Friday, September 2, 2011

Connecting communicators and artists interested in diversity and interreligious dialogue with people who can use their talents

After I first contacted David Crumm—author, editor, former religion writer for the Detroit Free Press and other newspapers, and co-founder of Read the Spirit Books and online magazine—he gave me two recommendations: Write a story for the women’s interfaith group WISDOM’s Friendship & Faith Web site, and attend the June 24 meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The meetings are always held at places of cultural or religious significance, and it was pointed out that the Detroit Institute of Arts has one of the top six galleries in the nation. Before the discussion part of the meeting, the DIA’s curator gave a detailed presentation about the upcoming "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" exhibit, which will open in November and showcase many of Rembrandt’s paintings that have never been displayed in the U.S. He talked about how Rembrandt broke with the standard artistic conventions of his time by taking an interest in a more visually accurate portrayal of Jesus—by using Jewish models rather than ethnocentrically portraying Jesus with European looks and pale hair.

After the presentation, Mr. Crumm led us into the “roundtable” part of the meeting. The purpose of the discussion was for professional communicators to “share news about their work and upcoming opportunities.” Presenters included an artist from Grand Rapids who illustrates books of the Bible in giant murals as aids for interpretation and Bible study, an author who wrote a book about well-known and lesser-known peacemakers from various social justice causes in recent history (including the American Civil Rights Movement), an independent filmmaker who produced so far the only film focusing on the challenges of living as a Sikh in America, a pair of former journalists who started a small book publisher for producing heirloom books for families and churches (rather than books that will be marketed and sold), and two representatives of WISDOM who described the purpose of the organization and its calendar of upcoming events.

A representative of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC) also spoke about that organization’s recent happenings, and Mr. Crumm invited any attendees with special news or recent accomplishments to discuss them.

Near the end of the meeting, Mr. Crumm invited me, the only attendee who’d previously never had any connection to this circle or the organizations it represents, to introduce myself to the group. I said my name, told everyone I just graduated from Madonna University, I currently work as a writing tutor, and would like to get into the publishing industry as an editor, and maybe continue my education so I can become qualified as a college writing professor.

I also said that I wish to get more involved in interfaith and diversity initiatives and networking in southeastern Michigan, and I will encourage other communicators and artists I know to come to the next meeting.

As a recent graduate, I didn’t know how to start making connections with people in the fields I’m interested in. It’s one thing to look up potential employers online, and send them résumés and introductory messages by e-mail; it’s far more effective to find out about events and groups where we can actually meet such people in person, without the pressure of the encounter’s purpose being to ask the person for a job.

It was pointed out at this meeting that many writers, visual artists, and other communicators who have potential and talent don’t know how to get in touch with the people who could best use their talents. Likewise, people who want special projects done, such as documentary films, aren’t sure how to connect with people who can do these projects for them. That’s where networking organizations come in handy: If you don’t have fifty to a few hundred dollars to lay down for yearly dues at an organization such as the International Association of Business Communicators, you can start by investigating free networking opportunities, such as the Michigan Professional Communicators.

After the meeting, Mr. Crumm extended the invitation to join him and his wife Amy for lunch. Excited by the prospect of not just being able to ask these impressive people more questions about publishing, copyediting, and professional writing, but of getting to have more informal personal conversation with them as friends, I joined the Crumms and a few others in the DIA Café.

Between the three-hour meeting and the one-hour lunch, I felt I got more tips and made more connections to help me on my way to preparing for my eventual writing, editing, or academic career than I did by quick introductions and handing out résumés at three job fairs I attended my last semester. Not only were all the people I met at the MPC meeting veteran communicators with a lot of good advice for a newcomer, they were all very supportive and welcoming—especially Mr. Crumm, whom I’ve since shared frequent e-mails with regarding my Friendship & Faith story, and about professional communication in general.

I hope to see all the people I met there, as well as more new people, at the next meeting. If after reading this, you think you’d be interested in attending an upcoming meeting, let me know—I want to get the word out about the group and the organizations and initiatives it represents, to help connect more communicators with people who can help them learn how to market and share their talents.

“Culture and art have always been inextricably linked with religion. They have flourished through its rich influence. When human hearts are cultivated and ennobled by religion, a brilliant flowering of culture and art ensues.”
(Daisaku Ikeda, "The New Human Revolution,"
Living Buddhism magazine, June 2016, page 54)

The Michigan Professional Communicators meeting is part of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and is held once every two months.

Illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; marker, colored pencil, watercolor, metallic gel pen, flower petal

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