Why Should You Start Your Own Art Group?
Fed up painting on your own? Need a little friendly inspiration? Then join an art group or local club. Sounds easy, I know but it can be a problem for a number of reasons. Maybe there isn't one in your area or it is not taking on new members; or maybe you just feel that they don't do what you want them to do. After all it is no good paying (and they will all want some sort of fee) for something that you don't want.
Why not start your own group?
It could be easier than you might think.
I had to face this issue in the early 90's and I have been helping to run an art group since then. I think I have learned a little bit about the job over the past twenty-odd years. This lens is a resume of how, what and why, if you feel that you would like to run your own art group. I shall be mainly concerned with the group as a not-for-profit venture, but if you are a practising artist there may well be something for you here.
The image here is a photo of a meeting of my local art group. In fact all the images unless stated are my own art-work or photography and copyright, please respect this. I will normally be happy to give permission for images to be used, but please ask first.
Deciding To Start Your Own Art Group
My Own Story
A few years ago, around 1991, I found myself in a situation like this. I had finished a third year of adult education classes and things were changing. The classes were up until then almost a social evening, but the government decided to introduce some formality into the classes and require, whisper it, end of term EXAMINATIONS!.
A number of the students, including myself were horrified. I have no problems with exams as such, after all I have two higher degrees,. However this was not something I was doing for more qualifications. It was a hobby, something to relax with and enjoy. Anyway, the crux of the matter was that many local classes were cut and some of us went off looking for clubs or groups to join
There were a few groups in the area, mostly during the day for retirees, and obviously not workable for those of us with jobs to go to. A few did meet in the evenings but ....
Sorry we're full, not taking new members
Only met infrequently or for demonstrations
Professional standard, required assessment of work
...... were just some of the issues we faced when we went looking. So what to do? The answer was obvious! We should start our own group. However none of us had ever been involved in this sort of venture, so we were a little sceptical of making a success of it and approached it very gingerly. Yet a number of us agreed to try it. We found a local hall to use and agreed on a meeting schedule and how to fund it. And went about finding new members.
Before long we became what is a now a successful small group, which allows us to paint regularly and hold occasional workshops and demonstrations and to support each other through those periods when we wonder if it is all worth it. We also hold regular exhibitions and even sell some of our work.
I believe that I have learned enough to pass on some tips to anyone who may feel a need to start their own group.
The image here is a pastel painting, "Spanish Sunset", by Artyfax
Have You Ever Thought About Starting Your Own Art Group? - Or Any Other Creative Support Group?
Just to understand where my readers are coming from lets take a quick poll. I believe groups or clubs are a great way for artists to get support in many areas of their art or craft.
The Aims Of Your Art Group
What Sort of Group Do You Envisage?
The first step is to find other people who may be able to help you, this could obviously be a great advantage. You may be able to share the work load and making any decisions. I was lucky really, in that there were a few of us wanting to start a group, so this step was unnecessary. This could be from your social circle or a local art class, you may need to spread the word using flyers or adverts..
Target your objectives
The next step is to decide what the aims and modus operandi of the group will be. Many art groups are run as classes but this is not the only way. Our aim was to provide a regular time and venue for painting, we simply wanted to place a little discipline into our busy personal lives so that we would be painting regularly. This was our main aim but others were developed as the group grew and prospered.
Some objectives/aims might be:
- A venue for painting as a group
- A venue for individual painting (subtle difference will become clear below)
- To develop the skills of the members
- To support / fund demonstrations / workshops from professional tutors
- To arrange self-supported workshops
- To fund group exhibitions (of art work)
- To arrange painting days as a group
- To arrange group trips to art galleries and exhibitions (art supplies)
- To arrange discounts for members at local or national suppliers of art materials
- A social group
- To have fun
- A self-help art group / exchange of skills
Of course, as stated above the group may want to list any combination of these in its aims. This is probably not an exhaustive list and other aims may depend on personal wants and preferences.
