Welcome to Locals Only, a week-long series written by Des Moines locals for Des Moines locals. Every day this week, a Midwesterner will be contributing a piece to the site.
Today we have Lauren Day of FERN Styling on the blog and she's written an essay about the best things: community and creativity.
Lauren is an interior designer, photo set stylist, and writer in Des Moines, IA. She is the creative director and blogger behind FERN, an interior designer for Homepolish, and interiors scout and writer for Design*Sponge. All photography is courtesy of Austin Day.
I grew up in a small town in Southeastern Iowa. There were 9,000 people in my town when I was in high school. Apart from a few friend groups that enjoyed fine art or music, there didn't seem to be an environment for creative minded-people to develop and grow. Even back then, I knew I didn't fit. I planned to go to college in Iowa for in-state tuition and then leave for the West Coast as soon as I had an opportunity.
I attended college in Ames, then moved to Des Moines a few years after graduation. It wasn't the West Coast, but it felt like I'd taken a step towards the creative environment I was craving. I thought that if I grew my portfolio a bit and enjoyed Des Moines for what it is, it would make due until I could move on.
What I didn't know before I got here is that I didn't just need a creative environment, I needed a creative community.
My parents lived and met in Southern California, before moving here to Iowa to raise me and my sister. The several trips we took back out west to visit family made me feel like it was the place I needed to end up. In my early twenties, I'd go there as often as I could - attending creative conferences, touring unique towns, and soaking up inspiration on my own. After a few days, I'd start missing Des Moines, though.
The people I met in L.A. seemed to guard their creative expression with a competitive suspicion of others. With each visit I started to appreciate Des Moines and I began to see our city as it really is: a collaborative, innovative, and engaged city with room for everyone.
As an interiors scout for Design*Sponge, I talk to artists, designers, and makers all across the country. When I start to coordinate photo-shoots for their spaces, I'm shocked when many of them write back to say that they don't really know any photographers in their cities. So many of the people in my friend groups are photographers and those photographers are best friends with each other. Same with artists, same with graphic designers, and so on.
I understand the thought "I want to do something great, I should keep it to myself," but I do not agree with it. I've seen so many designers, photographers, and artists grow in their own work by investing in creative communities in this town. By being open to sharing experiences, tips, and understanding, Des Moines has set itself apart in the U.S. as an environment for creative collaboration, not creative competition. I won't be leaving Des Moines for anything if I can help it.
Below are a few of my favorite groups in town that help develop and foster that sense of community that I've grown to love and admire. Links are attached,
- Around the Table - Esther and Evan's vision behind these dinners are exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to community. I was honored to attend one this past summer and I was able to meet so many of the designers and artists that I'd only seen online.
- Des Moines Girl Gang - Any woman within any creative field can find a home in this virtual/in-person community. Its mission is to connect and empower female artisans in their work and to help them influence the world.
- Morning Shoots - If you want to use a camera, but don't really know how. Or if you're already a photographer and just want to hang out with others who love the same things as you, go on early morning photo shoots and learn from others. I met my husband by doing this :)
- Avenu - This business caters towards photographers, floral designers, event planners, graphic designers, bakers, and stylists involved with weddings and similar events. Brianna Greene (the founder) does a great job of bringing together like-minded people to meet and mingle. The pictures accompanying this essay are from one of Avenu's most recent events.
So what's the best way to become friends with other creatives in our city? It's simple, email them and schedule a coffee date. So many great connections have come from people reaching out to me or vice versa. Build relationships. It's how Des Moines keeps getting better and better,