By : Sam Potrykus
5 min read
Notes From The Crew: Working On Work Culture
Happy November, friends! Always glad to be asked to write this here “Notes From The Crew” (NFTC) column because it’s truly the best way to hear directly from us—the volunteers, staff and leadership of Brain Arts Org, Boston Compass Newspaper, and Dorchester Art Project. Last NFTC, we heard from BCN Contributor Stephen about how we are now paying all contributors that help produce the newspaper, and how this is a major milestone for our organization. Surely we will mention it in the press, social media, and our mailing lists eventually, but NFTC readers hear about these big updates first, so kudos to YOU, family. For this month I wanted to talk a little bit about the work culture here at Brain Arts Org, because it is something that we have been working on (naturally) in our 10 years as a nonprofit and has now actually become a program in itself and prioritized above all other efforts in the past two years.
We have learned unequivocally that it is not worth doing our arts advocacy and cultural programs if we can’t ensure the health and wellness of our people first. Now, this is challenging work already (ask an HR head!) but it is especially hard for groups or initiatives that are limited to volunteer and part-time workers. I think some of these grassroots efforts and small businesses often care more about their people than their corporate counterparts do, but sadly, they possess only a fraction of the resources it takes to create and truly protect a healthy work culture.
For us, it became really clear during the height of the pandemic—once we expanded to 13 paid staff members (in addition to dozens of volunteers) we actually weren’t equipped to handle and care for everyone to the high standard we hold ourselves to. People left for other opportunities, some felt slighted or unappreciated and naturally, our programming suffered too. That is why above all the money and opportunities created for artists, the most positive thing to come out of these past two years is what we learned about capacity and wellness; in order to be truly aligned with the values and course of our mission, there must be alignment in recognition of capacity and wellness of our team for any meaningful programming to take place.
Now, I could go on for days about how this concept is tested and incorporated into our daily work, but this past weekend was a great example of achieving big change with small moves. On Saturday we had the pleasure of tabling at the Watertown Free Public Library Annual Zine Fest in Watertown Square, and in preparation for the event we had staffing, materials and other logistics to consider. We broke it into 2.5 hr shifts, allowing overlap for each volunteer so there was time for each person to experience the event, get a snack, take a breather, socialize with their peers before/after their shift and above all, enjoy themselves. I realize this may seem obvious, but for years we were prioritizing public engagement, connections with other artists, getting names on the clipboard (all very important to further our ultimate goals as an org) to the point where we often risked stressing-out and harming our own people with long shifts and little compensation. Not anymore. Frankly, those connections and the engagement aren’t worth it if we don’t extend the same intention and care to our volunteers and administrators. This weekend, all participants had a healthy good time because we deliberately acknowledged the capacity of our team members to do activities with wellness as a focus. This is the only way.
Ultimately I am proud to share with you that I thought twice about staffing this event and made adjustments to avoid applying stress or pressure on our people. Our EIC, Kevin, was even going to bring materials at 9 am, then return for each shift throughout the day to check in with everyone. But what about Kevin himself? I need to look out for my peers as they do for me, because it all starts with us and the example we set as Brain Arts Org admins. I’m confident that making this type of thinking part of our daily wellness practice at Brain Arts Org will serve our mission more than any amount of public engagement would without it. Shoutout to the hundreds (if not thousands) of people who have volunteered with us since 2010, your contributions got us here, to the point where health & wellness is actually an arts program itself. Learn more at www.Brain-Arts.Org
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #152 November 2022
Check out all the art and columns of November's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass