All too often childhood ambitions of “living your dream” end up crushed beneath the wheel of industrialism, especially if those dreams involve creative expression. Those who achieve financial success in fields like writing, filmmaking, performing, or even blogging are seen as extraordinarily lucky. The rest are expected to relegate their dreams to the realm of a hobbyist, and more importantly get “a real job.” Why does it seem so difficult to sustain a career in artistic expression when it’s much easier to find “real” work? Where did this expectation that dreams are to be readily abandoned come from, and why aren’t more people fighting it?
“A guy like me doesn’t settle for unanswered questions,” filmmaker Dev T. Smith muses. He searched for answers over the course of a year, in fact, documenting his findings in his second feature-length film, “CreativeNC: An Introspective Look at Creative Culture.” His documentary gathers numerous North Carolina professionals operating in various creative endeavors—bloggers, musicians, web designers, et al. All of them pose questions about the role of independent thinkers in a society that values conformity above all else, drawing from vastly different personal experiences.
Initially, Smith’s first impression of North Carolina imbued in him a sense of desolation, with images of endless farmland and college-sports fanatics bombarding him from all angles. Shortly after graduating from college, he discovered an entire culture of like-minded folks sharing his same aspiration of supporting themselves based on their innate desire to create. He soon discovered the same aspirations they all shared were met with the same roadblock: There’s a dearth of support for the arts in North Carolina.
“When I graduated from college and began building my career as a creative professional, I realized many of my peers in North Carolina’s creative scene shared the same frustration,” he reminisces. “We had the talent and ambition, but there was literally no infrastructure or industry that would allow us to be creative with regard to music, fashion or visual arts, and build a career around it. Unless we wanted to work at a marketing agency or in the marketing department at Bank of America or something, we had no way to live our dreams.”
But this is not strictly a problem of employment. Smith realized the majority of his peers faced alienation from their family, friends and even in universities where creativity was purported to be a virtue. Being stifled from all angles naturally leads to doubts and defeatism, but Smith claims it’s integral to nurture the creative side, regardless of any opposition.
“We all shared stories of being misunderstood or lacking support from people who couldn’t understand our goals,” Smith explains. “Too many people are taught their creativity has to be limited to a hobby, and that’s just not true. I am creative, period. I don’t turn it off or on. This is me 24/7.”
While it may seem like Smith and company are picking on North Carolina, the fact of the matter is the entire country is wracked by similarly stifling environments. Resources for creative professionals are few and far between outside of major metropolitan areas, and even in big cities the competition is fierce. The majority of Americans grow up in places like North Carolina and as such face very similar dilemmas.
“The experience of being creative in North Carolina is a microcosm of what it’s like to be creative in most of America,” Smith explains. “Most people don’t live in or near cities like Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, or even Chicago. Most people can’t just go intern at a major magazine or fashion week. Most artists can’t just walk into a record label. Most people who lead initiatives or produce events aren’t in a place where someone can notice their work and give them an opportunity to showcase it on a major platform. Additionally, education is broken on a national level. Kids aren’t being taught to discover their passion and learn how to build a life around it. We live in a very industrialized society that doesn’t encourage thinking outside of the box. Creative people literally don’t know how to think ‘inside of the box.’ Imagine the frustration of growing up in a society and education system that tells you your ideas or goals are unrealistic, and doesn’t want you to live out loud.”
Fortunately, “CreativeNC” has found a welcome host in the North Carolina Writers’ Network, who will show the film at their fall conference in Wrightsville Beach on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 12:30 p.m. The Writers’ Network is no stranger to the Cape Fear, having hosted seasonal events in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach to reach out to writers across all of North Carolina. However, this year’s conference is unique. According to Charles Fiore, communications director for the North Carolina Writers’ Network, the 2017 fall conference was planned to coincide with the North Carolina Arts Council’s 50th anniversary. This marks an effort to create a more open dialogue between the writers’ network and other creative professionals throughout the state beyond the literary.
“It’s a celebration of the arts in North Carolina, more so than conferences in years past,” Fiore explains. “On Saturday morning, the North Carolina Humanities Council will be announcing the winners of their annual Linda Flowers Writing Award. That night we’ll be celebrating 50 years of the Arts Council with the Secretary of NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Susie H. Hamilton. That’s part of an ongoing celebration the arts council is doing this year in all 100 counties across the state. Bringing Dev in is another way to celebrate the creative arts all around North Carolina.”
The writers’ network empathizes with the struggles faced by creative professionals, as described by Smith and his peers in “CreativeNC.” To help fill the void, they offer numerous courses in fiction writing, critiques, and sessions, in addition to open-mic readings. Many of the courses are readily available online throughout the year, but Fiore encourages anyone with creative aspirations to attend a conference, even if they have little to no experience in writing.
“Certainly, as much as we advocate for the literary arts, we understand we’re one arm of the economic and cultural driving force that is the arts in North Carolina,” Fiore offers. “We really do try to create a welcoming environment so people who haven’t been to one will feel comfortable. I would encourage anybody who’s taking a look at it to take that step and meet some of your local writing community. There’s definitely going to be a place for them at the conference, no matter what they’re interests are or what their skill level is.”