Community-building is essential to the experience and mission of Running With Scissors Art Studios (RWS). The studios inhabit over 16,000 square feet in a muraled industrial building in the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland, Maine. RWS is a closed-door work space, except by appointment and during community events. Membership ranges from resident members with private studios to associates with access to communal areas and shared equipment in the clay, print, and wood departments. Members include over eighty fine artists and craftspeople with varying degrees of experience and education who work in diverse and sometimes multiple media such as clay, print, wood, paint, metal, graphic design, and more. The studios are managed by a small staff of seven, including a director, an administrator, department leads, studio technicians, and an intern. RWS’s objective is to help each member reach their independent creative goals. Owner and Director Kate Anker calls RWS a “for-profit business with a heavy social bottom line.” That social bottom line is the point.
RWS was started almost two decades ago by founding members Ariette Higgins, Joanne Cameron, and Susie Schweppe. They named the studios “Running With Scissors” as a symbol of the dangerous activities your mother would discourage. Kate joined in 2006 looking for access to printmaking equipment and to others pursuing the life of an artist. Though the studios were already well-established, they were intimate in size and membership with a minimal amount of equipment. When Kate assumed ownership in 2011, Portland’s changing climate and increased building turnover were forcing many artists to leave their studios. There was a particularly large number of ceramics artists in need and artists who lacked the opportunity to grow independently. She moved the studios to its current location and quadrupled the space.
Kate started the clay center in the new space along with two original clay members, Christine Caswell and Meg Walsh. She knew the expansion would provide space for more equipment and help artists build more sustainable practices. There would also be space for more members to join, which would provide greater opportunity for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and resources. “There was an incredible mixture and cross-pollination of ideas and practices that made the group more diverse and interesting. Diversity is more sustainable than a unified monoculture.” Being around other creative people who are making time for themselves and their art inspires, motivates, and gives emotional support to members who are looking to push themselves, move in a new direction, or change mediums. By affording those who had the knowledge and interest to explore an idea and by providing them with a platform in which to work created a sense of ownership among members and Kate witnessed huge growth spurts in the artistic practices for many, particularly among clay artists that first year. Kate purchased the building in 2021, establishing a permanent home for the studios and its artists.
Admitted artists have the experience and knowledge of their materials and equipment to work independently at RWS, and members and staff share in the collective effort to create on a level dedicated to elevating their craft. RWS does not consider an applicant’s level of formal artistic training when touring new members whose mastery may be self-taught. Requiring this level of competency creates an environment where artists have earned 24/7 access to the space and equipment they need to work uninterrupted. Kate believes this amount of access is crucial to being truly supportive of members’ diverse needs and is dependent on establishing trust and the collective intent for the space. RWS is a place where every member is responsible for actively taking care of the community when they decide to participate.
Running the studios has transformed Kate from a visual creative to a community-building artist. It has influenced her practice and how she thinks we can be as people. For Kate, the name “Running With Scissors” represents what artists do, “which isn’t easy, to explore these ideas and keep exploring them, and turn around and face them to the community to say, ‘This is how I see the world and I want to share it.’ Making art shows us how we can move past differences and be vulnerable and brave, even if it’s just within this one area of our life.” Community has the ability and responsibility to amplify these critical voices.
Kate believes the role of a community leader is to help people know each other in a deeper way and model how to interact with empathy. This helps to create a space where artists can experiment, fail, collaborate, and innovate. RWS holds quarterly all-member meetings to communicate studio updates where members have the opportunity to introduce themselves to the group. Kate also makes a point to connect members who have a common interest or practice—sometimes across mediums—and wouldn’t otherwise interact. Some members have started meet-ups based on interest, such as figure drawing and critique groups, which foster organic personal relationships and help to uplift the artists around them.
One of the more frequent and intimate ways RWS connects its members is by interviewing three artists each month and publishing them in the monthly newsletter. This newsletter is shared with members and on social media as well as with a mailing list of outside artists, community members, and supporters near and far. These interviews tap into elements of practice and process that other community members can identify in themselves and their work, which creates an easier opportunity to start an exchange. It also serves to provide non-makers a glimpse into the lives of artists: “it’s making the artists more real and the process more understandable, which, I think, is a basis for community.” In addition to the artist spotlights, the newsletter promotes member exhibitions, sales events, and accomplishments outside of the studios.
Part of elevating a member’s path is being a connector and a convener with the greater community of industry professionals and supporters. Kate connects members with resources available outside of the studios so that they can build professional relationships. She welcomes other arts groups to the studios and arranges staff visits to other facilities in the area. RWS shows its appreciation for being in the greater arts community by donating money, time and space for lectures, and granting other organization’s visiting artists access to RWS’ equipment. “It’s important as a community to realize that you can’t and don’t need to do and have everything. There is a larger network, so working with organizations who have facilities that we don’t strengthens both communities. Creating community takes having a shared interest, collective spirit, and mutually supportive mindset.”
These relational exchanges are an important part of the studios’ growth and have influenced RWS in a number of ways, including how it is expanding access to new members. Kate is currently developing the Access Fund, a tiered fund designed to support artists in different stages of their careers. RWS’s inaugural Emerge artist residencies, the entry level program in the overarching fund, started this year. Local industry professionals nominated recent graduates who were invited to apply for a five-month associate membership in either the print or clay studio. Four recipients were awarded residencies along with a modest stipend. One clay and one print associate are in residence at a time during the summer and winter sessions. Artists are welcome to continue working in the studios at the end of their program, space depending. Kate hopes that when the artists depart, they will be able to step into their next space equipped to positively affect that community.
Kate realizes that RWS is only a small portion of members’ greater paths. The community at RWS is shaped every time a new member joins and extends its boundaries when another member graduates beyond the studios’ capacity. “We’re still invested in peoples’ creative path once they leave our physical space.” Kate will help artists who are in need of more autonomy, space, and privacy find new space and navigate the transition so that they can continue to grow. Knowing that members have what they need to build their skills into other practices has made Kate a more positive person and she hopes they carry those tools out into the world. The studios also welcome a lot of alumni back. As Kate likes to say, “Once a scissors, always a scissors.”
Running With Scissors Art Studios celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2023. Sign up for the newsletter and contact the studios at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more and tour the space at 250 Anderson Street in Portland, Maine. Follow @rwsartstudios on Instagram.
Kate Anker has been the owner and director of Running With Scissors Art Studios since 2011 and a member since 2006. She has worked in ceramic studios, bookbinding, and letterpress shops, and explored book arts, Japanese language, and living a creative life with her family in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. She was brought up in Minnesota with a community of fine crafts people.
Katie Bonadies is a writer and brewery-owner living with her family in Portland, Maine. She was born and raised in Provincetown, Massachusetts and comes from a family of artists. She is the Administrative Assistant at Running With Scissors Art Studios and loves being a part of the community.
Image at top: Community Print Jam Woodblock Carving, August 2022 (photo: Bret Woodard).