This post was written by Heather Hingston, a Compass Fellowship alumna, a Compass Mentor at American University, and Founder of the [blank] canvas.
When I was an eensy-weensy high school student, I organized benefit shows in church basements for a charity about which I was very passionate. It had numerous challenges: finding an adult to sign the church’s contract, scrounging up $350 (only $150 of which would be returned as it was a deposit), getting six bands who were civil and peaceful and shared our values without being too expensive, marketing, and finding someone—ANYONE—to run sound.
Nothing ever went the way it was supposed to, but it ended up working out alright in the end… except for that one time when a crotchety old man told the last act (our best performer that we were willing to spend the $100 for) to get up and leave “right NOW.” But that’s beside the point.
To be quite honest, starting the [blank] canvas was simply the manifestation of “that girl who keeps talking about that Africa concert” desperately wanting to provide a better avenue for people like her to make a change through something creative. Since its inception, it has been tweaked and altered due to the issues facing my friends as art students, crafters, activists, designers, musicians, and everyone else in between.
That’s why the [kickoff] was like déjà vu all over again.
The [kickoff] was the first event my organization, the [blank] canvas, ever initiated. For those of you who haven’t heard my spiel, the [blank] canvas aims to be a center for community and creativity with its socially conscious café, shared studio/work space, and a reasonably priced venue in my home state of Delaware. I tried to incorporate these three things into the event to allow everyone to see the three guiding forces behind this idea: food, art, and performance.
My team, Jaime and Terra, and I started by calling every fire hall, venue, convention center, and gathering place in New Castle County, Delaware. Unfortunately, I was benched when I interned in South Dakota on an Indian reservation. When I got back in June, we weren’t going to meet our original goal of having it in mid-June by any means, so we pushed it back to mid-August—August 19th to be exact. And thus, the frenzy began.
I cannot honestly tell you how many times we were rejected by local venues. Jaime would tell me her stories of cranky ladies on the phone who shot her down and hung up. Terra would find a relatively suitable venue, but it would have hidden costs and mandatory catering. When we finally looked into World Café Live at The Queen Theater, it seemed perfect. I emailed them, called them, nagged them as much as I could, and finally got a price for a public event: $6000.
Despite the sticker shock, we kept in touch with the people at The Queen, specifically a lovely woman named Julie who was very nice and seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing. When I informed her of our budget ($1500), she told me she could make it work and to come in and check out the room she had in mind. And when I tell you she made it work, she made it work. She picked out the Olympia Room, which was beyond perfection. A contract and a payment later, the [kickoff] was officially happening.
After we had the space officially booked, we went on a rampage via social media, word of mouth, everything. We were snatching up artists and musicians left and right. A few days before the event, we sat and took a look at our master list: four musicians/bands with 40-minute sets, and about 12 artists who would have tables to sell their work. Lookin’ good.
Until I realized that one of the modes we used to try to recruit people to sell their art, our simple Google form, didn’t notify us when it was filled out. The day before the [kickoff], there were five people that hadn’t heard back from us at all. On top of that, two artists backed out last minute. It was like high school all over again—scrambling to find great people that could do it last minute.
When August 19th finally came, it was simultaneously nerve-wracking and overwhelmingly exciting. It was a rainy day, so we worried that artists and bands wouldn’t be able to make it in time, or that people wouldn’t show up because of the gloom, but we were proved wrong. So very wrong.
Not only did everything go off without a hitch, but over 100 people attended, and we made over $600 in one night. Despite that success, the best part of that night—my “WOW moment,” if you will—was when a woman named Joan that I had corresponded with over email for weeks came to talk with me about the [blank] canvas’ progress. “When are you opening again? Late December?” She asked. I laughed, “No way! This is our first event; we just incorporated. We’re nowhere near opening.”
“Really? Because everyone’s talking about this.”
If the smiles, the laughter, the art, and the beauty of the whole evening wasn’t enough to validate all the work I have done (and continue to do) for the [blank] canvas, that small response was.
–Heather Hingston, Founder of the [blank] canvas and Compass Fellow at American University
To learn more about the [blank] canvas, visit our website at www.the-blank-canvas.org.