I don’t mean to show off, but I’ve met quite a few Americans, and I often ask them about the creative scene in the USA. More specifically I’m interested in whether it’s possible to elucidate any recurring themes or general characteristics in such a huge, diverse country. Most of them, bluntly but politely, say that no, no it’s not. What a ridiculous question. Get out my car. So to study American creativity is actually to study its individual outposts, and that’s where Wesley Verhoeve’s One Of Many project comes in.
Launched last summer, it’s a series of portraits of places, a monthly snapshot of creative scenes in 12 American cities and the practitioners that make them interesting. So far he’s profiled Portland, Nashville, Denver and Charleston, and spoken to designers, artists, chefs, writers, musicians and performers about what makes that place, in this moment, so special.
Wesley tells us that he was inspired by what he saw as two increasingly important trends; creatives moving out of “the big three cities” of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and creatives becoming increasingly independent.
“Anecdotally I was getting more and more signals that this might well be a very special moment for both of these movements, to the point where if we look back at right now in 20 years, it might be a bit of a tipping point,” he says. Of course, I can’t possibly know this in the present moment, but I had a gut feeling that I wanted to pursue by capturing this moment in real time.
“My goal is to speak to an audience that breaks down the middle between people currently pursuing the lifestyle and career of the creative independent, and the group of people that aspire to do so. The former group is mostly excited and inspired, but it can also be quite a lonely lifestyle. The aspiring bunch often seem to struggle with an internal monologue that tells them that they aren’t talented enough, or don’t know how to run their own business, etc.”
The title is meant as an inspiring call-to-arms, that independent creatives are actually part of a much bigger movement. Wesley then chose 12 cities where he knew there was an interesting scene – “Cities where the cost of living is more conducive to creative entrepreneurship for those without a trust fund or the extra time to work a few jobs on the side” – and tried to get a good spread across the USA. He then spent a week in each, immersing himself as much as possible in the local culture.
“I usually have an anchor person in each city that is quite connected in the local creative community, and they help me get the lay of the land and provide introductions for the first group I approach. Then the people I approach from that batch also tend to have additional recommendations. I also do general research and try to dig out people who have diverse activities and backgrounds. About two thirds of the people I cover are set up beforehand, and I try to leave time in my schedule for serendipity as well – I meet people at coffee shops, or by walking past their workshop on the way to another shoot, etc.”
The photography is gorgeous, the writing is engaged and nicely personal and the site is really well-designed to boot. In terms of what he’s learned about the American creative scene, Wesley says that he senses a shift away from New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles “as a place they must go to to make it in their field.”
“I look forward towards the end of the project to pull together a bunch of stories to illustrate this, and why I think this is actually really good for the country as a whole,” he adds.
“Ironically, and predictably, I’ve learned a lot about myself while covering so many other people. But perhaps more interestingly, I’ve learned that most people are incredibly kind and welcoming, and excited to share their passion and craft. I’m also learning a lot about diversity inside and outside of creative communities, and I hope to learn enough about that to be able to make that a separate story or perhaps an addendum to this project.”
Wesley insists he’s trying not to look too far ahead, with eight cities (including Detroit, Seattle and New Orleans) still to be published, although intriguingly he refers to “the current online format” in a way that immediately makes me consider the possibility of a book. Either way it’ll be great to watch this project evolve, and there’s plenty more cities – both in the USA and around the world – that could benefit from his attention.
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