“Why do you have to be so good?!”

23 04 2010


I am getting compassion fatigue listening to your stories. The small part-time staff group at ArtBridges haPhoto by Alexas been calling you and interviewing you with a questionnaire over the past 4 months, building profiles about your community arts centres/programs/resources. In the course of about 45 minutes (our shortest interview was about 25 minutes, a couple of our longest- an hour and a half) you tell us about your community arts centre/programs. Wow. I woke up this morning exhausted thinking about it. Why? Because I think we, the listeners of your stories, hear the immensity of your tasks, of your missions, your challenges as well as your resounding successes. Why do you have to be so darn good?!  And we are moved and awestruck, every single time. We debrief, take a walk and shake our heads, saying “unbelievable, what incredible work they do.” And I realized this morning that there is a similar thread in all of your stories, we hear it over and over again. That’s why I woke up today with compassion fatigue and needing a beer. (Don’t worry, I have my morning coffee!)

You are compassionate about your people/your community art centres/programs’ participants. You expect excellence. You are articulate (a lot of your time is spent writing grants, funding proposals and reports and promoting your work). Your time is important – you have constant deadlines. You are a pioneer, and an innovator, even if you are not the founder you are pushing limits, and designing new programs/projects that your centre or your community has never done before. You emanate originality – no one is doing what you are doing in your community. You are fiercely protective about your centre, you will do anything to keep the doors open, to be in good standing. You believe that what you and your staff are doing is the best possible use of time and energy. You have a keen sense of social justice. You radiate joy and happiness from your work, even though you are bogged down with fundraising. You would do so much more if donations were higher, there is no limit to the extent and reaches of your work, except for funding.

OMG, at one centre out west, a staff’s mom kicked in $35,000 to help secure the mortgage for a community arts studio for adults with disabilities. At another, down east, a staff volunteers to drive tens of kilometers to pick up art so that people who have a hard time getting out of their houses/communities can have a chance to exhibit their art work at a gallery. In the financial capital of Canada, dedicated program staff at an inner-city community arts centre forgo pay during the recession and temporarily receive compensation of food vouchers and coupons for art supplies in order to keep the doors of their centre open.

We have never talked with anyone bored, tired, cynical, ambivalent, defeated, lacking creative ideas, or looking for a better place to be. But you think about it. You dream and plot about running off to the ocean side, being lazy, getting a pedicure, working in a for-profit environment, earning big bucks and not worrying so much. Oh sorry, that’s me I’m talking about. That’s my little dream. Sorry, where was I? OMG, back to work, we have to churn out a dozen fundraising proposals today! Have a great day, everyone, and thanks for sharing your amazing stories, you keep us coming back to the desk everyday, because you’re changing lives for the better in your community and across Canada, and don’t you forget it!  (-S.C. for ArtBridges)



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