You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Since losing our funding earlier this year, Art on the Street has financially survived by hiring out our equipment to other organisations. So at the end of yesterday’s event, our wonderful volunteers loaded 34 huge, heavy industrial grade gazebos and sheets of building site fencing onto a lorry for the next day’s hire.

And naturally, it will then return to us. So, without the benefit of our amazing volunteer crew, we find ourselves unloading the same equipment at 7pm on a Sunday night. 

As time goes on, operating a non-profit and volunteer led organisation becomes less rewarding and considerably more challenging. Expectations increase with every event, while support – financial and otherwise – decreases.

Every time we arrive in our High Street with our event, which has proven to substantially increase footfall to the town, we are expected to make cash for everyone – artists, retailers, the council through parking revenue. And if our many thousands of visitors choose to spend in one place and not another, we are somehow to blame.

We do our best. We spend every penny we have on promotion. We give up weeks of our time in organisation. While visitors, traders and participants look forward to a new week, we are carrying equipment twice our size and storing it away safely for next time. We do this for free. And we began doing it because we are proud of our town and community. And because we know the gifts of the people in it.

I have a full-time job and a family. As a person, I feel compelled to try and contribute something more to the world and really believe Art on the Street has been beautiful and positive for lots of people. However, (and I can’t speak for my colleagues) I feel exhausted by only hearing complaints: it’s too wet, it’s too hot, you’re too close to the doors, this is a health and safety risk, that’s too loud, but I want xyz, why can’t you give me xyz? Why is the parking not free? There are too many people, there aren’t enough people, I don’t want to be here – move me there. Why don’t you advertise in my local paper? Who will help me hang my paintings? And on and on and on.

I used to feel elated at the end of each event. Yesterday I felt angry. And tired. Then deflated. And sad. So, so sad because we began Art on the Street to bring some joy to the town and give support to our beloved artists. Yet somehow, seven years down the line, simple joy and heartfelt support suddenly isn’t enough. 

7 thoughts on “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

  1. Sorry to hear this. It is always hard. In life there are the doers and then there are the “sit back and expect other people to do iters”. I can tell which one you are smile emoticon

  2. Sorry you feel this way. Your efforts were deeply appreciated and valued. The main issue some of us artists had was that the panels were set too close to the stores and therefore created complaints (the way the 3 shop and optician guys went about it was a disgrace though) from shops. This then involved in our gazebos being pushed back giving the stall owners facing McDonald’s more than twice shelter whilst we ended up with hardly enough to cover our heads. The rain was relentless and a number of us had rain pouring onto our paintings, materials and we had no way to keep dry. This would have been slightly better if we had an equal share of the gazebo. Some of us have had damages arising from this event and it takes us alot of preparation – financially as well as effort to attend. I understand tge panels were set up by volunteers but surely as AOTS has been done for several years, they should have instructions on where to install the panels and gazebo e.g distance from shops etc. It is unfair to make us sound like we are moaning and ungrateful when we stood there like drowned rats with our hard work which cost us money and time to lovingly create being rained down! The people on the other side were enjoying sitting inside their gazebo and attracted more people as they had space to browse in a dry area while people weren’t stopping by us as they were getting wet. That is the real reason some of us were unhappy. All of us worked hard to set up our stalls, didn’t complain when our gazebos were pushed back and sympathised when Step James had to deal with shopowners. We were very much a “doer” thank you. We expected weather to turn nasty but we assumed perhaps wrongly that we would have a roof or gazebo over our heads. We also worked bloody hard late into the night and woke up early in the morning to set up and get our space ready. I didn’t make any sales but got a few paintings ruined. I didn’t expect to sell lots anyway but thought it would be a great opportunity to get feedback and meet other artist so that wasn’t the issue for me. However I thought I would have had the basics of what was promised in the booking form. Please look at some of the complaints as constructive criticism and hopefully carry on. We can take things too personally when we are passionate about something.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, length of the event life makes no difference to logistics of setting up the event. We plan each street layout six months in advance and still can’t account for all the variables. Bins move locations, benches get installed, new shops open, new managers of shops take over, new signs get put up. Even the simplest thing can throw the layout by metres and cause trouble.

      In your case, a new bin was installed and the shop had a new manager, who wasn’t as accommodating as his incredibly supportive predecessor. The retailers are aware that we’re coming and get plenty of notice, so it’s hardly a surprise. You’d be amazed how inconvenient they find an upturn in footfall to the town.

      Sadly, when trying to make this particular space work for everyone (health and safety, shop managers and all the artists in the zone), it caused a problem. It’s not something we’ve ever encountered before and believe me, we’ve learnt from it.

      I’m so sorry your paintings were damaged. And I’m truly sorry our event became a poor investment for you. I’m sorry we couldn’t give you the coverage you required. We did our best. We don’t make any money out of Art on the Street whatsoever – it is, after all, only £30 to take part. That is a fraction of what we need to break even, so you can imagine how hard we work to make up the deficit. In this case, physically lugging around all our incredibly heavy equipment for two solid days and other times in between so the rental can pay for what pitch fees don’t cover. It’s not poor financial planning – we, as a social enterprise, simply believe artists should have opportunities without financially crippling themselves. If we’re not achieving this aim with our current event, then we no longer have a purpose. And that’s the saddest thing of all.

  3. I can totally sympathise. I was part of a small team that organised quite a significant annual arts event too. While I don’t have any sprogs I do have a job that requires a good deal of travelling and all the mental energy I’m able to muster.

    Like AotS the positions on the organisation team are totally voluntary. The work is very time consuming and the sense of responsibility to make the event a success for the hundreds of exhibitors was overwhelming. But that was all OK. What made it not OK was the constant moaning about things beyond our control, about things that were done a particular way because we’d tried every alternative and none of them worked. All the same complaints you had. It was never good enough.

    So this year I just walked. No carefully crafted, pithily written blog. No letter of resignation. Nothing. Just a barely audible “Bollocks to the lot of you” muttered under my breath as I turned away and left them to get in with it.

    One of my colleagues on the team asked if it was possible to get compensation for all the time spent which was impacting on commissions and income. The answer was “Oh no, we don’t do that”.

    So it dawned on me that if the effort expended wasn’t valued by the people it was spent on then I’d be stupid to put any value on it too. So I jacked it in. Just like that.

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