Once upon a time I was one in a handful of local artists who jumped at an opportunity to develop a more authentic and upscale take on social paint nights.
The classes took place in a gallery setting instead of a bar. They included a lovely meal.
The artists supplied the talent, brushes, paint and canvas and the venue did the rest.
The pay was well above average.
How it worked:
We artists would submit an original painting concept. Some would also create copies with a twist, directed by the owner to find inspiration from a popular online collection.
The gallery owner would choose favourets and book those paintings for weekly events. This essentially created a survival-of-the- talented-ist.
The gallery had quite the following early on. If by popular demand one of your paintings was chosen by a group, then you got a shift. Facebook reactions determined the rest of the booking schedule. Needless to say, the potential for competition between artists was fed early. Even more, it drove me to explore and push my talents. Some weeks I’d have three classes. One month I wasn’t booked at all.
Most of us submitted 3 or 4 new paintings seasonally and everyone seemed to get classes. I had been rearranging my work schedule to fit in classes as they came up.
I admired the process from a buisness perspective.
Survival of the Talented-ist:
It was going well until one artist amoung us got greedy.
They vigorously began developing painting after painting in an effort to take over classes completely.
There wasn’t really a need to saturate and confuse patrons with too many paint options though. Classes were being booked up in advance and people already loved our stuff.
This feverish attempt at a takeover was accompanied by more overzealous behavior. This included a pattern of staying hours after their own classes to study all of our paintings hanging in the studio.
When I would come in to teach a class, I would let the owner vent and then offer advice about this odd and uncomfortable behavior. Apparently guests didn’t love the artist’s personality. Even so, there was hesitation to let this artist go because their paintings brought in bookings.
After carefully studying our paintings, that artist began developing more intricate versions of ours.
Ironically, turning into a copyright police officer; pointing out elements of our paintings that looked similar to others online. These accusations led to one of the most beloved and talented artists being let go.
Not-So-Nice in the Sandbox:
We all knew that it was disrespectful to blatantly and purposefully one-up another artist on your team. Teamwork and respect had gotten us this far.
Classes were advertised at 2 hours. Any experienced class leader could tell that those new paintings were too complex to teach new learners in 2 hours. I wondered what the rushed results would look like with this blatant bending of the rule.
I advised the owner to start advertising these classes as ‘advanced’ and to indicate a longer class time to avoid upsetting guests.
Indeed, those classes went overtime by an average of 2 hours.
This misleading bid at capturing shifts didn’t carry repercussions from the buisness owner at first. Profits drove her in a misguided direction, until negative customer feedback won out.
After some time, that artist was asked to move on, but not before unsettling cracks started to form in our team.
I wondered how far the poison had reached.
It was certainly difficult for me to walk away from a profitable gig, but the environment had become more and more uncomfortable.
When the owner took over as lead teacher, we all recieved a deduction in classes.
I suspect it made the most sense at the time, having been shaken by the experience of dealing with drama and being manipulated.
Again, those with the most talent and likeability recieved shifts, just less.
Soon, one after another we sadly left something we had helped to build.
Back to Basics:
Shorty afterwards, I was offered a position at Paint Night. It offered much less pay for teaching much larger groups.
I decided, instead, to return to representing myself and booking my own classes in older venues, cafes, and little beatnik spots. I also retuned to leading workshops for not for profits and charities on my own time.
My heart was in providing healing through art and authentic artistic engagement.