The Problem with Assuming it’s a Fair Deal

One of the biggest lessons I failed to learn and needed to experience over and over and over again until it stuck was – sign a volunteer agreement or contract!

Don’t assume the other parties recognize your expectations and needs even if they are the most altruistic individual or company.

This is based on several experiences of volunteering or giving (time, talent, expertise…) freely and expecting to be paid, treated in a certain way or afforded a fair opportunity to recoup expenses associated with volunteering but not being given those as I had expected.

When entering with mutual respect into volunteering or donating experience where the goal is to help others achieve their goals, unfortunately, I have failed to protect myself several times and, as such, have perpetuated the myth of ‘starving artists’ who will work for exposure and be satisfied with scraps. For that, I apologize to my peers and those coming up in the field.

Now, I think I finally get it: because you are a giver on a project doesn’t mean your expectations shouldn’t be considered. When entering these types of opportunities for artists, we do so because we love art and need exposure to grow our business which in turn provides for ourselves and families.

These opportunities now become networking and volunteering comingled. They usually involve an expense for art supplies and a big chunk of time. This is an investment in a business.


Because of this, it is reasonable to forward your questions and concerns to these altruistic organizers.

If you do not set proper expectations or are not asked for information on an authentic level, you will not receive what you expect because your goals are very different from those you volunteer for. I can guarantee that they are not likely seeing your entire scenario of involvement through your eyes.

Assumptions of similar perspectives on both sides can lead to you not bringing your needs, wants, and views to the table.  In my case, I did not sign a contract or agreement several times over the past years for projects based on #goodfaith.

That being said, more than not, I was happy and my needs were met working with several organizations too.

But I can no longer ignore the hurts at the failures of others to consider my needs and expectations, though, despite if there happens to be fewer bad experiences than good ones overall.

One of these experiences left me feeling deceived after devoting a year to a cleverly disguised project portrayed as an opportunity for artists and culture but promoted only one person on the planning committees. Even the recognition of my and others’ volunteer work and expenses were not acknowledged at the events or in the marketing.

A third example left me feeling grossly underappreciated, overworked and neglected after devoting, for four months, approximately 15 to 20 weekly volunteer hours in admin, fundraising, volunteer coordination and social media management. I received little guidance or support. It was only after four months of this that the volunteer agreement conversation was brought forward, and all my work went down the drain.

Another experience left me feeling alienated after donating my expertise to creative wellness programming and grant writing. The exchange was supposed to be an honorarium if the grant was successful and an opportunity to be a casual paid art workshop facilitator. Too bad this was only a spoken agreement and not written down.

Of course, there is much more to each experience, and of course, I can not disclose precise details but, these are my stories to tell, my truths, my perspectives as a volunteer artist. They happened to me; I experienced them. But, trust me I have finally learned from them.

Now I will always ask for a volunteer agreement or contract upfront, even when working with those with who I’ve had great experiences previously. I have even gone so far as to write up my contract for them to sign which was great practice for all of us to understand what’s needed and expected.

From donating manual labour to a community event and being offered a vendor booth in exchange to donating a painting to a silent auction, in the future, I will ask for specifics about the opportunity on paper. Questions such as such:how many other vendors will be there competing for sales? and, What’s your plan for promoting my business?

Have you ever donated your time and expertise as an artist and were left feeling like your needs and expectations were not met? I want to hear from you!

Email me at artbyrhiannonbarry@gmail.com

#realartistsdontstarve

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