Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Why I charge $20

When I first started my art class I originally envisioned about 10, maybe 15, kids meeting up in the library's meeting room to make some cute arts and craft projects. I made some calls, got the room, made a lesson plan, and gathered all the supplies (with no need to charge anything because the room was free and I had more than enough supplies for 10 kids).
I announced the class.
Two families came.
Counting myself, there were 6 people there.
The next week there were 16 kids plus their parents.
The week after that there were over 30 kids who wanted to come so I split them into two groups that I taught back to back.
Plus there was a wait list.
A really really ridiculously long wait list.
I spent countless hours on the phone and writing emails trying to find a new location.
The wait list grew.
I drove around making notes about possible locations, then I'd go home and make the corresponding phone calls/ e-mails.
I hoped that our city council would want to support art classes for homeschool students and offer us a place that we could meet. I went to a meeting, and made my case, but wasn't given a ready answer. I got the impression they wanted to say no, but didn't want to be bad guys about it. A few days later the place I'd hoped they'd let us use burned down.
The day after that I got a phone call.
It wasn't from someone on city council.
It wasn't from one of the mega churches I contacted.
It was the pastor of a small local church.
The pastor! Not a secretary!
Out of the dozens of places I'd inquired about, I thought it had been one of the least likely to help.
I didn't know anyone there and no one in my class had ties to the church.
They didn't have an obvious excess of resources to offer, but they were the only ones that stepped up and offered us a place to meet for just a very small fee! With seating for 85 people, plastic tables and chairs, and linoleum floors it was the perfect place for us to have an art class!

I announced our new location and my "lesson plan."
I tried to take a head count as people came in the door, but gave up once I hit 100.
It was like a dream come true!
Everywhere I looked there were kids making stuff and having fun.
I went home and planned months of classes, and quicly realized I couldn't keep doing it with my current budget. I just don't have that kind of personal income, and doing anything at all for that number of people gets expensive really really quickly. Looking at my 3 month's worth of lesson plans and projects I knew I'd have to start charging something, so I decided to break it up into two groups- easy peasy fun crafts that anyone of any age could enjoy, and art focused classes that were a little more challenging and included a brief art history lesson. I thought that the art focused class would be mostly older students, but surprisingly, the students who came to the "harder" class were the exact same people who came to the "easy" crafts class. So I tweaked my plans a little bit so that both classes could be enjoyed by all age groups. My supplies that I had on hand dried up a lot faster than I thought they would. I'd print almost a hundred pages on my printer nearly every class. There just wasn't any room in my personal budget to maintain such an huge undertaking. I tried to come up with a way to fund the classes without excluding people on a tight budget.

I decided that my craftsy fun class would be free and I would charge $20 per month for my artsy class. Classes would meet on alternating Thursdays (crafty one week, artsy the next). I followed Dave Ramsey's advice and made an envelope for the class, and put all the money collected into that envelope. I have to figure out a way to make the money in that envelope fund everything. Without that envelope there would be no free classes.
The only problem is waaaaaay more people ONLY come to classes that are free rather than pay $20 per month and have access to all the classes. I decided that I would put out a tip jar for donations (actually it's a cute brown paper bag) thinking that the people who only come to free classes would be happy to leave a dollar or two per kid. I was wrong.
At my last free class I collected exactly $4 in donations. 
 I had toyed around with the idea of making all the classes free and just leaving out the tip jar, but after that I knew that idea wouldn't work. Soon the envelope would be empty and we couldn't have classes at all because there wouldn't be anything to even pay the tiny rent for the room. So I thought maybe people are only coming to the free classes because they can't afford to pay $20 per child if they have multiple kids and I wouldn't ever want any sibling to be left out. Also, I hated the idea of any kid being left out ever. As long as I am having a class no kid will be excluded because of money, goshdarnit! So I told everyone that if you could honestly only afford to pay for one kid, then go ahead and pay for one and bring the rest! I also let the group know that if there are families who honestly can't afford $20 per month, but want to come, to just come and pay what they can. I know, I'm an optimist (and probably an idiot) for thinking the best of people, but I really do want it to be about the kids, and sharing my love of art, and NOT about money. Unfortunately, I just can't do one without the other. I hope the group realizes that there is not some big fund for this class. I started it with money out my pocket and the supplies from my own closet. I need to charge $20 per month per kid in order to keep this amazing class going. I know that might sound like a lot for an art class, but if you had any idea of what goes into it, you'd realize that's nothing.

Since people are already getting 2 classes per month free, some people may think that each artsy class costs $10. It doesn't. That $20 per month I collect goes into buying supplies for not only the artsy class, but also the crafts we do in the crafts class. It goes to paying awesome speakers to come share with us (I already had to cancel an amazing one because the envelope got too low). That's four classes per month, so it's down to $5 per class. You may say "yeah, but my kid isn't using up $5 worth of supplies every week" well, maybe, but do you see those kids at the table across from you who's kids aren't wearing as nice of clothes as yours are? They could only afford $8 for the month, so now it's down to a budget of about $3 per kid per class. Then I pay the church a small amount to make up for the enormous amount of water, electricity, and wear & tear that comes with a group as big as ours.

Art class people I seriously love you. Really, I do, because I have always wanted to teach art to kids, and to have such an enthusiastic and amazing group like ours is beyond what I ever could have imagined. I want to keep doing this for as long as I possibly can, but that's really all up to you. I don't WANT to charge $20 per month, but I NEED to in order to keep this class going. I'm not trying to get rich, I'm just trying to not go broke doing it. Please please please, if you are enjoying art classes, try to find $20 in your budget to pay for them so they can continue.

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