By GARY FERRINGTON
When the mom and pop corner grocery served as a neighborhood center, it was common to have a bulletin board where needs, offers, and concerns were posted by people who simply signed their posts as Bob, Sandra K., or Jake at the garage. These exchanges helped in forming a sense of community where people could browse postings and make needed connections.
That corkboard with scribbled notes has been replaced by social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These are important community building tools, but their strengths are also their weaknesses. For groups such as artists in need of that neighborly bulletin board connection, these social media are too time-sensitive and not purpose-specific, which means if you aren’t online at the time of a post, it is likely that you’ll miss it, given the subsequent flood of competing feeds of vacation pictures, videos and news stories.
Creating a sense of community between artists in a region separated by distance, as in the Pacific Northwest, became the challenge that Oregon composer/musician Andrew Stiefel, in collaboration with the Sound of Late ensemble, has attempted to address with the development of the Northwest Arts Exchange Switchboard. Based on the belief that “members of a community should ask for what they need and offer what they have,” Stiefel says, the NWAEX is a “place to connect, lend others a hand, and cheer on the successes that result from working together,” according to a pre-launch announcement. Think of it as a place where creative professionals throughout the region can go to exchange ideas, post a call for performers in Eugene, or look for a venue in Seattle, a photographer in Boise, an ensemble in Portland, a graphic designer in Spokane. “It’s a place to start conversations about the issues and questions facing our community and a way to spark new collaborations and connections that might not otherwise happen,” Stiefel explains.