive and grounded in the corporeal experience of being a human on a spinning rock. For some, it’s important to have a strict work/personal life separation. In my case, it’s a blessing to be able to flow between the two so simply."

a brush pen drawing of a phoenix in flight.

What might a job that you don't want to separate from "life" look like for you? For me, it's getting to come to work every day asking if what I'm working on today will make more good things happen in the world -- and having the freedom to change what I'm doing if the answer is "no."

What Works for You?

For me, creativity through calligraphy, brush pen art, and writing helps me stay focused and make those decisions.

So are ready to unlock your inner jazz musician, potter, yogi, film buff, or calligrapher? And do you believe that creativity can help with more than just your work-related problems--maybe it can even solve the big problems facing humanity?

Join Project Citizen and tell me what you're doing creatively for a better world.

Jelena Woehr
September 30, 2014
May 3, 2024

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