Starting and Running a Polymer Clay Guild

IPCA’'s relationship to local guilds:

Because polymer clay education & sharing is one of IPCA’s major goals, we encourage local guild development 100%. The job of the Guild Liaison is to provide help & support for local groups & to foster communication between them. The current guild liaison may be reached via e-mail . IPCA currently does not have any requirements or financial ties with local guilds. So if you want to start a guild, feel free! Keep us posted on your activities and new officers and we’ll help you connect with new and potential members.

Organizational style reflects the area, size and needs of individual groups. Guilds throughout the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Japan vary in size and formal organization, from large well-organized city guilds who sponsor major conferences, local retreats & formal exhibits to guilds in smaller towns who simply "get together to do clay" on a casual basis. There are many guilds that are mid-way between. Most important, there’s no set standard for structuring a guild. The key ingredient is that the ocal guild reflects the members’ interests & that the structure enables the group to enjoy, share & learn about polymer clay.

Now for the "how-to" part: These ideas are based on our experience here in Colorado and on ideas other guild leaders have shared.

Getting Started:

Finding a place to meet and the potential members are the first steps. Your meeting place depends on the size of your community & group size. Some guilds meet in members’ homes, others in public facilities such as libraries, school art rooms (ideal!) community centers, churches, business meeting rooms (banks, etc.). Don’t be concerned about finding a huge number of members. If you have two or three others interested in polymer clay, bring them together and get started! The "right and wrong" of guild organization is what works for the individual & group!

Getting the word out sometimes takes the form of friends telling friends & conversations w/ strangers in the supermarket check-out line who admire the polymer pin you’re wearing. Other effective methods include (but are certainly not limited to) posters on library, supermarket, community center bulletin boards; flyers distributed at art/craft stores (along w/ demos), libraries & other public places. A first name and phone # is usually adequate for contact information.

The IPCA website has space for folks to list information about new guilds & to post requests for people interested in joining or helping form a guild. Contact the webmaster.

Ongoing Search for Members:

Once your guild is up and running, having information available for potential members is good idea. Prepare a letter or leaflet describing your guild activities, goals, meeting time/place, dues, contact information etc. Even the simplest format is eyecatching and appealing if printed on astro-bright paper. You can list your guild on the IPCA website so you’ll receive inquiries from people living in your area, as well as a complimentary copy of the IPCA newsletter, the POLYinforMER.

Getting together – the When and Where:

Meeting time & frequency is also reflective of the group. During the first year, Denver members met with the Fort Collins folks (60 miles up I-25), but the next year decided to form a group closer to home. The second year we met in people’s homes for a bi-monthly meeting & program & scheduled quarterly claydays at a suburban church. The following year we opted for monthly claydays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the church. Because our members come from all parts of the Denver metro area & even towns nearly 100 miles away, we find this Saturday plan works much better. We feel we get more done & have more time to share and work on clay projects. The changes in meeting times/place reflected a growing membership.

Some ideas for meeting formats:

Getting acquainted is the first goal for most guilds. For the initial meeting, consider asking folks to bring some of their clay creations to display and devote time to having people tell about how they discovered p.c. & a bit about themselves. We included a brief "tell about yourself" form for new members, asking essential contact info like addresses, phone#, e-mail, and also what aspects of clay they were especially interested in, what they’d like to know more about, and what kinds of techniques they might be willing to demonstrate to the group. Nametags are also a help in remembering names & as the group gets large, you may want to have permanent nametags. (Making individual polymer nametags using a favorite technique & colorsis a good program idea.)

Consider setting up an "inspiration station" table at each meeting where members display their work. This always brings much admiration & gives folks an opportunity to informally share techniques. Set up regularly, it becomes an important question/answer/affirmation time. (I was fairly new to polymer clay when our guild started and was shy about displaying my work. However, I soon discovered several other people felt and same way. Our "best" artists were so supportive and encouraging, even beginners gained confidence. We all look forward to "show and tell" each meeting.

Programs:

Demos:

Programs … so many opportunities, so little time! A popular program is having members demo a technique. Many are willing to share polymer knowhow, especially with admiring guild friends. People who’ve attended conferences like Ravensdale or the Muse are usually eager to show and share what they learned. Some guilds get a quality video (like the Tory Hughes’ Game Plan/Art Ranch series) and actually work together through the tape which is designed to be used as workshop instruction. Other groups use the tape for viewing and discussion. If you’re interested in the list of topics we’ve covered, please let me know and I’ll send it. Topics like "How to Market Your Work" are often well-received & usually people who are professionals are willing to share their trials, triumphs & knowhow.

