Thursday, March 17, 2022

How Art Societies can use Zoom

Is your art society running its AGM on Zoom. If not why not?

Does your Art Society deliver any online demonstrations / webinars / critiques online?

One of the aspects of art societies which has always struck me as being rather unsatisfactory is the way that those societies which cover large land areas (i.e. NOT the local painting group) have had a habit in the past of holding their Annual General Meetings at a date, time and place which suits those running the society - but is often not one which suits most of its members - particularly those who have to travel long distances to attend.

I remember well attending AGMs at 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, when I'd driven halfway across the country to attend - and had to drive back and go to work the next day! I was not impressed with the amount of thought and consideration given to the membership at large.

As a result, an AGM can often generate the following results

  • poor attendance (as a percentage of its total membership)
  • an unexciting agenda i.e. no thinking or discussion about what the society should be doing / how it might change / what it could do in the future
  • elects the same people again to do the same jobs.

Should we be surprised? 

Probably not. It's exactly the same way as many companies and organisations have conducted their AGMs for decades - if not centuries!

However one of the benefits of the pandemic is that it's provided a new way of doing things.

I looked online - and found a number of examples of art societies who moved online for regular meetings and/or their AGM. Mostly these were societies who had taken to using Zoom for other aspects of their continuing activities during the pandemic eg talks to members and/or critiques.

The ZOOM AGM held by the
Frimley and Camberley Society of Arts

February 2022
Once again Coronavirus, this time in the form of the new Omicron variant, meant that the AGM has had to be held via Zoom. There were relatively few members able to attend in this way but members will receive this in their Newsletter via email.

A decade or more ago, the issue would be about whether you could use email for routine communication with members. 

Now email is routine and the next challenge is getting members to sign up to Zoom!

How Zoom can move organisational change up a gear.

The advantages of thinking about using Zoom as one option for AGMs is that use of Zoom can:

  • promote increased interactive involvement and attendance by a wider membership - when travel is an issue. That means more people have scope to be engaged with and contribute to the ongoing wellbeing and development of the art society
  • eliminate boring and longwinded speeches
  • make organisers think more about agendas and who will speak 
  • develop time management skills amongst organisers and those attending - given the 'free option' comes with limits on who can attend and how long meetings can be (i.e. for 3 to 100 participants, Zoom meetings are limited to 40 minutes)
  • make art societies think about the paid option - thus allowing them to have meetings of unlimited length for a variety of purposes all year round. The cost of a paid licence at Basic level (£119.90 per year in the UK) can be cheaper than the hire of a hall for an AGM!
  • reduce greatly the travel expenses paid to core members who must be at the meeting - and who get their travel expenses paid.
Of course, Zoom won't suit everybody - especially those who refuse to engage with technology. If 'core participants' feel excluded because of the use of Zoom it might serve to remind them what it feels like for all those who live e.g. a long way from London (or where ever the annual exhibition/event is being held which the AGM has been tacked onto)

However for anybody with a smartphone it's perfectly possible to participate using Zoom - you don't actually need a computer!

The other major benefit of Zoom is that for the paid version events can be recorded and stored online and then accessed via a link by anybody unable to access and participate at the exact time and date. Not something you can do with a live event unless you video it yourselves.

Art Society activities on Zoom

I took a quick look round to see what I could find by way of art society activities on Zoom

Local Art Societies

Check out Newsletter 389 of the Berkhamsted Art Society which highlights:

  • Zoom Coffee Mornings - described as 'very popular' and a place where people can converse about art, tips and techniques, art appreciation and consider their themed "homework"
  • Zoom Life Drawing Sessions - based on organising a proper life model to work from
  • Zoom Demos - using remote tutors to provide demonstrations of how to tackle particular topics - in much the same way as regular talks. Except everybody has the benefit of exactly the same view
As it was our first online demo, we were pleased to find that our view of the artist and his work was better than often achieved in the Civic Centre!
  • Critique Evenings - which can work in the same way as normal such sessions - but just online.
What I found interesting is that looking forward there was a good amount of Zoom sessions for different activities in their forward planner. 

To me this indicates that a lot of people valued the way they could 
  • continue to be part of a community of like-minded individuals
  • participate from home - and reduce travel time/costs and feel safe
  • continue to learn about an important interest and activity
Other Art Societies organising activities via Zoom. For example
What was disappointing was that I didn't find more art societies which had taken the initiative to explore a new way of engaging with their members.

[UPDATE] These are comments left on the Facebook post associated with this blog post.
Dorking Group of Artists - throughout the pandemic, Dorking Group of Artists supported and involved our 185 members with regular weekly topics/programmes via zoom, social media, and our website, and very quickly introduced practical demonstrations from a wide variety of artists as well as life drawing. We held our AGM online in 2021, and set up an online selling gallery for our members at the beginning of lockdown. For those members without the technology, we kept in touch with them by landline or mobile. For many of our members we were a lifeline, maintaining their interest in art, drawing and painting, helping them to keep occupied and diverted from the generalised Covid anxiety that everyone suffered from. During summer 2021 we resumed weekly plein air drawing and painting sessions in different parts of our local area. In October 2021 we at last met again at our usual weekly venue, although we still have Zoom demos and lectures.
The South African Society of Artists, of which I am a member, held our monthly meetings, demonstrations, and lectures on zoom throughout the lockdown period of the pandemic. It was a learning curve all round. We've recently resumed our normal in person monthly meetings

National Art Societies with an International membership

I've now attended three Annual General Meetings and Annual Conferences of the American Society of Botanical Artists
This is something many more national art societies with international memberships should be doing.
  • HOWEVER I would caution that delivery needs to be thought through carefully when delivering across an international dateline.
  • Speaking personally I would not seek to replicate face to face Conferences - but rather space sessions and events out over a longer period so that you don't challenge people too much with the timezone differences.

What happens when Art Societies don't Zoom?

What happens is an individual jumps in and fills the gap. 

Julia Trickey - a long established professional botanical artist and teacher has been organising talks about botanical art and associated subjects in 2021 and 2022 - here's her current offering for the remainder of 2022.

This is me - delivering my Webinar Talk in 2021 about How to be a "business savvy" botanical artist! I'll be back in November doing a Webinar about Pack, Ship and Go International!

Katherine Tyrrell (me) presenting
 "How to be a 'business savvy' botanical artist"
to an international audience of botanical artists
in June 2021 - via Zoom

Julia charges a very reasonable fee (with a discount for booking early) which effectively sets the baseline for competitors in this genre of art.

However it's a business model which can be repeated by others with a specialist interest and the potential to reach out to an international audience (i.e. don't bother if you don't already have an international following!)

A LOT of innovation in the last two years in relation to various art activities which have generated a lot of interest among artists - and followings - has been generated by INDIVIDUAL artists.

One has to ask what were many of the national / regional / local art societies doing when everybody else was getting on Zoom?

Maybe a good question for your next annual general meeting of your art society?

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