Oh, what the heck… (as I kick the hornets’ nest some more)

A few days ago, I posted a comment on a local art message board about the high cost of classes offered by “big name” teachers (or the venue(s) hosting them), and how it narrowed the opportunity for those less fortunate (or apt to spend their money that way) to learn new skills… that art is becoming more and more only accessible to the affluent.

It garnered several replies, mostly from those on the board who teach as well… and most of them replied along the lines of “yeah, but…” bolstered by “at-ta girl” posts when I was basically told where to go for whining about the escalating class costs coupled with less supplies provided by the instructors. The last one I read concurred with the organizers, stating that they would charge “as much as the market would bare” if they were put in the same position.

That what the market will bear crap is a group of buzz words that just makes me crazy… it’s the same catch phrase that makes the rental property company I rent from feel justified in charging me the kind of rent that has me bent forward with my pants down and grabbing my ankles. (There doesn’t seem to be any “rent control board” here in Irvine… but maybe I’ll go bitch to city hall… even IF it was rated as the #1 safest city in the U.S. in regard to violent crime… I knew I was paying through the nose for SOMEthing!)

Cost and profit have always been the issue of business. I remember when I was trying to peddle my craft wares (dried floral arrangements at the time… that was before the gift basket phase) and attempting to figure out how to make a few bucks off of my stuff after I’d factored in the cost of the materials, my operating costs and time. What a joke! Unless you get your stuff wholesale (which, when you are a small business, is quite difficult to set up without a decent amount of capital, because even the minimum order requirements are too big for your budget, and who the heck needs *that* much raffia?!), and count on paying yourself minimum wage or below, you’re not going to be making much of anything. Bottom line is, unless you discover some great way to outsource stuff overseas or to other “developing countries,” you’ll never make the money that you deserve (or think that you do)… and wasn’t the “making” part of the whole deal that you actually *liked*? BUT… are you doing what you love and answering to your own doggone self, or working for some other sap? Does it make you happy? Is what you are making *enough*? Well… that’s why I didn’t quit my day job.

What riles me is the huge discrepancy that folks whose names have clout (or venues who exploit them) feel that they can command versus other perfectly reputable and qualified folks who don’t have the push behind their name can’t even think of asking for.

Case in point (though perhaps not a good one): when I attempted to teach some classes (mine were mostly polymer clay classes, pre- the art doll craze, teaching folks to sculpt heads or faces), I was told that in order to draw any potential participants, I would need to low-ball the cost of the classes (and I do mean low-ball… I think I charged something like $22 for a 5-6 hour class, ALL materials included, minus the tools, which I had to purchase many more multiples of than I’d *ever* need in order to accommodate use during class). I may not be a good example, because I haven’t a proven track record for neither skill NOR teaching ability, but I know other folks who were (and still are) in similar situations, who do have both of those requisites but still need to low-ball their class fees in order to drum up attendance and/or interest.

Kelly (the board moderator) brought up an interesting point about pre-payment of class fees. How most stores don’t ask for prepayment, and when folks crap out, you’re standing there in a classroom filled with empty seats and all kinds of materials that you prepared for nothing (not to mention the time it took to get to the venue). I’ve been there and done that, too, both teaching classes *and* doing other work.

When I was doing massage work, some places had policies in place that would require a credit card to hold an appointment, while others did not. If a person was a no-show I would get paid zip, and because the customer didn’t call to cancel, the spot that could have been perhaps filled by another client was left empty. It was the nature of the business, and you knew that going in (and if you didn’t, like me, you sure learnt fast). I worked at a spa/club whose members received a certain number of treatments per month as part of their membership. I was already getting paid a pretty crappy flat rate for working on members anyway, but to add insult to injury, they were the worst offenders when it came to crapping out on their appointments… and I’d get nothing for that hour that I should have gotten something more than nothing. (They were the worse tippers, too… one used to give me one or two dollars… and even a toothbrush once–she was a dental hygenist. Massage was exhausting, physical work, even if it was perhaps rewarding in more intangible ways.) Complaining to the management about the policy didn’t make a difference, which explains why I returned to work full time in the legal support field. I needed a dependable and consistent source of income. This also explains why art is still a hobby and not my livelihood.

Kelly K. has taken MANY years to build up a following, and her fees are soooo extremely reasonable for all that she teaches and provides during her classes. Kelly is just an all-around cool lady. 🙂 (We need to figure out how to clone Kelly. And… Kelly needs a book deal… going once? …going twice?)

Judy Claxton is another teacher who *has* a published book, yet was charging really reasonable fees for her classes, and *man* those classes were awesome! Judy taught me most of the fundamental stamping skills that I now have. Kelly has taught me most of the fundamental book making and mixed media skills that I now have.

Quality is not always synonymous with “name” (though that may not be the case when we’re talking product versus teaching ability–I *still* think Duracell is better than Ray-o-vac). Although I’ve taken classes from a good number of “famous” teachers, most of whom were arguably worth the coin, I have been disappointed by some, for various and sundry reasons. Did I tell them directly? No, but did I tell the person running the venue, who was mostly clued-in anyway, because I’m not a persnickety git who throws a fly in my soup just ‘cuz I want to complain, and the “issue” had not gone unnoticed by them or the other participants? Yup. If the person teaching is around for long enough (say they’re around for a weekend), performance almost invariably improves steadily as the weekend wanes. Feedback *is* important, both the good and bad sort. Otherwise how else would you know how well (or lousy) you are doing… and to take a happy pill if you need to?!

On the other hand, I’ve taken some absolutely FABulous classes from folks with “big names” who were so worth the time and money spent. Knowledgeable… professional… well-prepared… “on” and ready to roll.

