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starting a co-op studio (long):

updated tue 23 dec 03


Pat Colyar on mon 22 dec 03

Here's a repeat of my post from January 1999 on this topic:

> Oh, Lordy, where do I start...
> Having been a member of one pottery
> co-op for the past ten years and
> member of various co-ops and collectives during the
> 70's and 80's, I
> feel qualified to offer guidance on this. I've been
> mulling over how to
> respond to Standing Bear's similar request recently
> about forming a
> co-op.
> In 25 words or less, my strongest
> suggestion would be for the founding
> group to get your collective goals and expectations
> clear. Spend as much
> time as necessary to clarify what it is you all
> want, what you agree on,
> and get it down on paper.
> Suggestion # 2: Make rules when
> everyone's getting along well to deal
> with situations that will arise when things go bad.
> It's awful trying to
> decide on the correct process when people are at
> each others' throats.
> Suggestion #3: What always, and I
> mean always happens, is that you
> have a core group of people, usually the Founders,
> who do more work,
> show up for more meetings, take more responsibility
> for seeing that
> things get done, than more peripheral people. These
> folks can easily
> turn into monsters or martyrs or both. See that
> these people get respect
> for their effort, that they don't get trashed as
> power-hungry by the
> people who are to lazy to volunteer for things, and
> that there is a
> clear access route to power for newcomers who want
> to take on more
> responsibility. I suggest automatic rotation of
> responsibilties, so
> everyone gets a chance to see what it feels like
> being the one in
> charge. Create a safe atmosphere for people to
> disagree.
> I could go on and on, but I'm having
> flashbacks to memorable meetings
> I've survived! Been there, done that, keep getting
> suckered into doing
> it again..
> Good luck! Pat Colyar in Gold Bar,
> Washington
and a more specific reply a yaer or so later:

>> I DO heartily recommend having a lot in writing,
>> and some sort of
>> contract that everyone signs, to show that they
>> agree with stated goals,
>> basic rules, etc. As an ex-teacher
>> you are probably fairly comfortable
>> with written
>> guidelines and communication; but maybe leave some
>> slack for those who
>> aren't. It's not too much to ask to get folks to
>> actually read and sign
>> a basic agreement. The time put in up front
>> discussing what values and
>> goals people have in common is worth its weight in
>> gold.
>> I can't emphasize enough the need to be
>> realistic and honest about
>> power in the group. Trying to pretend that newcomers
>> will immediately
>> have the same influence as your core group is silly.
>> If there is a
>> commitment to sharing power, and integrating
>> newcomers into the group,
>> then they can gradually take on more responsibilty
>> and become true
>> equals. Rotate responsibilities (chairing mtgs,
>> taking notes, organizing
>> cleanups), so that the same people aren't the bad
>> guys all the time.
>> From years of sad experience, I can't
>> overemphasize making rules when
>> times are good and everyone is getting along, as to
>> what will be done
>> when things go bad. Nothing more awful than
>> squabbling about what
>> procedure to use to deal with something, when folks
>> are pissed. Paul has
>> probably told you the 3 things people argue about as
>> studio-mates:
>> money, noise or music, and I forget the third.
>> Cleanup?
>> How will you deal with it if:
>> Someone doesn't pay their bill? Doesn't clean up
>> after themselves?
>> Breaks someone else's equipment? Abuses equipment?
>> Lets outsiders use
>> the studio? Takes on an apprentice, or a helper to
>> help them make lots
>> of stuff? Continually forgets to lock up?
>> Leaves without notice? Never takes on
>> responsibilities of keeping
>> the place running? Doesn't come to meetings?
>> Monopolizes meetings?
>> Turns out to be a total asshole after assuring you
>> all that they "have
>> lots of experience working in groups?"
>> Which brings me to: Trial memberships, trial
>> periods. At Seward we
>> have a three-month evaluation of new members, at
>> which time we can ask
>> them to leave, but have to tell them why. If there
>> isn't a periodic
>> evaluation of people, or of policies, then it has to
>> get REAL bad, has
>> to turn into a PROBLEM, before it gets dealt with.
>> I'm probably
>> preaching to the choir here, about evaluations.
>> Writing into the
>> initial agreement something about honesty in
>> communications can't hurt,
>> either: Criticizing someone to their face, not
>> creating "sides", that
>> sort of thing.
Good luck to all! Pat Colyar, in windy Gold Bar, WA