While taking classes and “retreating”, I met a fantastic group of new friends. We 50 something’s and one 30ish baby chick – bonded almost immediately. We have become a family and I can’t imagine my life without them. They were willing to try one of those weekend gatherings that I continued to blab about -- as long as I would do all the work. Not a problem! Organizing a party is my kind of fun -- and bingo -- Art at Heart was born. Being 50 ishes – we wanted to be a bit pampered, therefore a woodsy church camp was out of the question so I booked us into The Inn at Spanish Head on the Oregon Coast. http://www.spanishhead.com/
At these retreats, we don’t have an instructor or classes. In fact, there is no structure. You come, you set up your spot for the weekend, you play, you eat, and you sleep. Wonderful….we were hooked. A bit more spendy than church camp, but then we had room service…..and incredible FOOD….and heat. Art at Heart continued for three years and left us wanting something more.
I began to think of an art retreat in a broader scale. What if we had some instructors? Could we attract attendees to a larger function? All those coming to Art at Heart were acquaintances – how would I advertise a major venue? I had planned, directed and organized events for years---but never for myself. I didn’t have to promote them – that was up to the individual, county, state or business that had contracted with me. I was fully aware of the expense and commitment necessary to produce the caliber of event that I wanted to start. This was scary. My friends thought I was nuts, but were incredibly supportive. My family didn’t understand the art that I frantically made in my studio anyway – so attempting to explain my ideas to them for a new career was a total waste of time and energy. I was on my own.
In the middle of the night, while at the beach, I made a decision to go for it. I contacted my friend, Doni Meyer, who owned First Impression. She too thought I had lost my mind, but was willing to help sponsor the first Art & Soul. First Impression had a mailing list of over 7,000 and they became my target audience.
In between owning a pharmacy, working in politics and organizing events – I had also worked in a hotel. Many parties were contracted thru hotels and it was a logical mix for me. Thus I had good contacts and the JQH Portland Embassy Suites was selected based on their reputation and staff training requirements. (as you know --- the staff is amazing -- they think of you as family and look forward to us returning each year)
Having the infrastructure set – I now needed instructors. Fortunately, again thru First Impression, I had great contacts. To this day, I am grateful to those instructors who took a chance on me and Art & Soul that first year. We had 194 attendees and I was thrilled. The hotel was thrilled. Instructors were happy. Attendees were ecstatic! It was all that I had hoped for – and more.
I soon realized that in order to maintain my standards of a high quality event that I needed to quit my "real" job and make Art & Soul a full time career. Another very scary decision to make. Art retreats held in a hotel do not generate a healthy income....they are very expensive to produce...thus it became apparent that more than one Art & Soul would have to be held so that I could live.
Once again, in the middle of the night, I made a decision. I decided that we would try an event on the East Coast. I hadn't traveled any further east than LaCrosse, WI -- so I had NO idea what I was doing or where we were going. The JQH Embassy Suites had just completed a new hotel in Hampton, VA and it seemed to be in the middle of the East Coast --- easily available to everyone???? I closed my eyes and signed the contract. We are returning to Hampton for the 3rd time this May!!
Art & Soul is truly a blessing and I love all aspects of production. We are now in our 6th year and because of marvelous instructors, incredible attendees and devoted friendships everything just keeps getting better!