Videotapes and Projects:

Some guilds are taping polymer clay segments from the craft shows on HGTV, Discovery or DYI.net. We recently used the "Wild Women Pins" segment from the Carol Duvall Show. The HGTV & DYI.net websites have printed instructions which can be shared along with the demo. Projects can also form an on-going program. A number of guilds are doing the "Bottles of Hope" project initiated by the Connecticut guild. One of our members demo’d steps in covering a bottle; we brought old canes & scrap clay to complete bottles to be distributed to patients at cancer treatment centers. We tagged the bottles w/ our guild name & website. Some individuals plan to include a favorite quote or kind personal note in each bottle. We purchased bottles inexpensively from a scientific supply website but there are free sources from hospital, medical or veterinary offices.

Swaps:

Another good programming event is to have a simple swap. Our first one involved making black and white beads. We specified a size range but not style & allowed use of metallic leaf. Our "Swapmeister" had a sign-up sheet & deadline so we knew two months ahead of time how many beads we needed to make. The day of the swap, we each turned our plastic bags of beads to the Swapmeister who arranged the exchange. We asked people to bring one extra bead for the bead string – a project which, quite frankly, we’ve never followed through on! (Check out the San Diego Guild website to view their impressive bead strings. It’s a great way to build a guild history.)

Swap Savvy:

One thing we did find out about swaps: if each person makes identical items, the exchange is easy. However, if people (like me) prefer to create a variety of designs, structuring the actual swap is a good idea. (We learned this the hard way!) This is how we handled a recent pendant swap. There were 20 folks signed up; at least half made 20 different designs. The Swapmeister & assistant collected the bags of pendants & put each set in a small open container (larger recycled meat trays work well). The containers were numbered 1-20 & arranged in rows on a large table. We each drew a number l-20 & lined up according to their #’s then moved around the table once, each making a first choice. After that, we just continued moving around the table until we’d each chosen nineteen pendants. The extra pendants were put into our stash to be used later at the Silent Auction.

Dues and money-making:

Many groups don’t want to fuss w/ dues or money-making projects & unless there’s a reason, such as paying for a meeting place, it’s not necessary. Most guilds find, however, that eventually they want some funds for an ongoing goal like building a video library, moving to a larger meeting room, buying treats for the meeting, bringing in a guest artist, etc. Again, money reflects group needs.

Since we pay $2/person/meeting for our church meeting space, we originally set $20 annual dues (to cover newsletter & incidentals) & each paid $2 per clayday when we attended. When we began meeting at the church monthly, we raised our dues to cover the meeting place so we could avoid the hassle of collecting the $2. By then our newsletter was established & we needed funds to cover printing and postage as well as our website "rent" from IPCA.

Money-raising is something many people shy away from, especially if it involves time selling something to friends & family! However, having a guild video library has proved to be a real benefit to our members & was one of our first major goals. To finance this we established a traditional Silent Auction each January as part of our "Holiday Recovery Party". (We don’t have a December meeting.) It’s very simple. We each bring things related to polymer clay – not necessarily new – put them out on large tables w/ a paper/pencil beside each. (The sheet beside each item has space for writing the name of the item, donor & a set of numbered lines.) We announce a time when bidding will stop. Throughout the day, members write their name & bid on the bid sheets for items they’re interested in buying. However, at any time another member may cross out that bid & replaced it with a higher amount. Excitement mounts when the SA leader announces "Five more minutes … and a countdown … ‘One more minute", etc. At the appointed time, the bidding is closed & winners claim their treasures & turn in their totaled slip(s) with payment to the cashier. There are always several highly desired items & it’s amazing fun to see how the bids mount with on-going friendly competition & joking between contenders!

Several guilds do a monthly raffle. Members contribute items & tickets are sold (example: $1 each, 6/$5). In smaller towns, a local craft store may contribute raffle items. ( Chain stores often have a policy prohibiting such practice.) Several years ago, Mike Buesseler sent our guild one of his landscape pins in lieu of dues. We were proud to list him on our membership roster & raffled the pin for a sum much greater than our dues! The next year he was a featured artist-instructor at our autumn retreat.

