Discover Your Tribe
by Jess Archer
Photographs by Heather Gallagher
PolitiFact reported in March 2018 that approximately 150 people move to Austin every single day. If you think about that for a moment (don’t picture the increased traffic, just focus on the individuals), you can imagine that within that figure are women, in all stages of life, many of whom are promising creatives and entrepreneurs who will need support from their new city.
So how does Austin support its female creatives and business owners? If I am an artist in Austin, is there a group where I can network with other female artists? Is there a community where women can be open about the challenges of owning and sustaining a business? How can I gain more visibility for my creative endeavors? This month Tribeza asks and answers these questions by highlighting three grassroots groups.
In 2016, interior designer Lauren Ramirez found herself repeating the same thing to creative women in Austin that she’d come across: “You really need to meet this other artistic friend of mine.”
Suddenly she realized she wanted to form a group where creative women could network in person. Ramirez planned a first gathering, invited about 50 women to her house, and then waited. “That first Creative Ladies Night, I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up,” she says. “For a good half-hour it was just me and the cheese plate.”
Almost three years later, it’s no longer just Ramirez and the cheese plate at Creative Ladies Night (CLN). More than 420 creative women in Austin have signed up in person to receive the monthly meetup invitations, and CLN continues to grow and evolve. “From the start, my vision for this group has always been about fostering community, inspiration, and potential business collaborations for creative women,” she says.
Ramirez’s vision for the group has not changed, but logistics have. With a growing number of attendees, the question of location for meetups is always an issue. Ideally, the group meets after-hours, from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m., in a business owned or operated by a woman. Past gatherings have been held at Katie Kime, James Showroom, and Adelante. This allows the hostess a platform to show off her business and fosters visibility in the community. But for Ramirez, meeting in a home is still very important. “I like for Creative Ladies Night to be held in a member’s home at least once a quarter,” she says. “Being in someone’s home provides that vulnerability that creatives need from each other.”
At the monthly meetups, Ramirez invites each person to introduce herself and her creative pursuit. You might meet a makeup artist or a fine-art painter and probably several interior designers. Sometimes there’s a guest speaker. But in order to strengthen relationships, Ramirez and her design assistant, Brooke Marshall, operate an Instagram takeover, where a rotating cast of members can use the account to showcase her creative work, inspirations, and what CLN means to her. This helps the group stay connected in between meetups.
Ramirez closes every CLN with the same line, which always gets a warm laugh: “Remember, there’s a low-bar commitment for attending Creative Ladies Night: Bring a creative friend or a bottle of wine to share.”
At the start of 2017, three friends, acupuncturist Sarah Senter, photographer Heather Gallagher, and painter Ana Koehler, came together with an idea to form The Circle, a support group for female entrepreneurs and creatives. As small-business owners themselves, they wanted a group that, in their words, “could support women in all phases of their career with space for feedback and collaborative opportunities.”
Though organic in its genesis, the three founders are intentional about some features of The Circle. For one, it is a closed group, as of this point in time. Each of the 22 members was selected through an interview process with the founders. Gallagher says, “We chose the members based on a desire to promote diversity in the group.” There are no overlapping fields or trades represented. This way every woman in the The Circle is an authority on her business. By being the authority in her particular field of interest, The Circle minimizes the potential for competition among its members.
The women who make up The Circle have worked hard to create their businesses. Gallagher describes some of the topics members want to discuss at their monthly meetings: “It’s often the trials of running a business while juggling all the other parts of life that members want to talk about. We’re pulled in all directions, but we’re women who want to nurture and prioritize our businesses.” Their meetings are personal and honest. The women of The Circle talk to one another the way you talk to a family member you respect and love. Given all this openness and discussion, meetings can be lengthy, sometimes up to three hours long, another reason membership is capped at 22.
Members of The Circle definitely realize the value of their group. Rae Wilson, the founder of Wine for the People, says, “By it’s very name, ‘The Circle,’ I feel invited in. There’s space for all of us in this group. We all have a voice.” Kelly Colchin, a fine artist and illustrator, adds, “The Circle is the place where I can float creative ideas, maybe even collaborate with other members on a project.”
Friendship with other members certainly isn’t a prerequisite in The Circle, but, as Koehler notes, “Beautiful friendships have certainly evolved from this group.”
Photographs courtesy of Diana Ascarrunz
Like many nonprofit founders, creative producer and performance artist Jane Hervey started Boss Babes ATX by identifying a need in the community: “I came out of a small town in Texas, and right out of college I wanted to work in a creative industry in Austin but realized I had a long road ahead of me and I needed a female mentor.” Hervey wanted a community of seasoned female artists to show her the ropes when navigating male-dominated industries. But Hervey never found that mentor. So she created an organization that could provide that kind of support for other women.
Now, almost four years later, Boss Babes ATX is a registered nonprofit with impressive reach and voice. From its press statement: “Boss Babes ATX provides a platform of visibility, outreach and financial opportunity to 1000+ emerging women and non-binary creatives, entrepreneurs and organizers per year.” Just scrolling through its website you get a sense of the organization’s forward momentum. Boss Babes celebrates all types of creative women and encourages them to be loud, proud, and transformative in their diverse industries.
One way Boss Babes facilitates this is through its CraftHer Market. It’s a biannual gathering where female craft artisans and makers can showcase and sell their wares. Singer-songwriter and Folk Potions founder, Raina Rose, says, “When my tiny business started to flourish, I had a lot of questions. Boss Babes connected me to a lawyer to help me get my LLC. I also got accepted into their CraftHer market to sell my goods. It felt incredible to be invited onto this powerful team.”
The scope of services and events Boss Babes offers is outstanding for female artists and makers of Austin. And it’s all happening in person. Hervey points out, “Boss Babes does use social media, but we’re not a content machine. Whatever we post on social media should always be reflected in what our organization is doing in real life.”
In terms of a comprehensive, female-empowerment organization, you can’t get bigger in Austin than Boss Babes ATX. Plus, Hervey says, “In the last three years our programs generated an additional $1 million for the Austin economy.” Which is about as boss as it gets.