Love (and Art) in the Time of Covid-19
Perfect post for this torrid time - by Luan Udell
There's no perfect way to get through 2020 and beyond. So just do what works for YOU!
I've never sought out positions on boards or steering committees, despite being involved with quite a few art organizations in my life.
I don't have a "head" for leadership. I hate bossing people around. I mean, I love having my own way, but when I think I know what's best for others, I fail miserably.
But over the years, I have volunteered for many these same orgs. Oh, I'll complain along with everyone else about rules and regulations, how things are done, etc. But then I realize that the best way to find out theWHY is to join that committee, and learn.
I love peeking behind the curtain to see what's going on!
It's tempered my entire approach about shows, galleries, art groups, organizations, etc. And it also gives me a new perspective about the people who complain, but never take the time to find out WHY.
My all-time favorite was sitting next to another fine craftsperson at a gathering during a major show, and listening to them complain non-stop about the committee I served on.
After addressing almost all of their complaints, with the stories behind the decisions, I said, "Hey, you should join us, maybe you have some great suggestions for us!" (I said this with a straight face, too.)
They said, "How much do they pay you to serve?"
I nearly died laughing.
Apparently, it had never occurred to them that committees in art organizations are rarely, if ever, compensated for the dozens, or even hundreds of hours they put in, as a volunteer.
This year, despite my misgivings, I did join as a member of a steering committee. I've been given a relatively-easy committee to head, one that I actually might be okay with.
It was eye-opening on so many levels.
First, I was truly impressed by the quality of work this group does to pull off some pretty major events here in Northern California. I couldn't believe all the details, permutations, roles these people played, how well they remembered every step of the process, and how quickly they reviewed and updated them.
Me? I forgot this article was due yesterday.
I couldn't help wondering what I brought to the table, if anything.
I soon found out. I had to take part in a phone tree to make sure artists had gotten the invitation to participate in our next event, an open studio tour mid-year, in 2021.
I hate making phone calls. I don't even call friends or family members. (I just found out this year this is a major sign that I am an introvert at heart, though I can fake extrovert for short periods.)
I didn't know what to expect, but I got the whole gamut of responses.
This year's event had been cancelled shortly before it took place, due to (duh) Covid-19. Every effort was made to offer refunds for those who opted out, and a lot of planning and work went into making it a virtual event. An entirely new website was created, the event was pushed back and combined with a similar event. I was asked to volunteer with that, and put in easily 50 hours of work.
I made zero sales. I did two more virtual events that same month, and they all tanked for me.
Many of the artists I called had had the same experience (without the volunteer time.) Some accepted the new normal going forward. Some weren't sure if they were willing to commit. And a few were quite angry over how this year's event (that was cancelled) was handled.
I get it. I really do. And yet...
I chose to look at the gifts instead of the loss.
Years ago, I did some major wholesale and retail high-end craft shows on the East Coast. I knew I had to put in a few years for each one before they would pay off.
But first came 9/11. Sales tanked for everyone. And every year after that, it seemed like a couple months before that show, we would invade some country in the Mid-East. I barely paid for my expenses. My last year, all three major wholesale shows tanked and I was in debt up to my eyeballs.
It was hard. But I learned so much.
I learned that there is no guaranteed success with any business venture we undertake. Even my writing, which used to bring in $300-$450/per article tanked. I now make about 10% of that, and most of those opportunities have disappeared anyway.
I learned it takes time to build an audience, even in "normal" times. My very first open studio in New Hampshire, with a prestigious art group, I had zero visitors. The second year I had one, a nice young man who was very stoned. We had a very nice chat. I hope he remembers that! The third year, my studio was packed every day, and I made about a third of my income from one event.
I learned that an event with a catalog costs a lot of money. In those days, before the internet became a key component of my marketing, I would place ads in magazines associated with those events. It cost a minimum of $350 for one quarter-page ad, in a magazine that had a shelf life on 1-4 weeks.
So when I learned that a catalog accompanied my participation in this event, for the same money, a 'magazine' with a shelf life of a YEAR, I considered it a bargain.
A great show/event catalog is worth its weight in gold.
I've also learned that when we pay our fees, that money is used almost instantly to pay for all the resources: Design work for website modifications and ads and the catalogs, salaries (salaries for non-profits are usually at below-market rates compared to commercial businesses), etc. When an event is cancelled, the org does not get that money back. Design costs alone for this year's catalog were almost $10,000, not including printing.
Our org has learned what works and what doesn't with this process. Everyone involved has worked really, really hard to not only keep the organization going (which supports so many different kinds of creative work), but to improve the experience for its artist members.
And here we are today, at Fine Art Views, which dedicated all its efforts towards assisting us with the "new normal" and focusing on social media marketing.
It can work. For one thing, I had an uptick in sales in August, a very nice uptick. I couldn't figure out where they came from, as none of them came through any of the online events. All of them came from my Etsy shop.
Finally, I realized they were from my audience in NH! I haven't been back in person to do the show. But since the entire show was virtual this year, I was at the same "level" as everyone else. I am so grateful to the League of NH Craftsmen!
In short (I know, it's too late to make this short!) things are different. "Sure things" aren't solid right now. Sales are off, it's hard to connect with people/customers in person, and we all hate the loss of paying customers, and hate not knowing how, or when this will all get better.
But in a way, my life as a creative has ALWAYS been all over the map.
I'm grateful these art orgs are trying to stay in place, so they can be a support and outlet for us. I'm in awe at the people who work so hard to keep us moving forward, from a non-profit's show committee, to the team at FASO.
I'm grateful I have an online shop, my own website, and system for marketing my art online.
I'm proud to be contributing to the safety of our country and part of a culture that values customer safety over profits.
I know if I can't sell my work, 10,000 years from now, archeologists will have a blast when they unearth my studio.
I feel lucky that I still have a studio to go to, especially during these dark cold winter months.
And I am grateful that I can still make my work, because it brings me joy when I finish my latest projects.
As I shared some of these insights I've had over the years, many people softened re: their anger, their fear, their uncertainty. (That, or I bored them to tears and they said they'd consider joining just to get me off the phone!)
What are YOUR tiny blessings you've found in the moment? What haveYOU learned in a lifetime of making your art? Doing shows? Sharing your art with the world?
What have YOU done to show your appreciation for what others have done for you, and for your passion for making art?
What are YOUR hopes and dreams for 2021?
Follow Luann on luannudell.wordpress.com.
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