Jenn Conley is a professional artist and founder of Artists United For Standing Rock, a not-for-profit fundraising organization, as well as a mom, wife, and caretaker of numerous two and four legged animal friends.
Carrie: Hi Jenn! Tell us about Artists United Standing Rock.
Hi Carrie, thanks so much for this opportunity to talk about our organization! Artists United For Standing Rock is a group of talented and generous artists, photographers, jewelers, musicians, and other creatives brought together by the desire to use their art to raise funds and awareness for the critical fight happening now in Standing Rock, North Dakota.
Carrie: Why did you feel called to help start this?
I’ve always been passionate about social justice and environmental protection, so I was very aware of what was going on with the Native American-led protest against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline. I started thinking about how much I admired the protestors for their bravery; to stand against very rich and powerful corporations, and their months long dedication on site to protecting water for millions of Americans takes great reserves of love, character, and strength.
I realized that winter was coming and if they gave up the fight to protect the water and environment and went home, we would all lose. I wanted to do more than donate the few dollars I could spare to help them, so the idea to organize an art benefit auction was born.
Carrie: I’d love to make this actionable for other artists interested in doing something like this. Can you break down the steps you took to create this space and auction?
The first thing I had to do was find artists willing to donate their work. Having an art auction without a supply of art won’t work, so finding a diverse group of artisans is critical! I reached out to a friend to help and we started talking to artists we knew.
After we had a few that said they were interested in donating, we started a Facebook group to add the donating artists to. That became the “backroom” for artists where we talk about boring behind the scenes stuff that make the auction run smoothly. We then started posting a “Call To Artists” in some of the Facebook art groups we were in asking for artists interested in donating their work, and the artists started flooding in!
There are a million micro-decisions we had to make when we first started! My partner and I decided that we had such a good response from artists wanting to donate, we needed more help. We brought in another admin who made our logo, banner, and promo materials, then we created an Artists United For Standing Rock Facebook page for news and information to raise awareness about the protest, and we started a second Facebook group where the actual auction takes place.
It was very important that we protected ourselves from liability, so we decided that we wouldn’t take possession of any art or funds so no accusations of impropriety could be lodged against us. The way we organized it, the artists post their work in the Facebook auction group and sets their own auction length, minimum bid amount, and shipping costs. If a buyer wants that work, they would bid on it by commenting the amount of their bid on that post.
At the end of the artists’ auction, the winning bidder is directed to pay 100% of their bid amount (or more!) to the Sacred Stone Camp GoFundMe and provide the artist with confirmation of the donation. The artist then ships the art to the new owner and the owner can deduct their purchase on their taxes as a charitable donation. There is also a good chance that the buyer will become a fan of that artist because of their donation and buy their work outside the auction!
Not long after we opened the auction and started seeing positive results from our efforts, we brought on additional two admins who have worked as tirelessly on this fundraiser as I have. Both have not only donated their amazing works of art and music, but also hours of their time helping make the auction an ongoing success.
Carrie: What advice do you have to other creatives who might want to start a similar program for a cause that matters to them?
Prepare to dedicate a large chunk of your time to the endeavor. From gathering artists, promoting, gathering buyers, monitoring auctions, and talking to customers and artists, it is a very consuming but gratifying unpaid time gobbler.
Carrie: What do you know now you wish you knew when you started?
I wish I knew that organizing a group of artists is a lot like trying to herd cats. It takes a great deal of patience and repetition to get everyone on the same page and even then you have a few that will still do it their way, lol.
Carrie: What are some tips you have for managing a community space?
Keeping both the artist and auction groups organized and professional is important, so the admins and I make sure that each auction post has the necessary information for buyers before approving it for the sales floor.
We monitor the auction posts constantly to make sure there are no trolls or fake bidders in the group, monitor the posts in the artist group to delete promo and other unrelated posts, as well as removing artists from the donation roster that do not follow through with their buyers in a timely manner.
Carrie: How do you navigate your personal desire to create with your interest to serve as you are with Artists United Standing Rock.
I’ve been able to funnel my desire to create into creating an actual organization from an idea I had while doing dishes into a relatively successful fundraising campaign complete with our own merchandise line, exclusive album, Facebook page, and art auction.
Through this collaboration with my admins, in the past month we’ve created a space for artists and patrons with over 1500 members combined, and together we’ve raised over $1,000 for Standing Rock in those few short weeks.
My deep concern for the issues surrounding this movement have inspired me to create several social commentary paintings, as well as inspiring me to create an original line of Artists United For Standing Rock merchandise as another way to raise funds. My desire to create is expressed and satisfied in many ways through this endeavor.
Carrie: How can other artists get involved with your initiative?
They would need to join the Artists United For Standing Rock artist group on Facebook (now closed), read through the information posted in there about how the auction works and setting up their posts, and be ready to put their donation up for auction right away in the Artists United For Standing Rock Benefit Auction group.
This is an ongoing auction that will go as long as the Standing Rock protesters are there. Winter is coming, and we need all the handmade donations we can get to help them get through it. We are especially interested in Native American artists and artisans that create jewelry, functional art, crochet/knitters, and other handmade item makers.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
Pic Monkey. I use it to watermark my art, to create banners, and promo memes for the auction. It’s free, simple to use, and faster than Photoshop since they have pre-formatted options intended for social media use.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
This was the hardest question for me to answer because I wanted to get to the essence of all the things that inspire me. As I was pondering that question, so many things that inspire me came to mind; music, nature, poetry, literature, people, challenging myself, the list goes on and on.
But when I really considered all those things and WHY they inspire me, they all boiled down to love. Love of the written word, a love of sights and sounds, a love of family, friends, and people that love hard, a love of our environment and animals, a love for learning, a love for life… love inspires me.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creativity is making something out of nothing. Whether it’s through painting, music, crafts, organizing a fundraiser, or whatever avenue you use to bring your idea to life, creativity is creating something that didn’t exist before you came along.
Be Creatively Courageous: Have you considered how your art may contribute to social change? Tell us your experiences below.
Additional Contact Info:
(The group has since been closed.)
To see Jenn’s art, coloring books, and children’s book: https://www.facebook.com/BInspiredbyJenn/ and https://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Conley/e/B01C0EYIGU
This is also an opportunity to learn more about and better understand issues around cultural appropriation. Here are a few links to get you started: