In the last five years that we’ve been in business, we’ve had a lot of people through our doors. Every once in a while, someone will hear our story and say something like, “I wish I could…”
I wish I could sell my art full time, I wish I could start a recording studio, I wish I could go on tour with my band, start a webcomic, write a novel…Fill in the blank.
And we get it. Looking at where you want to be from where you are now can sometimes seem like an incredible expanse. There are so many steps to take and obstacles in the way that it can seem impossible to make it happen.
But things aren’t always what they seem. Here are a few things to remember.
Just like Rome, your dream life wasn’t built in a day. Making the jump from day job to dream job in a single go isn’t the way things usually go.
For example, when we quit teaching, we didn’t start MAKE the next Monday. There were a lot of steps in the middle. First, I started making art again—even while I was still at the school. I started an Etsy shop and applied for some craft fairs. There, I met other artists and got to know them—what they cared about, what they needed.
A successful life is made one day at a time. Make intentional time each day to do the things that give you life. Take some of your social media time and spend it creating instead. Find opportunities to share it with others. Over time, it adds up.
Don’t Sweat the Details
Usually when you work for a company, there are a lot of things taken care of for you. Your payroll department might pay your taxes. HR might choose your insurance and pay your retirement. The company legal department can protect you from liability.
If you strike out on your own, you have to worry about all of those things yourself.
When we first started, all of those details hung over us like a dark spectre, casting a shadow of anxiety over us.
But there’s good news: you don’t need to have it all figured out to make the jump.
You don’t need to know everything about self-employment taxes or captive insurance or copyright law to get started. You can figure all of that out as you go.
Just focus on the things you know and care about, and the rest will fall into place.
Don’t Stop Looking for Opportunities
You can have all the talent in the world, but that won’t lead to success if you don’t have an opportunity to share it.
Ever day, we have chance encounters that could take you to the next step in your goals. It might be a person with connections. It could be an application to a contest. It might even be someone who likes one of your posts on social media.
Don’t take these opportunities for granted.
When I was meeting local artists at craft fairs and getting to know what they needed, I saw an opportunity to start a community resource. When I saw an open storefront near our house, I saw an opportunity to open a space. Five years later...you know what happened.
Make it a habit to look for the opportunities around them and jump on them. Some of them might fall flat, but some might bring you closer to your goals.
It’s Never Too Late
If you’ve been watching your life pass you by while your dreams sit on the back burner, don’t worry. It’s never too late.
If you need some help—some encouragement, some tools, some resources—come visit us. We’d love to see what you end up creating.
And if you need a little extra boost, visit Killer Creators.
This month, MAKE SOUTH BEND celebrates our fifth anniversary in River Park.
When we first opened our doors, we had a lot of hopes for what the future might bring, but we didn’t expect that we would be where we are now.
Looking back on the last half a decade, there’s plenty to celebrate.
Here are some of the highlights.
It All Started In a Basement…
Six years ago, Nat and I were teaching together at a school in town. We had been there a while, and we thought that we would make our careers there.
But then something unexpected happen…
Nat got laid off.
He was given a month’s severance, so he took the next few weeks to reevaluate. During that time, he discovered the world of freelancing and self-employment. A few weeks later, I had put in my notice to pursue art full time.
We spent that summer learning new mediums, buying new tools, and selling at different craft fairs. Our very first Art Beat—the first week without our teaching summer pay—we made the same we would have made as full time teachers. To us, it was confirmation that we made the right choice.
As the months wore on, we kept losing more of our basement to projects, inventory, and tools. And yet, it didn’t slow down. We were still buying new tools and making more work.
Sometimes though, that art didn’t work out. After spending a ton of money on leather working tools, I realized that I didn’t actually like doing it.
I looked to Nat and said, “I wish there was a place that had the tools that I could come and try out on my own.”
I started looking around for different makerspaces. While there were some scattered in larger cities, there wasn’t anything in our area.
But maybe I could do something to change that...
Taking the Plunge
I got to googling. I started researching what it would take to open my own business. I found templates for business plans and met with local business mentors.
One night, Nat was playing a show at the Well, a coffeehouse on Mishawaka Avenue. I walked to China House to get some dinner, and on the way, I found an open storefront with big, beautiful windows and a sign that said “For Rental Information, Call…”
I copied the number and gave it a call. The next week, Nat and I were touring the space. Our minds raced with possibilities.
We went home and applied for small business finding, got our insurance in order, started a website, and started negotiating a lease with the landlord.
By Christmas, we had the keys in hand. We spent the next couple months cleaning, painting, and getting the shop ready, contacting vendors, and building buzz.
On February 17, 2015, we opened for business. We weren’t even sure anyone would walk through the doors, let alone that we would still be open five years later.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that we were able to do everything in the original space. Most of our classes took place in the center of the main space—now home to our 2D art supplies.Our tech lab was shoved between the metalworking tools and the sewing machines. If someone ran the laser cutter, the smell of burning wood (or plastic) would fill the shop—not a great thing when you have a class full of students.
We had a handful of members, but their access was limited to shop hours. If someone wanted to come on a day we were closed, they had to call us and hope we were available.
The next summer, we threw the very first Rebel Art Fest—in our parking lot. We put eight bands under a tent, twenty artists along our sidewalk, and three food trucks on the street. And, it was a great time.
Three years ago, we were feeling the pressure of our limited space. We were tired of cramming twenty students into a space that could comfortably fit ten. We were tired of fumigating the place every time we ran the laser cutter. We started looking for other options.
Then our landlord presented us with an offer: our neighboring corner space had struggled to keep a tenant the whole time we’d been there. They offered it to us for a price we couldn’t refuse.
The new space allowed us to add a dedicated tech lab, additional private studios, a conference room for private meetings and classes, and a huge classroom that could comfortably accommodate over thirty people at a time.
We were also able to purchase a better security system that allowed us to offer twenty-four hour access to our members.
At the same time, Rebel Art Fest continued to grow.
After two years in the parking lot, South Bend Venues Parks and Arts approached us to hold the festival in Potawatomi Park as part of Best. Week. Ever. Across two years in the park, we’ve hosted twenty-two musical acts, over a hundred artists, dozens of food trucks, and over 8,000 attendees. Now, Rebel Art Fest is the premiere kickoff event of Best. Week. Ever., and this year will be bigger than ever.
Look How Far We’ve Come
In the last five years, we’ve done more than we thought we ever could.
We’ve had four Rebel Art Fests, four Urban Artist Markets (that doesn’t even count the various pop up markets we’ve hosted), hundreds of members, hundreds of featured artists, over ten thousand students, and countless guests—not to mention a spattering of spots on the local news.
And we’re not slowing down anytime soon.
But, none of this couldn’t have happened without the support of our community and all of the local artists and makers who have joined up with us to create a thriving creative community.
If that includes you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. But if that isn’t you yet, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Take a class, become a member, or stop in to shop local goods, and join us for the next five years.