The founder members will probably need to discuss what aims should be included in a prospectus for the group, and what resources will be needed before opening the group to public membership. This will not be written in stone and may require to be addressed at regular intervals such as an annual general meeting (AGM) at which all members should be able to discuss the functioning of the group and vote on outcomes of the discussions. Being too rigid over the functioning of the group may lead to loss of members and therefore group income. Being flexible will also make for a much more loyal membership and a happier group environment.
A Venue For your New Art Group
How To Decide
You will need a prediction, or "guesstimate", of the maximum size of the group in the medium term, at least. This number should then be used to assess potential venues. Our first venue was in the local Women's Institute Hall, it was local (of course) and large enough for more than our initial estimates of the size of the group.
This may be too grand for your venue
Packington Hall, my own photo.
But after a while we found that the lighting was not really satisfactory; and the furniture, tables and chairs, were old and heavy to assemble prior to our meeting. As many of the group were female and getting on in years this became a real issue. In the end, the decision to move was taken out of our hands as the hall was to be demolished as part of a modernisation.
We now had a much better idea of what we needed. Numbers had grown (up to 40 members although not all attended every week), we were more aware of the need for good lighting and furniture that was easy to put out. We were lucky to have several alternatives available without having to pay very much increased rental. The experience we had gained with the first venue enabled us to select a new home for the group which we are still using some 20 years later.
Considerations for the venue would include:-
- The size of the venue
- Whether it is available at the time required
- For an art group lighting is important
- Furniture, sufficient and of the right type
- Storage space for the group
- Kitchen facilities
- Sufficient power sockets
You might find that church halls, community centres, village halls, school premises (evening) could all be appropriate venues.
Financing The Art Group
Sources Of Income
There are a number of ways of collecting income for the group.
- Membership fees
- Attendance fees
- Fees for those special occasions, demonstrations, trips, etc
- Hanging fees for exhibitions, etc
Financing the group
We felt that a complementary mix of income streams would be most appropriate. In our case we charge a basic annual membership fee and an attendance fee collected at the weekly meeting of the group. The size of these fees should be carefully considered, they will need to cover the basic expenses of the group but not be too high to put off potential members.
We had two large expenses, namely our annual exhibition and the rental for the hall. The annual membership rate was chosen to provide a sufficient fund, which would pay for this exhibition. The weekly attendance fee (we called it a subscription) was set to pay the rental assuming an average weekly attendance. In fact the weekly subscription generated enough income to pay for other activities - at the moment! Numbers do go up and down so we need to re-assess these fees at our AGM each year.
A bank account should be set up for the group as it is useful for several reasons. We set up an account requiring two different signatures for efficiency (either/or signature to be required, rather than both for managing the account). Our group now has an average of 22-24 members over the year and the bank account is useful to keep cash and clear records of transactions even though we may not make an average of more that two or three transactions per month. Two signatures make it easier to manage the account as members move away or leave the group. We learnt this when one of our treasurers passed away, if there is more than one signatory adding a replacement is much easier. As we tend to make only a very few transactions as a monthly average over the year, we found that accounting skills were not necessary but someone with numeracy skills should be selected to keep the accounts for regular inspection by the group.
In the first instance, a venue and cash to run the group is all that is needed but as the group develops and grows the administration will need to be formalised. There will be a number of roles to be filled.
It may be worth mentioning here that the group belongs to an organisation called the SAA (Society For All Artists) which offers insurance for club functions and third party insurance at public exhibitions. I have not researched whether there are similar organisations in other countries but it may be worth while checking this in your own locality. Otherwise you may need to check if any exhibition venue covers your own group when exhibiting, or of course take out your own policy.
Who Does What?
In order to share the work of running the group equitably and to make sure that jobs do get done on time, individual members will need to be given responsibilities even if several members are involved in doing the work..
Too many cooks .....
The actual make-up of the committee will depend on size the of the group and events that need to be arranged. However the roles most likely to be needed are as follows:-
- Chairperson, to manage the committee and run meetings (e.g. the AGM).Also to act as a focus for any external links.
- Secretary, unless the group is very large may be the same person as the chairperson, but will be responsible for administration.
- Treasurer, to manage group funds, collect fees and pay expenses. And to prepare a statement of cash flows at the AGM.
- Exhibition Secretary, responsible for all aspects of the exhibition.
