One day I woke up and realised I had wasted 200 hours of my life.
I’d spent two years trying to brighten up nearby high streets by getting local artists to redecorate the shutters of closed shops.
Total number of shutters decorated: 0.
I thought I’d lined everything up: the local council, the planning authorities, nearby schools, a bunch of excellent artists and arts groups. I made a little website, wrote a manifesto, and got some local press coverage (the photo above was in the local paper).
But I just could not get any shop owners to sign up. Even the one guy who said yes quickly disappeared off the face of the planet (that might be an exaggeration, but I hope not. Bastard.).
I figured that persistence was the answer.
I spent weekends and evenings on the project, took days off work, spent money tracking down landlords, changed the way I described the project to people over and over again, and so on – all to no avail.
But when I woke up that morning, it hit me: executing the project well wasn’t just difficult – it was impossible.
Persistence wouldn’t help. I just wasn’t set up right.
I couldn’t convince the shop owners to trust me, because I had no track record.
And I couldn’t persuade the shop owners to take a risk, because I worked in another part of town all the hours they were open, so I couldn’t sell them on it in person. I wasn’t able to build trust.
Without that trust, and without the time or the proximity to build it, extra hours and extra money weren’t going to add much.
So I changed it.
I threw the whole project out, and fixed the problems of time and trust.
I had got close to a lady who ran one of the kids’ art groups, and had an intro to a guy who ran a local charity. So I figured out a way to put those two together, and got the hell out of the way.
Instead of a street art project, I proposed an art exhibition: we would put the kids’ artwork from the summer term into an exhibition, and the exhibition would be in an empty shop unit that had been taken over by the charity.
Auriol from Kite Studios would teach the kids how to produce art, and Shaylesh from Healthy Planet would get the shop set up and look after the exhibition. Luckily enough, the council agreed to fund the project too.
And so, one day in June 2010, we got all the kids and their parents and teachers down to the shop unit, and opened up the exhibition for everyone to see. It was so great! The place looked amazing, the kids were so proud of themselves, and everyone had a blast.
So clearly, time and trust are important.
But doing something that you personally are well-placed to do is essential.
Without that, you’re in for an uphill struggle.
Arts group: Kite Studios
Charity: Healthy Planet
Photo credits: Justin Thomas and Brian Jersky (thanks guys)
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