[This post is part 1 of at least a 2 part series, on what it takes to build a healthy arts community in Macon. To begin, we'll clear up some misconceptions and give you more information about the operating of [&] Ampersand Arts, the [&] Guild, and the [&] Guild Hall.]
Follow the money.
In conversations we’ve had with members and visitors to the [&] Guild Hall, it has become clear that there are some misconceptions about where [&] came from and what we’re trying to do here. These are mostly harmless and often reasonable assumptions, but it does actually make a difference how and why our little artist community exists.
Some people believe that we are grant funded. Though we have applied for grants, we’ve never received one. We will continue to apply for grants, but the majority of grant applications we have submitted are actually for the benefit of artist members of the [&] Guild and not for the business.
Many people assume we are a non-profit organization. We’ve tried to make it clear to people that we are an LLC and a private, family-owned operation, but if you’ve not had the elevator speech, it’s a reasonable assumption. Ampersand Arts is not a 501. We have no board of directors. We recently joined Pulse, which allows us to offer tax deductible donations for our artist development programs, but most of our operation is a typical family-run business. We earn and spend like any other small business.
We recently heard that it is thought we are part of Macon Arts Alliance. Though we enjoy partnering on programs helping the arts community when we can, we are completely independent from any other arts organization.
The [&] business is two years older than the opening of the [&] Guild Hall. The guild and the hall are new projects and are divisions of [&] that exist as part of our focused effort to bring the artist community together. A year ago, we wanted an artist-run space that we could call home, for [&]. There wasn’t one in Macon, so we started one.
In the first two months of building out the hall, we emptied both our business account and personal account and maxed-out our credit cards. We ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to add a Mac to our computer lab and a digital piano to the main hall (both are used on a daily basis). We weren’t close to done, so we went to BB&T with empty pockets and explained our vision. They loaned us enough cash to finish building and furnishing the [&] Guild Hall, so we could open in June.
I mention the financial side of things only to make it clear that our mission is entirely our own. We have no conditions, no constraints, no edicts from funders. We are an artist-run space, answerable only to the 171 artist members of the [&] Guild. We are free to succeed or fail on our own merits.
This has all been done in an effort to support local art. [&] was founded on the idea of collaborating with local artists and contributing to a stronger art scene, and launching the [&] Guild was a logical next step in that process, in our minds.
If we had launched [&] as an affiliate to an existing organization or as a more traditional non-profit model, we would likely be drawing a salary. Instead, our family’s income is based on the profitability of sales and services. In 2016, we will have earned no salary in any month since opening. (In fact, our earnings from other [&] projects are all turned over to pay the expenses of the [&] Guild Hall.) It would be nice to see that change in 2017, but our dedication to this project is not based on any fantasy that we’d be making tons of money in the arts business in Macon.
In many ways, the [&] Guild Hall is our own art project. It’s an installation, of sorts… It’s an experiment we feel is worth the time and money to see through to whatever conclusion is reached. We’re entrepreneurs, and we are artists, and somewhere in the middle is [&].
As an essential part of our art installation, we spend hours, every week, sitting with artists and discussing their projects and frustrations and desires. We have six Docents, who focus their energy on promoting and supporting the [&] Guild members and the various events we host. We share in the revenue earned from sales and events, so if the artists don’t make money, we don’t make money. We try to connect with as many other people as we can, so we can pass along information and various opportunities to the artists.
We enjoy building partnerships with other arts organizations, government, community organizations and other local businesses because we feel it is good for the health of the local artists’ community. We listen and learn. We try to help other arts organizations succeed because it helps more artists succeed, which is ultimately our purpose and helps [&] succeed. A rising tide lifts all boats.
We also sometimes enjoy pissing people off, because standing your ground is also good for the health of the artists’ community. We don’t censor. We don’t ask permission. We’re not afraid.
Ultimately, it is up to the wider community whether this all is supported, tolerated, loved or despised. A $10 admission ticket, a $500 purchase of local art, a $12 member fee, a $3 cup of tea, a $30 workshop – all these things are what keep us going and able to have a space. When you follow the money, you’ll find that it’s not all that complicated - a bunch of artists spending their time and money to build a stronger art scene.
We’re feeling pretty good about our chances to succeed.
~ GK Balmes