- Membership secretary, to manage membership records and membership requests.
- Social Secretary, to manage any trips and possibly demonstrations, etc.
- Publicity secretary
- Programme secretary
- Depending on the size of the group, a small number of non-executive members may be required, helping out with specific tasks.
Although this seems very formal, it does mean that tasks are done on time and properly. Our own small group is managed by a committee of four. However our exhibitions are run by a small separate committee. This is more to do with the fact that it can be an involved task and is very time consuming for a short part of the year. Our current Exhibition Secretary has a lot of experience in that role, but due to personal issues at home does not want to be part of the group's main committee. We are very flexible within our formal structure, an approach that works very well.
Building The Membership
Who, How, Why?
One of the best ways of attracting new members is holding popular and successful exhibitions. (I will have more to say about this in a future lens.) Our exhibitions generate lots of interest from potential new members. The conversion rate from potential to actual member however depends very largely on what the individual person wants from a group and where and when the group meets..
Our art group needs you
A workshop on perspective in art
The group should decide on several issues regarding new members amongst which are:-
- Will all mediums be allowed?
- Will all competences be allowed?
- How much say will new members have in running the group (or maybe there is a trial period)?
Other ways of attracting new members will be:-
- Adverts in local free newspapers
- Paid adverts in local newspapers
- Adverts in other local publications
- Flyers posted in local libraries / art shops / community locations / etc
- Local council lists of community activities
- Newsletters / business cards
- Word of mouth (not to be dismissed lightly)
- and of course a web page, see our group web site Knowle Art Group
We are always pleased to see potential new members and invite them to attend two or three of our weekly meetings free of charge to see whether they think we can offer what they want. We think that most people will be looking for a group which defines success as:-
Having a friendly atmosphere
Is well organised
Holding a popular exhibition (at least annual)
Has a yearly program of demonstrations, criticism, workshops and days out.
The crunch with our group for many people is that we do not have a professional tutor, The freedom to do what we want is held dear by existing members but does put a number of potential members off. Despite this, the original members know what we they out of the group. It is not for everybody but does suit us. When members have been with us for a very short time thay are allowed a say in all decisions, so this could change but those who join usually agree with our objectives. So the intake is self-selecting and has kept the original aims of the group intact for over 20 years.
USE OF DIFFERENT MEDIA IN THE GROUP.
I recently had a question from a reader who wondered if a mixed media (oil and acrylic) group would work? Well there are two situations you might find yourself in. The first is if you are a teacher/tutor and are looking for students. This is not quiute the scenario I had in mind but of course it would depend entirely on how you wanted to run the class (I think this would be a better name than calling it a group). One media at a time might make it easier for the teacher/tutor, but it could be that alternative meeting could be alloted to different media. My only issue with this is that many beginners would be happier with learning one media at a time.
The second scenario is that which I descirbe above. A group of artists coming together for support (and to put on exhibitions and run demonstrations,etc) would be stronger in my opinion if multiple media were allowed to be used in the group. In my case, our group allows any media at all and on any one evening acrylics, water-colour, oil and pastels and other dry media are likely to be in evidence. It is surprising how much similarity there is in using media after making allowance for their physical differences. Painting is so much about composition and all that that entails that an artist can learn so much more from any other artist whatever the medium.
A Free E-Book
I have collated the contents of this web-page into an e-book which is available as a free download from Scribd.
If you feel for any reason that you cannot find a group that suits you, then the hardest part of starting your own group is to find a few people who feel the same way. Don't procrastinate, friends and friends of friends may be be a good starting point but why not try advertising locally. Use free magazines or newspapers or even shop windows in relevant (art shops) or even non-relevant stores. Anywhere that your call for interested people may be seen. You may be surprised to find that you get more positive replies than you expect. And some of them may even offer help to get things going.
I hope that this short article has helped you to decide whether to start your own group and also to help you to start such a group successfully. I would be grateful if you would leave your thoughts here (you do have to be a member of Squidoo, which is completely free and could earn you money if decide to add articles of your own) in.
If there are any questions, please leave them here or if you feel happier, ask me directly using the CONTACT button on my bio page. I will try to answer any questions as soon as possible with a useful answer.
