Sacramento’s Creative Class Needs Opportunities to Connect

Back Commentary Nov 8, 2016 By Ryan Donahue

By the time I was paying attention to the Sacramento artistic community in 2012, our one networking organization for the creative class was already gone.

The Art Directors and Artists Club in Sacramento launched in 1966 and existed as a community for creatives to interface through meetings, workshops and conferences. From what I gather, it was quite popular. Like with too many artistic endeavors, ADAC dissolved in 2011 for what I assume are the same reasons other artistic collaboratives, bands and recreational coed softball leagues often cease to exist: Simply put, 100 percent volunteer-run entities are a tremendous amount of work and it’s a job you’re not being paid to do. Sadly, such entities are often only acclaimed after they are gone.

We have experienced a similar, though more compact, arc with our annual design conference CMND SHFT. We launched the conference in 2015, and with our second event held this past August, we hosted more than 200 attendees at the Guild Theater in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood. As we say in our mission statement: “CMND SHFT is about finding inspiration in the place you are in, and using it to make your own statement. We aim to kindle pride in ourselves as a creative community. By making space for new voices we hope to spark a shift forward and make visible the valuable talent we have right here.” Our efforts are also all-volunteer and require the support of the larger community.

A quick bit of history. I started my (limited) artistic involvement in Sacramento as a commercial photographer and over time became managing editor at the print magazine Edible Sacramento. Currently, I am a partner in a restaurant group that runs Mother and Empress Tavern in downtown Sacramento. This seemingly non-linear career path has a common thread: I straddle the line between creatives and businesses. Through this unique vantage point, I see the importance of communication both among creatives, and between them and the broader business world.

“I learned there is a great benefit from bringing creatives together. I found that attendees valued interacting with their local artistic community as much as they did hearing from renowned designers from across the U.S.”

Initially, CMND SHFT began as a film series for people interested in graphic design. During the planning phase, brainstorms with my cofounders identified an underserved niche once fulfilled by ADAC, and the event morphed into a conference featuring local speakers and a live podcast hosted by Adventure in Design’s Mark Brickey held at the historic Crest Theatre. From that first conference of 80 attendees, I learned a lot.

First, I learned there is a great benefit from bringing creatives together. I found that attendees valued interacting with their local artistic community as much as they did hearing from renowned designers from across the U.S. (this year we flew Tad Carpenter of Carpenter Collective, a lion in the design world, in from St Louis). Turns out that they had a lot to talk about and lacked other opportunities to do so.

Related: Designers return for the 2nd annual CMND SHFT 

Secondly, I learned that effective communication between designers and their clients is the most significant hurdle in doing business in the design field. This fundamental problem is the result of an ever-changing and complex landscape of social media marketing and the need for businesses to have a more defined brand identity. Fifty years ago, a designer would be tasked with creating a logotype, print advertising and perhaps signage. Today, businesses are beholden to more dynamic messaging through many mediums and the designer is tasked with producing a vast array of content on a tight schedule to their client’s satisfaction. This makes for a lot of communication between two entities with very different vernaculars. Part of CMND SHFT’s purpose is to explore clarifying these communication channels.

And finally, I learned that the Sacramento design community, represented both by firms and freelancers, is a supportive one. It became apparent that, in a field of largely self-taught designers, those newer to the field were starving for information to help avoid common pitfalls. It was inspiring to see established designers relate lessons that they learned the hard way to people newer to the field that potentially, someday, could be bidding on the same job.

Announced at this year’s CMND SHFT was Creativity +. This is a monthly meetup where two creatives from different fields give their perspectives on a pre-determined topic followed by a Q&A. Programming kicked off in August with entrepreneur Sonny Mayugba (founder of The Red Rabbit) and landscape architect Kimberly Garza Stanush exploring “Creativity + Origin.” In September’s “Creativity + Purpose” event, we featured Roshaun Davis, cofounder of the marketing and public relations firm Unseen Heroes, and ballet dancer Alexandra Cunningham, who both spoke about what drives their professional goals. In October, we hosted “Creativity + Chances” with Rusty Prevatt of Franklin Pictures and Shelly Willis, executive director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. We see these sessions offering creatives more opportunities to meet and find inspiration.

CMND SHFT has become more than just an annual conference. It is also a tremendous amount of work that no one gets paid for. That said, we’ve found the benefits far outweigh the effort, and we’re well on our way to planning next year.