Art Journey: lessons learned from the Whitecross street party 2021.
On the 11th and 12th of September, 2021, I participated in London's Whitecross Street Party (WXSP). Let me tell you straight away; it was a challenging experience for me. Nonetheless, I gained some valuable insights which I would love to share with you, so you don't have to make the same mistakes as me.
My stall on Sunday morning.
What I did right:
I need to celebrate myself for (1) creating an opportunity for myself and then (2) grabbing onto it despite all the voices of impostor syndrome plaguing me.
I created an opportunity by simply contacting the organisers and asking about how it works to participate. Then, when they shared that stalls were available, I decided to grab one and give it a try.
It is important to celebrate small wins, especially for someone like me, who struggles with anxiety and broken self-confidence and self-esteem since my last job burnout.
I am also pleased to say that I managed to make some sales and therefore donate 5% (as promised) to the London Wildlife Trust, even if the amount was modest (£5,75).
What I got wrong:
However, I didn't pick the right opportunity for me among the choices offered. The WXSP offered two possibilities for the stalls: A booth for a fee for those selling goods or a booth free of charge for those offering workshops or similar. In retrospect, the best choice for me would have been the latter.
I had based my decision on my prior knowledge, but I failed to check if my assumption still matched current times. Indeed, in 2013, I worked for the Curious Duke Gallery (I adored my job!) situated on Whitecross Street. We, therefore, did participate in the event. Back then, the emphasis was more on food, with some local artists and street artists painting murals or wood boards. Many of those artists were represented by the Curious Duke Gallery, and not all of them were street artists.
Back then, as a gallery, we had sold originals and prints alike in a wide different pricing range.
In my mind, I expected it to be similar and to attract similar crowds. The truth is, the event has changed since. Nowadays, it is more like a festival, meaning people come to the event to hang out, not discover emerging artists, buy art or buy from local businesses. At best, they may want a little something, but their initial intention is general curiosity and fun focus. Hence, my original artwork, with its pricepoint, was clashing with people's expectations.
What should I have done?
Very simple. I should have shared my current appreciation of the event and asked if it was still the case today, and request a little more information about the kind of crowds that comes along.
In other words, I should have done my research. Then, I would have known that I could have used the event to showcase my art and existence... for FREE.
What I gained.
First, let me backtrack a little.
The week before the event, anxieties kept growing. Hello, insomnia, my old friend 👋. So many times I wanted to quit. I spent a lot of energy reassuring myself that it was worth it. I reminded myself of my original intentions: get to know whether people like my art or not. I did my best to distract my fears with gratefulness instead.
Saturday morning. I have accumulated poor sleep throughout the week and slept poorly the night before. When I arrive at the WXSP, I'm already overwhelmed with anxiety and I wanted to cry. I was also overloaded with sensory input, and I didn't want to talk. An intense headache came on (very migraine-like) because of the loud noises, constant movements, colours, smells and so on. I wanted to hide, cry and keep quiet the whole day. I did my best to hide it and talk and engage with people. Throughout the day, I am met with people's reactions and understand that they confuse my art with greeting cards or prints because of the small sizing. Come Saturday night; I finally have a good needed cry. The migraine headache is still there.
Once the overflowing emotions are poured out, the fog lifts a little. At that moment, I reconnected with a truth about myself. I lack skills in sales and business (hence why I try to learn a lot on that), but I am good at my art. So, instead of focusing all this energy on something that I fundamentally find unenjoyable and challenging, I should focus on making my art which I love doing and letting it speak for me.
The next day, Sunday, I changed my strategy. I no longer cared about sales and covering the costs of the event, I just wanted to focus on meeting people. This decision took the pressure off of me, and finally, I could show my art and get to know people. Sunday was still overwhelming sensory wise (that headache lasted a day or two after that weekend), but my attitude differed, so my anxiety feathered out allowing excitement and curiosity to come in instead.
Using the lesson in the future.
Going forward, I want to stop making art that answers business questions such as "will the public want it/afford it/like it?". When I do that, I find that I stifle my process. From now on, I make art that I, Linka Lipski, want to make to satisfy my soul. Only once the art has been made am I allowed to think about the business side of things such as increasing visibility, connecting with the public, finding clients and collectors, etc.
In essence, the event has highlighted my need to separate my art-making from selling my art. When the artist hat is on, I have complete freedom. When the art agent hat is on, time for finding solutions to support my artistic practice.
What I cherish from the event.
My absolute favourite from my experience of WXSP is not the lessons I have learned for myself but the people I have met. Here are a few of the interactions that I cherish:
Two young boys, one dressed up as an anime character, oohed and wow-ed at every piece of art on my stall. They told me about making art and learning code at their school and seemed genuinely happy to talk to me about it.
Amelia, a young girl, approached me timidly and apologetically to ask questions about my art process. She wanted to know what inspired me and how I found my style. She was so thankful for my answers, as if she didn't believe she deserved to be granted an answer. Amelia later came back with her father, Antonio, who was getting interviews for the event. His father has been very kind to me and has given me advice without batting an eyelid.
Marcellus, a Brazilian photographer, shared his life journey in and out of photography before and after a traumatic personal event, and I am so grateful to have heard him.
Charles, a local man, asked me for paper and a pen so he could draw for me. He did that on Saturday and then Sunday and, on the second day, also gave me a ginger beer. When I asked him why he was so kind, he replied that it was because I was kind to him.
I also met with three Instagram contacts, fellow artists and had my friends come by to support me, both in spirits and through purchasing my art. I have the best of friends.
Will I do it again?
Perhaps not. It is unlikely I will redo the event as a seller. I felt a divide between the street artists who showed little interest in the stallholders and the only ones promoted on the event's social media and the stallholders who were so kind and supportive towards everyone.
I feel like the event is becoming more focused on street art rather than the local community and, therefore, may not be the place for me - unless I dab into street art again (yes, I tried once, but it wasn't good - fun, but not good-!).
Maybe, I would do it again to give the kids their names written in calligraphy as I did on Sunday.
Only time will tell.
With love 🤍