I thought I could run a Nonprofit Art Center at 22 and did... sort of;)

Everyone’s first time starting a business is a series of epic failures and mishaps and if they tell you otherwise they are lying out of their teeth.  After a significant amount of art school years of training from various schools I decided it was time to give back to the community my family had been taking from-they ran Pawn Shops ps.  My bleeding heart had teenage angst and white man’s guilt written all over it while my community saw daddy’s little girl.

 I tried to open a three story community arts center in my family’s building with 22 programs while all of it be donation based and volunteer run. My idealistic self even got 45 volunteers in the first year!


Streets of Chicago, near Humboldt Park.

Streets of Chicago, near Humboldt Park.

But whoa, how am I supposed to fund this, direct them, and make sure programming runs, and it stays clean, and when do I get to do art? Is there even any art that I get to do when I run an art center? Was my art degree even useful for this responsibility?


No it wasn’t. This is a management baby. This is that boring shit people do that no one even talks about at fun art centers. This is that shit that no one wants to do except hyper organized people and people who are activists in nature and feel like complaining about the lack of funding and salaries they receive for all the good work they do.

Garfield Park, Chicago.

Garfield Park, Chicago.


Well I was learning, right?


I learned about nonprofits.


The NFL is a nonprofit.


I learned that it is easier to run a business that does good work for a community or individuals than it is to deal with the bureaucracy.


You see a nonprofit is usually founded by someone like me - headstrong, lots of will power, wanting to give, and a bit of a creative. That also means that it is built organically and grows out of an organic structure that is constantly changing.  This means roles and responsibilities change regularly and there is no clear structure to an outsiders or insiders eye.


The Board of Directors is the boss of nonprofits. This structure in not organic AT ALL! It is a created program to have a “boss for the director”.  Because of this chaos always ensues inside of nonprofits.


Chicago beaches in the summer.

Chicago beaches in the summer.

But I learned.

I learned that I don’t give up easily, and I ran that space for five years till I felt my presence was not necessary any longer.

I learned that I can take a few punches and that I am capable of working 100 hour weeks.

I learned I enjoy hearing the words thank you and that is important to me while I do work I believe is gracious.

I learned to do art again.

I learned how to walk away from something I built knowing I have no control of the future of what that holds, perhaps some parents know how that feels even moreso.


I learned that everything has a beginning, middle, and end.

I learned how to have many programs by partnering with other savvy nonprofits and what true partnership means.


I learned that it takes a lot of work to do what you want to do but when it starts feeling like work that’s when you walk away.

I learned the difference between career and job.




So much more… maybe later…


But that is a good start for us to share.




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