On the subject of opportunity… some folks simply have horse shoes stuck in places most of us don’t now or ever hope to have in the future. Call it the luck of the draw… being in the right place at the right time… knowing the right people. Some other folks have worked really, really hard to finally see their efforts bear fruit. Often, though, it comes down to it being a popularity contest and some good ol’ brown-nosing.

What turned me off of the “art scene” in college was the inherent snobbery that was ingrained into the very texture of its workings. It’s like punk rock going upper class, if you will. I find that the craft scene is approaching that similar state of snobbery. “Who” are you? Folks who are exceptionally talented artists and teachers can’t get larger venues to take them on as teachers because they don’t have an established name. You have to know-someone-who-knows-someone-who… well, you get the picture. Not that that is my personal experience, because I’ve only dipped my toe into the teaching pond before thinking that it just wasn’t my thing, for reasons previously mentioned, but it’s what I’ve heard from others trying to break into a market that from my perspective seems rife with nepotism and clique-ishness (is that even a word?).

Another thing that I’ve noticed is how the publishing folks just have the best of both worlds. They’ve got swag up the wazoo from the manufacturers and retailers, and get schmoozed by the wannabe artists whose work they showcase. I’m sure the down side is that it’s not a very well-paid field, but get up high enough on the totem pole and even that doesn’t suck so much. How do I know this? Because though my husband isn’t in any way related to the art or craft industry, he *is* in publishing, and has been for going on three decades, at various ends of the totem pole (and now somewhere in the middle… which also explains why I can’t quit my day job). The industry might be different, but the swag and the brown-nosing is the same everywhere. Man do they drop you like a hot potato, though, once you’re not in the industry anymore. If you think you’re “all that” it sure is a rude awakening when they don’t give you time of day after you leave (just ask my husband, after he left a position as Editor-in-Chief at a magazine for an in-house photog job). Any guess why he’s back in the publishing industry? Nothing quite like it to stroke the ego. 😉

Back to art… Quite honestly, I don’t play with art materials so that I can make purdy things for others to fawn over (although the unadulterated adulation certainly does wonders for my ego)… I make them because it helps me cope with my daily stress and other baggage, and I would most likely be partaking of some other potentially more damaging addiction if it wasn’t for the art obsession. That and chocolate. Vive le chocolat!

For every ONE of me, I am sure there are two or more customers who are more than happy and willing to drop their pants and bend over. In fact, I’ve done it on several occasions myself… it’s after a few times of that that you might decide that maybe forking the dough out in that direction might not be worth it. It’s called being an informed consumer, and hopefully there are others who will eventually reach that conclusion as well. Some folks are really good at self-promotion. Sometimes the hype is just that… hype. Sometimes moxy just ain’t ‘mensch.’

Okay… So the point of this whole ramble begins here. When I first got wind of what the price of admission to the True Colors Exposed thingie was going to be, something that I would have loved to attend had it been just a tad more affordable… I did some number crunching. Just figuring for the classes during three-day event, assuming that there will be 15 participants per class, per venue day, per instructor (7 ), at an average of $214 cost per participant (factoring in early registration and late registration costs), and not factoring in incidental costs vs. revenue (I figure the booths will pay for themselves, if participants who haven’t signed up for the whole thing will shell out $15 per booth to do the make-n-takes), I came up with $67,410 gross revenue for the three days. Now I don’t know what kind of resources they need to round up in order to make this thing happen (i.e., rent more space, hire some temporary help to man booths, city permits for booths, etc.), but say they had to shell out $6000 for travel and expense costs for the teachers, and another $9,450 for the participants for food, goodie bags and use of other supplies, with $125 set aside for the teachers per student ($39,375 ) that still nets $12,585 to the venue organizers, NOT counting product and kit sales. My calculations are all hypothetical, but…

Yeah, and I know that organizing such a thing can be a major pain in the ass, but then it’s not like your putting on a plumber convention… it’s for an *art* event, which, all things considered, should be worth the time and energy expended for all the FUN even the organizer(s) will have. And of course the ensuing publicity and prestige doesn’t suck either.

I think that the carnival atmosphere might be appreciated by some, but I felt that I would rather pay $125 to take a class with my preferred instructor (though even that is still on the steep side for me, but after all, I *would* be paying for the “renown” factor), peruse the sights a bit before or after the class and then be on my way. That would have been how I would have preferred to spend my time and money, anyway.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the real estate bubble to burst here in So. Cal… I may be waiting a looong time.

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2 thoughts on “Oh, what the heck… (as I kick the hornets’ nest some more)

  1. Holly

    Hi and thanks for writing this. I think you’ve made some excellent points and I agree with so much of it. I’ve taken classes with a few of the BIG names and it’s almost as if they felt they no longer had to “try” since they were now a Big name. Feedback is given, but it almost doesn’t seem to matter because the name helps warrant the draw. WRONG! Well, ultimately we have the choice on where our dollars go and those folks won’t get mine anymore. I appreciate your honesty – wish more could do it! Thanks and FYI, I linked you on my blog. Hang in there and happy day.

  2. scaredymama

    AMEN, sister! I’ve never even had the opportunity to take a class with some of my favorite BIG names, mainly because, for some reason, my area (southern OH) is very ART DEPRIVED…Some of my favorites have taught as close as Chicago, though. So not only can I NOT AFFORD the godawful class fees, but I certainly cannot afford the travel expense to access them. SIGH. I have found, however, that I have learned so much just from rubbing elbows with the great artists on my art journal yahoo groups…And I save my money for art supplies.

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