Guild Library:

We established a video/book library during our first year in Denver with a few purchases and several contributions from members. However, we were very lax about the check-out/return policies &maintenance of a library inventory. What we found was that things tended to "drift", get lost in closets, etc. & that our hard-earned collection wasn’t regularly available to members. The second year we allocated all Silent Auction proceeds to the library & got a wonderfully organized librarian. We voted to rent each video for $3.00 a month, Books $2 or 3 for $5. Members wishing to rent a video write a $25 check to the Guild, which isn’t cashed unless the video is not returned. (This has seldom happened.) The librarian sends out e-mail reminders the week prior to Clayday & we urge people to get their tapes back on time! Because the tapes are now circulating, our library is self-supporting & we have money coming in to buy new tapes as they’re produced. We found that the how-to books are not much in demand, so are currently buying only new videos & duplicate copies of the most popular. The books we’re buying are Dover clip-art books & other design or reference books. Most of our members purchase the specific polymer clay books for their own personal libraries.

What to do with the library collection is often a challenge, especially as the collection grows. The first year, our librarian hauled the materials back & forth. If she was absent, the library didn’t function. Fortunately, the church where we meet gave us closet space & we bought a rolling cart in which to store materials. Some guilds who don’t have storage space where they meet list the library collection on their website or in their membership directory & members call or e-mail their request to the librarian the week prior to the meeting. The Arizona guild’s website automatically sends a member’s requests directly to the librarian. Keeping the list updated is important, of course, regardless where the collection is kept. We list new acquisitions in the quarterly newsletter as well as on our website.

A nearly "free" way to begin a library is to have someone tape polymer clay demo segments airing on craft TV programs, such as Carol Duvall (HGTV), Home Matters (Discovery) & Crafts (DIY). We each contributed taped segments & one of our members edits & combines them onto tapes. Currently, we have twelve tapes full different demos! Our librarian even made a directory of each tape’s contents to be pasted on the cover. For some of the tapes we have notebooks with the instructions copied from the website.

Reminders and Newsletters:

My experience is that we all need & appreciate reminders about meeting times/places/events even if they happen regularly. About two weeks prior to Clay Day, we send an e-mail reminder about the up-coming meeting, the demo topic or event, & what to bring. For members not connected via e-mail, we send a postcard. People tell us that they enjoy getting the reminders because it’s like receiving a special invitation. Some groups use a phone-tree to remind others of meetings or to share event news. Once the tree is designed, each person is only responsible for making one or two phone calls. Small groups often have someone in charge of phoning everyone.

Newsletters - Many guilds put out a newsletter that includes a variety of information and reminders. Members may "volunteer" to write reviews of new polymer clay books or videos they’ve discovered. Tips or brief steps for a new technique are very popular. Of course events and meeting news is included. For a new group, I’d say a newsletter is "nice but not essential." It’s something that can be added at any time once you find someone willing to take on the challenge & members willing to contribute content. Meantime, the IPCA POLYinforMER is one of the best perks for national membership! (Local guilds who send in their contact information are currently being sent a complimentary copy.)

Many guilds find it easier and more cost-effective to convey newsletter information via e-mail or include it on their website. The advantages of electronic communication is the ease of including photos taken at meetings and special events along with an easily up-dated gallery of members’ work.

By-Laws:

People often debate the usefulness of By-Laws. Our guild has a set that has been rewritten once to better reflect the changes that evolved during the Guild’s first four years. Several well-functioning guilds have confessed to making a conscious decision to avoid a lot of red tape, subscribing to the "K.I.S.S." ("Keep It Sweet & Simple") method of organization. By-Laws are often daunting because of the formal wording. Their main purpose is to structure how things are done so that in the future leadership can be passed on with an assurance of continuity and that decisions can be fairly made. Most people feel comfortable with a simple list of guidelines that include frequency of meetings, dues structure, officers/duties, timelines, and a stated way in which things can be changed to assure that members are included in decision-making.

Some states require a "tax-free non-profit" application for groups with a designated amount of money in the treasury. By-Laws are often required as part of the application process.

Formal leadership:

Officers’ duties need not be unwieldy or overly time-consuming. Ideally, and often in real life, polymer clay guilds operate simply because members just want to get together and "do clay." Someone needs to be in charge of the basics & to see that decisions are carried out. My experience has been that delegating small tasks & involving everyone in ways each feels most comfortable creates a well-functioning, successful guild. A number of groups have foundered when the one and only "leader" has relinquinshed their role of "doing it all". Again, the important thing what works best for members.

I didn’t intend to write such a long, ponderous essay on "guild development" nor hold MHPCG up as a glowing example! However, a lot of thoughts occurred to me after I began. Last but not least: don’t be overwhelmed! Guilds have a way of emerging out of common interests & the group need not be overly concerned with all the extras right at first.