A Different Kind of Outreach

By Barbara Dunham, Pensacola Branch President Emerita

“May I put you on speakerphone?” asked my Pen Sister Beverly Elliott. “I am with the collage group, and they want to say hi.” Bev was calling from the regular meeting of the Pensacola Collage Group.

artist working on collage
Autry Dye works on a collage piece.

I had stepped down from my position as president of the Pensacola Branch in May 2021 to move to Wisconsin to be nearer family. Prior to my move, I had been trying to establish an outside mixed-media and collage group of like-minded artists. While living in Atlanta, I had been president of the Atlanta Collage Society. Since collage was my chosen medium and there was no such organization in the Pensacola area, I put the word out and began trying to put together a group.

COVID hit and delayed my plans, but in 2021, we finally had a place to meet and folks were starting to attend. While some of the participants were Pen Women, it was never my intent to use this group as a membership tool.

Then, since I was moving, I had to decide what to do about the group. I hated to let it languish, as the few who were involved were excited about being a part of this endeavor. Tapping Bev Elliott to help was a natural because she was our branch secretary, as well as an excellent collage and mixed-media artist.  Bev agreed to take over, and I left, hoping that the group would prosper under her leadership.

My prior organization, the Atlanta Collage Society, was a structured group with a Board of Officers, elections, dues, etc. So that was the framework I intended to use, one in which I was comfortable. But as Bev moved forward, she and others had a different idea about what kind of group they wanted.

two artists surrounded by collage materials
Nikki Strahota and Bev Elliott, Pensacola Collage Group members.

Ultimately, the Pensacola Collage Group was formed to be an informal entity, meeting once a month, with goals of interacting creatively and supporting each other, welcoming sister Pen Women as well as artists in general. Bev’s natural enthusiasm infected those involved and the group began to grow. Then she took another step forward, suggesting that they try a two-day format. It relieved the artists from carrying their materials back home and gave them two days in which to work. This arrangement has been a resounding success.

During the phone call, amid excited voices calling, “We miss you, Barbara!” Bev described the tremendous creative energy in the room, the synergy, and the enthusiastic and collaborative spirit of those in attendance. The group is still not large, but it’s mighty in expertise, camaraderie, and creativity.  Needless to say, I am thrilled to see it morph and prosper.

What happened next was unplanned and a natural part of the group’s evolution. One of the participants, Nikki Strahota, is our Pensacola treasurer. Pensacola Pen Women are always bragging about our branch’s attributes. We are very supportive of our arts and letters members, patrons, and guests. Because the non-Pen Women in the collage group grew curious, Nikki brought NLAPW applications, leading guests to begin attending our Zoom meetings.

When I heard this, I was doubly happy that it happened in such a seamless, natural way. Artists helping artists realize their full potential. I suppose the moral of this story is that whenever creative women gather, and some are Pen Women, the word spreads about the benefits of joining NLAPW.

All of our NLAPW branches confront the issue of how to add new members. I think this story illustrates that if you’re true to the tenets of NLAPW, support your members, and provide an environment for creative growth that invites outside artists to join in, growth can happen.

My gratitude goes to Beverly Elliott for the time and energy she infused into this group, and to Nikki Strahota for being a Pen Women cheerleader and proactive in a fertile environment.

And, no matter where I live, I will always be a Pensacola Branch member of NLAPW.