Starting an Art Guild or Co-op
Many people are interested in starting a guild or art group, but don’t know where to start. Groups provide a good setting to exchange information and to socialize. They can also accomplish things that individual artists can’t, such as sponsoring workshops, organizing group activites, or operating group facilities, studios, and galleries.
The purpose of this paper is to share the experiences of one group of artists in forming a guild.
The Orchard Valley Ceramic Arts Guild is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. (We chose the name “Orchard Valley” to invoke the heritage of California’s past, rather than referring to a particular geographic area.)
The group was started informally in mid-2000; we began signing up members in January, 2001. By mid-2003, we had 168 members, and lots of activities going on. We were fortunate to be in an area with a lot of active ceramic artists, so we were able to grow quickly, but we know of groups with as few as 9 members that are still able to accomplish a lot by working together. We hope that our experiences can help other artists get together!
First, you will need a core group. One person can be the catalyst, but it takes a lot of work to get something like this started – you’ll need a group of people who are excited about the idea, and willing to put in some work to make it happen. In our case, we eventually had a group of 7 people who met regularly to plan, and who each put in a little seed money ($30) to get things off the ground.
We started out by creating a mission statement, which is just a short statement of what the organization is all about. We wanted to create a supportive group, where members work together to help and encourage one another, so this is emphasized in our mission statement.
Under the umbrella of the mission statement, we then decided on the activities we wanted to offer, and we put a person in charge of planning each of these activities: newsletter, website, regular meetings, workshops, and sale. (We later added special events like group pit firings.) We wanted to have some activities in the works when we started recruiting members, so we could tell them what they would get in exchange for their membership dues!
You will need someone who is comfortable with budgeting and spreadsheets to act as treasurer. The treasurer, working with other members of your core team, will develop your first budget, This means figuring out what your activities will cost, estimating how many members you can recruit, and setting your dues to cover your expenses (with a little left over for future projects).
We identified local places where we could reach other potters: schools, clay suppliers, etc, in preparation for our public “launch.” One of our initial team members was responsibility for recruiting, and she put together a nice brochure for us to distribute. It also helped to do a lot of personal networking! We kicked off our recruiting drive with a party that we organized, and we invited every potter we could find. At the party, we ?talked up? the guild and tried to convey our excitement? we actually signed up about a dozen new members that night, and another couple of dozen in the first few months. We now have a meeting every other month. Meetings always have refreshments, usually a guest speaker, but plenty of time to socialize and chat about clay stuff. Members often bring new work to show, or questions for other members.
By the way, the owner of our local clay store has become an enthusiastic supporter. He lets us use his shop for small workshops, post flyers there, and so on. If you have local art suppliers and shops, get them on your side as early as possible!
The rest of this page contains some lessons we’ve learned over the past couple of years.