Thriving in the Art World: How a Community of Visual Artists Use Mastermind Groups to Realize Their Dreams

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Launched on Mighty Networks in January 2017, the THRIVE Network is a paid membership site for female, nonbinary, and gender fluid visual artists.

The Spark: After their monthly in-person mastermind group took off, Jamie and Tara started thinking about an online home for their group—one that would allow members to connect between meetings. But they realized quickly just how much bigger it could become.

Jamie and Tara’s Mighty Moment: With THRIVE, we don’t define our success by having 10,000 members. We believe that it’s the personal connections that are being created that matter.”

Jamie Smith and Tara Lee Bennett had a simple goal: To make it easier and more obvious for visual artists to make a living doing what they were meant to do.

With no obvious or “one-size-fits-all” path for artists to generate an income, this Vancouver-based pair started organizing a monthly “mastermind” group, a dedicated space for peer-to-peer mentoring. Their intention? To help fellow female, nonbinary, and gender fluid visual artists make a living from their work.

Why focus on this specific group of visual artists? It was simple:

“[Being an artist] is a lonely profession. Worse, like the rest of the world, there’s a lot of inequality. Our goal was to change this by creating a safe, supportive space for female, nonbinary, and gender fluid artists to learn and grow together.”

As their in-person mastermind group grew, Jamie and Tara realized they needed a place for their members to connect and share between meetings:

“Once we realized that we could take this group online, we knew it could be so much bigger. It dawned on us quickly that the more people we had sharing their stories, experiences, and ideas; the more people to ask questions of; and the more people who can share support, the more valuable it would be for everyone.”

They were ready to move from a single in-person mastermind group to an online community.

Creating Their Own Community Without Distractions

Their first stop was Facebook Groups. Jamie and Tara noticed the limitations right away. Facebook’s search function was lacking, and it was hard for group members to find older posts. But even if these things could be fixed, there was one massive glaring problem with running a community on Facebook:

“With Facebook, there are SO MANY distractions. We wanted to offer a professional program, and we wanted to offer it in a professional space that belonged just to us.”

Shortly after this realization, they found Mighty Networks through a fellow creative’s blog.

With a Mighty Network, Jamie and Tara would be able to both host their mastermind groups AND create a larger community all in one place, under their own brand, and instantly available on every platform.  

All of this was great, but there was also something even more profound in their move to a Mighty Network: They felt they could create a safer place with more confidence:

“It’s hard to think about Facebook as a place that’s secure and safe for our members. The fact that our Mighty Network is off-Facebook and vetted by us, there’s no chance of random people coming in. Our members feel a lot safer here.”

They quickly set up their new THRIVE Network on a Mighty Network. Now they just needed to move their Facebook Group members over.

This was easier said than done. Facebook didn’t exactly make it easy to migrate to a new platform. And they met with some resistance within the group too: Some members were hesitant to leave Facebook and commit to a new platform.

Jamie and Tara quickly decided to get specific and focus on their most motivated and engaged members, and create something super special for them:

“At first, we thought we would make a network for everybody. But we saw that people who were active in our Facebook Group wanted to take more than they gave. We wanted to serve those passionate artists who were giving as much as they were receiving from the community. It made things even clearer and easier in making our move.”

To get specific, Jamie and Tara started by inviting those artists who had been in their mastermind group for over a year and a half. This was a great way for them to prioritize quality over quantity and build the right dynamic early on:

“With THRIVE, we don’t define our success by having 10,000 members. We believe that it’s the personal connections that are being created that matter. We want to know who our members are, and what kind of life they’re trying to carve out for themselves.”

With this early obstacle successfully navigated, Jamie and Tara launched.

A Masterful Mastermind Community That’s Thriving With 300 Artists

Today THRIVE Network is home to over 300 visual artists. Many new members hear about THRIVE by word of mouth. From there, Tara and Jamie recruit new members with carefully curated sponsored posts and regular outreach to their email list.

At the heart of the THRIVE Network is the $124.99 per month THRIVE Mastermind Program that includes both overall community membership and a deeper program for small groups.

Participants can sign up to receive an informational PDF that covers THRIVE’s story, values, and what to expect from the yearlong mastermind group. If they think it’s a good fit, they’re encouraged to book a phone call for more information or send in an application. Applications are followed by phone interviews with THRIVE’s salesperson, Nadia, to make sure every prospective member’s values align with THRIVE’s:

“Our phone calls are a way to make sure people understand what the program is, and what it isn’t. We also want to make sure they believe in our key values: community over competition, the importance of gratitude and generosity, and so on.”

