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To Co-Op or NOT to Co-Op: A really big question.

Casabard.eschercuff Dear Harriete,

I've been invited to become a part of an artist co-op and before I jump on the bandwagon I need to educate myself. 

Casabard.mixedmetalboatThe group is small right now ~ 5 artists.  For some reason, the city is requiring that a metal sculptor be a part of this group.  I do not know who this person will be but the space has room to grow, so I'm sure the group will grow from the original 5 artists.

Casabard.mothernecklace We will be able to use the space for creating as well as selling.  Our time is our own, so if we are not there we just use an "out to lunch" sign, and we are not obligated to watch for other artists.

Casabard.poppy The location is owned by the city.  We would pay rent to them.  And the city would be responsible for advertising/marketing.  The rent is not yet set, but they are saying it will range somewhere between $100 - $300 a month ~ quite a steal.

Casabard.sunflowercuff
Above images:  Diana Casabar
1. The Escher Cuff
2. The Mixed Metal Boat Necklace
3. The Mother Necklace
4. Poppy Brooch
5. The Sunflower Cuff

I have asked the following questions:
1.  What are the security arrangements?
2.  Will our equipment and products be insured or do we need to insure them?
3.  Can I use my torch and chemicals in the building?  Is the building fire coded for that?
4.  Is there electricity?
5.  Will I have running water?
6.  Will we be responsible for building out our space, or will the city do that?

Can you think of any other questions I need to ask them before I make up my mind to be a part of this group?

Diana Casabar

Diana,

This is definitely a question with potential consequences.  I will try to be brief.  The questions you have asked so far are a good beginning but, there are two overriding issues on my mind: 1) insurance and 2) getting everything in writing.

Everyone should have insurance to protect their work, tools and equipment regardless of whether the city has insurance to cover the building.

Get everything in writing. This includes arrangements with the city and with the other artists. Getting everything in writing may seem like a pain and take some time, but it will clarify the issues and avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication.  Believe me, this effort at the beginning will save time and friendships in the long run.

Write up a list of co-op guidelines for Studio Policy, Adding and Subtracting Members and Display Policy.  See some suggestions below.  See also my Critique Group Guidelines.  Download Critique Group Guidelines Final2011 which you can modify for your particular purposes.

The next part is very sensitive ….. in my experience, there is always a range of unequal effort and participation.  Frequently it seems that one person may work harder and longer then everyone else and that person may or may not be expecting others to work as hard…..which can cause problems.  At the other extreme, there is often a person who does not pull their weight.

A portion of the group may resent the super hard working person or the polar opposite person .... and that creates stress and tension.  And trust me, it happens even if they are your friends (currently).

ACTION PLAN:
Establish a
clear set of guidelines NOW while everyone is still friends. As I sit and write this post, more and more issues keep coming to mind....there is so much to consider.

Below are some suggestions to discuss and get in writing.

STUDIO POLICY for:

  • Sharing equipment
  • Shop hours
  • Shop safety
  • Lock up
  • Cleaning up after yourself and in common areas
  • Weekly/Monthly contributions to shop maintenance
  • Keeping track of the hours for shop maintenance
  • Policy for lost and broken equipment.
  • Creating a fund that everyone contributes to for future improvements.
  • Voting on future improvements.

 

ADDING AND SUBTRACTING CO-OP MEMBERS

  • Nomination and acceptance of new people
  • Set up a policy for how a person leaves.
  • What if they owe money? What if they do not pay up?

DISPLAY POLICY

  • Common aesthetic for display
  • Review of items on display
  • Establish retail (not wholesale) pricing
  • Commission for the co-op
  • Commission for the seller
  • Work hours contributed to gallery maintenance.
  • Hours for “sitting” at the space to keep GALLERY HOURS
  • Policy for Open Studios

PAPER WORK, TAXES AND ACCOUNTING

  • Who is responsible for accounting?
  • Who is responsible for paying rent, etc.
  • Who is the primary contact with the city?
  • Will each of you handle your own taxes?
  • Will you need a business license with the city?
  • How are you handling purchase? Checks, credit cards,Square

 Despite the expectations of the city for not keeping regular hours or no stated obligation to watch work for other artists, in reality, if you want people to visit your display space there needs to be regular hours that are posted…such as Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

Everyone needs to take a shift on a rotating basis for gallery hours and preventing theft.

Hope this helps. If readers of ASK Harriete have some other issues that they consider important in a co-op situation, please write them in the comments.

Harriete

 

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