Has This Article Helped You? - Do You Feel Able To Start Your Own Group?
Hilda BlakeRich on January 27, 2019:
Yes, your article has helped. I am ready to start my own group, in my own house., for safety. I ran a very successful Art and Craft Centre for 20 years, in a rented old barn, on a renewable lease from the co-op, but with 8 more years to run the co-op demolished the building, to give more parking space for their new Supermarket! The Centre was run as a charity, and all our profit was donated to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
So, I fear it is not safe to rent a venue again!
I am looking for tips on how to start again.
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on March 15, 2015:
Thanks Maria, I have been involved with running my current art group right from the start and have learnt a lot by making mistakes.
MariaMontgomery from Coastal Alabama, USA on March 06, 2015:
Hi, John. I enjoyed reading your article. I am not now in an art group, but was before we relocated. You presented and addressed the issues involved in such a group very well. Great piece of work!
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on March 01, 2014:
@mccabe-ruth: Well, first off it is indeed useful to have a bank account and in this day and age insurance is of course necessary. Please note, my experience is in the UK.
As for the former, when we opened a bank account for the group 25 years ago or thereabouts, it was in a category for charities and similar non-profit groups. I do not remember any difficulties at all. We have had no issues at all since then. However this category has now been incprporated into that for business accounts, to make things less complicated for the bank? We do not pay fees but receive no interest on our fairly small.balance. We have no problems using the account and have changed the signatories (we have two) a number of times. I can only suggest you talk to your own or a local bank to see what they can offer.
As far as insurance is concerned, we have a group membership with the SAA (Society for All Artists) which can be found on the web. They offer free insurance (with the membership) which covers the group at the meeting venue, and also third party insurance at events and exhibitions. We have not needed to make any claims on this insurance since we joined the SAA. This means I have no experience of their processes but I have no reason to think they will not be up to the highest standards of the insurance industry.
If you need any more specific advice, please contact me via my bio page.
mccabe-ruth on March 01, 2014:
I'm interested to know more about setting up a bank account for this size of local art group, and also, how you manage insurance costs for venues and events?
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on January 28, 2014:
@flycatcherrr: LOL, yes I think I know what you mean we have twenty odd members and 3 or 4 of us do most of the management. My own lot includes acting as treasurer, membership secretary, chairman - at times and generally making sure that other tasks get done.
flycatcherrr on January 27, 2014:
@John Dyhouse: Some call it 'discipline'; some call it 'support' of the group. :) Either way, you're right - my art has not quite atrophied but it's certainly slowed down in recent years. The trick is how to get involved with a group without, erm, getting 'delegated to'. ;)
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on January 25, 2014:
@flycatcherrr: I have to say that without the discipline of a regular group meeting my art would probably have atrophied long ago. The down side is that I get to do most of the work in running the club. However I do have a number of helpers in whom I can delegate. - Maybe I should include a mention to that end in the lens.
flycatcherrr on January 25, 2014:
This is extremely helpful, artyfax. I've belonged to several writers' groups over the years and generally found them a good source of both information and encouragement, but for some reason have always done my art in isolation and/or in contact with others online in a small way . Just now starting to feel the need for a group, mostly for the companionship and idea exchange but also in hope of being able to arrange group workshops. Either way, continuing education... Thank you!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 30, 2012:
You offer such amazing advice here for starting or running a support group for artist, hobby, skilled trades, or craft group activities. My sister is the one who does this style of activity but looking through your webpage it was almost as though I were visiting her workshop. Wonderful advice.
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on December 23, 2012:
@Mark Shearman: Squid bugs strike again! - LOL
Mark Shearman from Alicante Spain on December 23, 2012:
Very helpful thank you and also for your visits and the blessing. I'm thanking you her because for some reason It will not let me on your home page.
Stuwaha on October 28, 2012:
This was a really interesting and informative read :)
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on October 28, 2012:
@Michey LM: It is not rocket science but if you have to learn things as you go along it is discouraging, thanks for the comment
Michey LM on October 27, 2012:
you have a great amount of good info and tips. Thanks