Once a new member joins, they’re assigned a mastermind group. These masterminds start every March and September, and include:

  • A physical welcome package. Every new member is mailed a member package with a handwritten note, branded pencils, a member pin, and a booklet that they’ll work through over the course of the coming year.
  • Mastermind orientation course. THRIVE offers a mastermind orientation course. While it’s not mandatory for members to complete, it’s highly encouraged.
  • Monthly live meetings. Meetings are led by peer facilitators who have been involved with THRIVE for a year or more and have completed a training program (also hosted in their Mighty Network). Meetings are done live virtually via Zoom.
  • Peer-to-peer problem-solving. Both live in the monthly meetings and throughout the month in the community, members are encouraged to set goals and bring real-life challenges for the group to work through together. This powerful model has been used for all sorts of different goals, but THRIVE is one of the few places using it for visual artists to realize their own transformations.

In addition to the THRIVE Mastermind Program, Jamie and Tara also offer a lightweight community membership that’s open to artists outside of the mastermind program. For $24.99 per month, these artists get exclusive access to:

  • A resource library. Here members can find a variety of helpful resources from how to create a website to how to write an Artist Statement. The library also includes an artist’s checklist to help members build their art business or practice. The Courses feature within their Mighty Network lends itself beautifully to creating this kind of resource library.
  • Work opportunities. Members also share exclusive opportunities for residencies, submissions, art shows, and more.
  • Weekly questions. Tara schedules fun and interesting questions—from “What podcasts do you listen to?” to “Do you have any tips or tricks for planning your time efficiently?”— a few months in advance and posts them weekly to kickstart conversations.

Jamie and Tara utilize moderators to help them keep an eye on posts, answer new questions, and encourage new or shy members to get involved:

“It can feel really vulnerable, especially for new members, to create posts or ask questions. So we have our moderators chime in—if not with an answer, then just with some encouragement.”

Tara has also devised a system to make sure she’s striking a comfortable balance between her main priority–her art–and the community. She carves out one week every month to just focus on her own work with no distractions from THRIVE:

“During the three weeks I’m ‘on,’ I go into the THRIVE Network at least once a day, writing back to people, commenting on posts. Sometimes I skip a few days, and when I do, the community runs itself. But I really enjoy it. Checking in is one of my favorite parts of the job.”

The Path Ahead: Learning, Growing, Thriving

Jamie and Tara are grateful for how much the community has grown since its inception over three years ago:

“At the beginning, it was a lot of us posting cool resources and asking people questions. But once we were really clear that it was an exclusive place for members only, people felt more free to share. Now they’re the ones driving most of the engagement.”

As the THRIVE Network continues to grow, it’s become more than just a way for Jamie and Tara to connect artists to each other. It’s helping them elevate their own craft, too:

“We’re not experts. We’re just fellow artists wanting to learn and grow together.”

*As of July 2020, the THRIVE Network has made some changes. Tara is shifting from co-host to member herself as she turns her focus to her art and working in her studio full time. Jamie is stepping back from the community until early next year to reflect, rebuild, and create new art. After her sabbatical, she’ll start piecing together the next THRIVE Mastermind, with plans to kick off the new cohort in April 2021. Until then, members will still be able to access the THRIVE Network, and both the community and resources within. 

3 Key Takeaways from THRIVE’s Story of Awesome

  1. Start with the people who need you the most. From the first mastermind group, Tara and Jamie knew they were here to help visual artists who identified as female, nonbinary, and gender fluid make a living. But even within their niche, the decision to move away from serving any member in their Facebook Group to investing in a program with paying members who were the MOST motivated, meant they were able to establish a core group on which they could build.
  2. Quality over quantity is easier upfront than aiming for big numbers. Today with 300 members paying $124.99 per month, starting small and growing thoughtfully seems like an obvious decision. It wasn’t at the beginning. What starting small gets you is the opportunity to develop a much more compelling program that serves highly engaged and committed members better. Then, it turns out, it’s just as easy to grow a $124.99 per month program to 300 people as it is to grow a $24.99 per month program to the same number.
  3. Tap your most engaged members as facilitators. Your members want to contribute, especially those who are finding the best results. Ask graduates of your course or masterclass to come back and train as facilitators–it deepens what they get out of the community as well as helping new members feel welcome right away.

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