How to Increase Participation at Your Community Art Event

By Denise Ivey Telep in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

The big day is here—you’ve planned your art event down to every detail, you’ve promoted it to the community, and now it’s simply up to the participants.

But how do you turn non-artists into expressive painters in just one day? Today I’ll cover some techniques that have worked for me, and can work for you as well.

Start with encouragement

Turning lurkers into painters requires a transfer of confidence. As your event begins you’ll always see a number of onlookers who stand back while their children step forward—it happens every time.

To break the ice, I like to set up a registration table where we (the event volunteers and coordinators) could talk about the event and transfer OUR confidence and enthusiasm to the more reserved bystanders.

“I’m not an artist…I can’t even draw stick people” is the most common thing you’ll hear when you ask them to join in. We always answer, “That’s great! There are no stick people on the canvas!” and then go on to tell them that even if they only paint one stroke they’ll get to sign their name at the end.

“You can do one stroke can’t you?”

What I found is that for the most part, they did much more than one stroke. And many “reluctant” painters turned into da Vinci wannabes.

Praise and teach. . . don’t critique

Everyone wants to feel important. And one of the best thing a community arts facilitator can do is enthusiastically praise the contributions of others.

When you’re asking yourself why in the world anyone would choose a reddish-gray color to paint water, don’t step in and take over, just think about how you can turn that moment into a painterly “teachable” moment.

For example, in some of my first community art events I was aggravated when I had an idea in mind and the general public was not compliant. They were there to have a good time; I was there to create a community masterpiece.

But when I stopped saying things like, “Wait, no, hang on, let me mix that,” and started saying “Wow! Cool. . . and you know what else will work there?” the magic really started happening.

Each new artist wants to walk away from this kind of event feeling good about something they learned or experienced. In many cases, when you show someone what color can do, or a particular technique with a brush, they are captivated. They step back and can’t believe that they painted a building, or a cloud, or created that composition or “felt” that exhilaration of stepping out of their comfort zone.

Remember your volunteers as well

This mindset of collaboration, teaching, and just “letting some things go” doesn’t come easy for the typical artist, so you’ll want to discuss it with your volunteers and art coaches beforehand.

In addition, your volunteers will want to feel the same sense of pride and accomplishment as your participants. Everyone who helps, from the person who unlocked the door to the ones who cleaned up the paper towels needs to be thanked and shown gratitude for their willingness to help others.

I have found that people want to help, and are willing to do so, but recognition for their effort is often in short supply. So at the end of the day make sure that everyone in your crew, everyone who donated, and everyone who promoted the event gets to paint and sign the piece too—because it would have never worked without them.


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